Since 1979, the National POW/MIA Recognition Day has been observed every year on the third Friday of September. As a nation, we take time on this day to honor the brave men and women who were taken captive as prisoners of war (POW) and those who were or still are missing in action (MIA). In the 1970s, more than 2,500 Vietnam War POW/MIAs were unaccounted for and their families pushed the U.S. government for accountability. They didn’t want their loved ones to be forgotten.
As a result of family pressure, the National POW/MIA Recognition Day was established by a signed proclamation by President Jimmy Carter. Each year afterward, the sitting president has issued a proclamation to commemorate this special day. A national ceremony is held every year, usually at the Pentagon, with each military branch represented. Communities across America also observe this day with special memorial events, with the U.S. and POW/MIA flags flying at half-staff from sunrise to sunset.
The idea of creating a POW/MIA flag started in 1971 by Mary Helen Hoff, the wife of Lt. Cmdr. Michael G. Hoff, who was listed as MIA when his plane crashed in 1970 during the Vietnam War. Her husband was never found, and she wanted to create a reminder to never forget about those who were MIA. Mrs. Hoff, a member of the National League of Families of American Prisoners and Missing in Southeast Asia, contacted Annin & Company, the largest flag manufacturer in the U.S., to create a POW/MIA flag. Annin hired a New Jersey advertising agency whose employee, Newt Heisley, designed the flag. According to Heisley, the flag was "intended for a small group" and "no one realized it was going to get national attention."
The flag is black with a black and white emblem featuring a white disk bearing in black silhouette the bust of a man. The man was Jeffrey Heisley, the son of the flag's designer, who was in basic training as a U.S. Marine and became sick with hepatitis before being shipped to Vietnam. The gaunt man's silhouette is in front of a 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 text POW/MIA has, at times, been revised to MIA/POW.
Evelyn Fowler Grubb's husband, Major Wilmer Newlin Grubb, was a U.S. Air Force pilot who was shot down, became a POW and died in captivity during the Vietnam War. Mrs. Grubb became the co-founder and coordinator of the National League of Families of American Prisoners and Missing in Southeast Asia and oversaw the POW/MIA flag's development. She campaigned to help gain widespread acceptance and use of the POW/MIA flag by the U.S. government, local governments and U.S. civilian organizations. The POW/MIA flag was flown over the White House for the first time in September 1982.
In 1998, Congress passed a law that it was mandatory to fly the POW/MIA flag on six days of the year: Armed Forces Day (3rd Saturday in May), Memorial Day (Last Monday in May), Flag Day (June 14), Independence Day (July 4), National POW/MIA Recognition Day (3rd Friday in September) and Veterans Day (November 11). Over the years, the POW/MIA flag would often be flown at government buildings and veteran organizations on patriotic holidays, special occasions and parades.
On November 7, 2019, the National POW/MIA Flag Act was signed into law by President Donald J. Trump. This law requires the POW/MIA flag to be displayed on all days that the flag of the United States is displayed on certain federal property to honor all POW/MIAs. The National POW/MIA Flag Act only applies to certain federal buildings, including the: White House, U.S. Capitol, Pentagon and Department of Veterans Affairs headquarters along with every U.S. Post Office across the country. The flag will also be required to fly at all major U.S. military installations, every national cemetery and well-known war-related sites such as the World War II Memorial and the Vietnam Veterans Memorial.
The National POW/MIA Flag Act ensures we will fly the POW/MIA flag every day to serve as a daily reminder of all the brave men and women who were taken captive or are missing in action during wartime. According to the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency (DPAA), 82,000 U.S. service members' remains have still not been found. Seventy-five percent of those are missing somewhere in the Asia-Pacific, most likely lost at sea. As of 2018, the DPAA estimates the following number of soldiers are missing from the following wars: 73,515 (WWII), 7,841 (Korean War), 1,626 (Vietnam), 126 (Cold War) and 6 (Conflicts since 1991). By flying this flag, we show that former and current prisoners of war, those missing in action and their families are not forgotten.
On this upcoming National POW/MIA Recognition Day (September 18), let us all take time to remember the service members who are still missing and the sacrifices of our POW and MIA service members who were able to make it back home. Fly your U.S. and POW/MIA flags at half-staff and take a moment to pause and say thank you for the men and women who have served and still serve our country.
If you need a POW/MIA flag for your federal building, military installation, cemetery or war-related site to be in compliance with the new National POW/MIA Flag Act, you can call our Customer Care Professionals at 800-628-3524 to find out the best size and material for your location. You can also view our POW/MIA flag selection online or send us your product needs by email or through our Contact Our Team online form.
The Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency , The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, The Military Times, The Florida Times-Union Jacksonville.com , govinfo.gov and Wikipedia were used for reference for this blog.