POW/MIA Flag History

 

 

Used with permission from
www.homeofheroes.com

Newt Heisley was a pilot during World War II, a dangerous role that accounts for
many wartime POWs and MIAs. Years after the war, he had come to New York
looking for work. "It took me four days to find a bad job at low pay," he later said
of his introduction to "Big Apple" advertising agencies. But, by working hard, by
1971 he had gradually moved upward in the industry, eventually working for an
agency with many national accounts.

As a veteran, the call for a flag designed to raise awareness of our Nation's POW/MIAs
was a personal challenge. It was even more challenging when he considered that his oldest
son Jeffrey was, during these Vietnam War years, training for combat with the United
States Marines at Quantico, Virginia. As he pondered this new challenge, a series of
events set in motion the ideas that would create a flag unlike anything since the days of
Betsy Ross. First, Jeffery became very ill while training for combat. The illness, diagnosed
as hepatitis, ravaged his body, emaciating his face and structure. When he returned
home, medically discharged and unable to continue further, his father looked in horror
at what had once been a strong young man. Then, as Newt Heisley looked closer at
his son's gaunt features, he began to imagine what life must be like for those behind
barbed wire fences on foreign shores. Slowly he began to sketch the profile of his
son, working in pencil to create a black and white silhouette, as the new flag's
design was created in his mind. Barbed wire, a tower, and most prominently
the visage of a gaunt young man became the initial proposal.

Newt Heisley's black and white pencil sketch was one of several designs considered
for the new POW/MIA flag. Newt planned, should his design be accepted, to
add color at a later date…perhaps a deep purple and white. "In the advertising
industry, you do everything in black and white first, then add the color," he says.
Mr. Heisley's proposal for the new flag was unique. Rarely does a flag prominently
display the likeness of a person. None-the-less, it was the design featuring the gaunt
silhouette of his son Jeffrey that was accepted and, before Mr. Heisley could return
to refine his proposal and add the colors he had planned, the black and white flags
were already being printed in quantity by Annon & Company. (Though the POW/MIA
flag has been produced in other colors, often in red and white, the black and
white design became the most commonly used version.)

The design for the POW/MIA flag was never copyrighted. It became a flag that
belongs to everyone, a design that hauntingly reminds us of those we dare not
ever forget. Behind the black and white silhouette is a face we can't see…the
face of a husband, a father, or a son who has paid with their freedom, for our
freedom. Beneath the image are the words…

You Are Not Forgotten

Today, Newt Heisley and his family, including Jeffery, live in Colorado Springs,
Colorado. Few people know the story behind the flag he designed, which is well
enough for Newt. What is important for Mr. Heisley is not that he had the rare
opportunity to create something powerful and timeless…that in his own sense he
is a modern "Betsy Ross". What is important to Newt is that the image he created
years ago as the result of the tragedy that befell his own son, continue to remind us
of the real tragedy faced daily by those who have served, been left behind,
but are not forgotten.

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