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.
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.