History of the POW/ MIA Flag

In 1971, while the Vietnam War was still being fought, Mary Hoff, the wife of a service member missing in action and member of the National League of Families of American Prisoners and Missing in Southeast Asia, recognized the need for a symbol of U.S. POW/MIAs, some of whom had been held in captivity for as many as seven years. The flag is black, and bears in the center, in black and white, the emblem of the league. The emblem was designed by Newt Heisley, and features a white disk bearing in black silhouette the bust of a man (Jeffery Heisley), watch tower with a guard on patrol, and a strand of barbed wire; above the disk are the white letters POW and MIA framing a white 5-pointed star; below the disk is a black and white wreath above the white motto: “You are not Forgotten.”

The flag has been altered many times; the colors have been switched from black with white – to red, white and blue – to white with black; the POW/MIA has at times been revised to MIA/POW.

On March 9, 1989, a league flag that had flown over the White House on the 1988 National POW/MIA Recognition Day was installed in the U.S. Capitol rotunda as a result of legislation passed by the 100th Congress. The league’s POW-MIA flag is the only flag ever displayed in the rotunda, and the only one other than the Flag of the United States to have flown over the White House. The leadership of both houses of Congress hosted the installation ceremony in a demonstration of bipartisan congressional support.

On August 10, 1990, the 101st Congress passed U.S. Public Law 101-355, recognizing the National League of Families POW/MIA Flag and designating it “as a symbol of our Nation’s concern and commitment to resolving as fully as possible the fates of Americans still prisoner, missing and unaccounted for in Southeast Asia, thus ending the uncertainty for their families and the Nation.” Beyond Southeast Asia, it has been a symbol for POW/MIAs from all U.S. wars.

The flag is ambiguous as it implies that personnel listed as MIA may in fact be held captive. The official, bipartisan, U.S. Government position is that there is “no compelling evidence that proves that any American remains alive in captivity in Southeast Asia”. The Defense Prisoner of War/Missing Personnel Office (DPMO) provides centralized management of prisoner of war/missing personnel (POW/MP) affairs within the United States Department of Defense and is responsible for investigating the status of POW/MIA issues. As of August 5, 2010, the DPMO lists 1,711 Americans as MIA from the Vietnam War: 969 cases being pursued, 117 cases deferred, and 625 cases not being pursued due to the circumstances and/or location of loss. The DPMO has received 1997 first-hand reports of live sightings of purported U.S. POWs since 1975, of which only 55 (2.75%) remain unresolved.

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