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POW-MIA Flag—You are not forgotten

In the late 1960s, the wife of a Prisoner-of-War held in North Vietnam organized a group of families who also had family members listed as POWs or were MIA—missing in action. The organization grew and in 1970, it incorporated in Washington D.C. as the National League of Families of American Prisoners and Missing in Southeast Asia. The League is a non-profit, tax-exempt, 501(3)(c) humanitarian organization, funded by contributions from the families, veterans, and other Americans.

The League’s sole purpose is to obtain the release of all prisoners, the fullest possible accounting for the missing and repatriation of all recoverable remains of those who died serving our nation during the Vietnam War in Southeast Asia.

Mrs. Michael Hoff, the wife of an American missing in action, and member of the National League of Families, recognized the need for a symbol of our POW/MIAs. After reading an article in the Jacksonville, Florida Times Union, Mrs. Hoff contacted Norman Rivkees, Vice-President of long-time American flag manufacturers Annin and Company. Rivkees, sympathetic to the POW-MIA issue, and Annin advertising agency graphic designer Newt Heisley, designed a flag to represent the missing men.

800px-POW.MIA.Flag.2 The now iconic black and white flag design was a draft design, chosen from several designs that were submitted to the League. Heisley thought the design would be finalized with color, but the League liked the black and white flag just as it was. It was a good decision.

The POW-MIA flag has flown over the White House, and on March 9, 1989 an official League flag was installed in the US Capital Rotunda where it stands as a powerful symbol of America’s commitment to our POWs and MIAs.  This is the only flag ever to be honored in this way.

On August 10, 1990, Congress passed US Public Law 101-355 which officially recognized the League’s POW/MIA flag. On November 18, 1997 President Clinton signed into law the 1998 Defense Authorization Act. A section of that act requires that the POW/MIA flag be flown from Military Installations, National Cemeteries, V.A. Medical Centers and many other Federal Buildings.

The League’s POW/MIA flag is the only flag ever displayed in the U.S. Capitol Rotunda where it stands as a powerful symbol of national commitment to America’s POW/MIAs until the fullest possible accounting has been achieved for U.S. personnel still missing and unaccounted for from the Vietnam War.

On August 10, 1990, the 101st Congress passed U.S. Public Law 101-355, which recognized the League’s POW/MIA flag and designated it “as the 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”.

The importance of the League’s POW/MIA flag lies in its continued visibility. This highly esteemed flag is a constant reminder of the plight of America’s POW/MIAs.  Except for the National flag, the League’s POW/MIA flag is the only flag ever to fly over the White House, having been displayed in this place of honor on National POW/MIA Recognition Day since 1982.

Photo: from Colony High School, Palmer Alaska. "Knight Battalion" Junior ROTC Cadets pose for a picture atop Mount POW/MIA after replacing the flag.

5 thoughts on “POW-MIA Flag—You are not forgotten

  1. Hello. I’m looking for information on the history of the POW/MIA flag from prior to 1985. Articles about controversy or support. Information about how people responded to the flag. Anything like that. Do you know where I could find that sort of information?
    Thank you.

  2. Oh, I forgot to leave my contact info. Please e-mail information to

    Thank you.

  3. Hi Jennifer,

    The Readers’ Guide to Periodical Literature (magazines, newspapers, and journals) found at the library, is your best resource for information prior to 1985. While there is a wealth of information available on the internet, what you are looking for will most easily be found by searching the Readers’ Guides, because it most likely has not been uploaded on the internet. And go to the largest library you have access to, because it will have the most periodicals on file.

    Topics are indexed alphabetically, so while you will search for POW-MIA flag, you will also want to cross-reference your search by League of Families, Vietnam veterans, Vietnam Veterans Association, the VFW, American Legion, et cetera. A history of the Vietnam war will give the formal names of many military units (the 173rd Army Airborne, for example, whose troopers parachuted into Vietnam) and you can search by those names for information. Virtually every military unit from the Vietnam war now has a reunion association, and those can be found via the internet, and many of them have forums where you can ask your questions.

    Good Luck and best wishes,

  4. I read a new regulation for the State of California that states the POW-MIA flag is to be flown at all State Buildings. Can I get a link to that regulation?

    1. Tony, the link below is the only thing I find regarding state flag code in California. I hope this helps. Thank you for writing and Best Wishes, Deborah

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