History of the POW/MIA flag
From their first formation as civilian-clad recruits until the ink is dry on their DD-214, every Servicemember makes and receives the promise that no one who rallies to their flag—whether it is of their nation, state, branch or unit—will be left behind.
For Navy Lieutenant Commander Michael G. Hoff, that promise is still outstanding.
In 1970, his F-4 Phantom was shot down while flying a combat mission in notoriously dangerous airspace over Laos. Commander Hoff is presumed killed in action (KIA), and his remains have not been recovered.
“I never stopped thinking he wasn’t coming home,” Mary Hoff told the Times-Union in 2004. Mary is Commander Hoff’s wife, a mother of five, and an Orange Park native. “I know he isn’t coming home alive, but I never stopped thinking he wasn’t coming home.”
Mary refused to sit idle while she could take action to bring awareness to the plight of POW/MIA Servicemembers and their families. Despite her anguish and immense responsibilities to her children, which kept her homebound, she reached out to the vice president of Annin & Co. after reading an article about the flagmaker in the newspaper. The company began designing the POW/MIA flag emblem in collaboration with graphic designer Newt Heisley, who served as a pilot in the Pacific during WWII. The initial concept was modeled after the bright Blue Star and Gold Star Banners found in WWII-era military homes, but it did not seem appropriate, considering the sense of dismay Mary and her allies felt.
“I had seen a picture of one of those POWs wearing black-and-white pajamas…We need a stark, black-and-white flag,” Hoff told the Times-Union in 2009. From this vision emerged the white-on-black silhouette of a POW (Jack Heisley, an Army Veteran of Vietnam, served as the model for the POW) in front of a guard tower seen on the flag today. Initially, the design came on banners Mary distributed from her home. After meeting with a local branch of the National
League of Families of Prisoners of War, and state-level involvement of the same group, the design was adopted as the organization’s logo and made into a flag.
As of November 2019, the POW/MIA flag championed by Mary is the only flag, aside from the U.S. flag, authorized to fly over the White House. It’s also the only other flag that can fly on the same flagstaff as the American flag.
The prominent display of this flag serves as a stark reminder of the sacrifices made by American Servicemembers and ensures that no one—including Commander Hoff and his 1,586 unaccounted for comrades—is left behind.
History of the POW/MIA flag
By Matthew Snowberger
Mary Huff presents the newly designed banner to Jacksonville, Florida Mayor Hans Tanzler, center, and city council president Lynwood Roberts.