POW☆MIA Banner History
During the Vietnam War, on 7 January 1970, Commander Michael G. Hoff U.S.N., launched from the USS Coral Sea in an A-7 Corsair attack jet. His mission was an armed reconnaissance flight over an area of eastern Laos that was considered a major artery of the infamous Ho Chi Minh Trail. Commander Hoff was completing a strafing run on an enemy target when he radioed that he had a fire warning light and was going to have to eject.
The flight leader could not see the aircraft at the time of the radio transmission, however the leader did catch sight of the Corsair just as it impacted the ground.
Search and rescue efforts were immediately initiated. During the ensuing visual and electronic search operations, the participating aircrews reported they were receiving heavy enemy automatic weapons fire coming from the area of loss. Two aircraft were able to make repeated low passes in the crash area looking for a parachute and/or the downed pilot, but neither was found. All formal Search and Rescue efforts were terminated, and Michael Hoff was declared Missing in Action.
9000 miles away in his Jacksonville, Florida home, Commander Hoff’s wife Mary and their 5 children would join a growing community of POW☆MIA Wives and Families waiting for answers on their loved one’s fate.
Throughout 1970 and 1971 Mary Hoff would grow increasingly more involved in bringing Awareness to America about the plight of families with Servicemen listed as POW or MIA. Her government was not giving answers to the wives and family members, and had even suggested they should remain quiet.
Mary went all in. She helped VIVA (Voices In Vital America) and later the Lest We Forget Committee sell their POW☆MIA bracelets out of her house, using her 5 children to help. She joined the Florida League of Families of Prisoners of War and Missing in Action. She wrote letters. She stood with her fellow POW/MIA wives. But still, she felt the need for more Awareness.
In October of 1971, a national UPI story about Annin & Company making a flag to be flown at the United Nations for their newest member, China, appeared in her local newspaper, the Florida Times-Union. Upon reading it, Mrs. Hoff contacted Norman Rivkees, Annin’s Vice President of Sales and asked for their help in creating a symbol to recognize those who were POW and MIA.
Beginning during World War I and later WWII, there were banners families would hang from their home’s window with a Blue Star, (representing that you have a family member serving our country) or a Gold Star (representing you have a family member who made the ultimate sacrifice).
Mrs. Hoff told Mr. Rivkees she wanted a Banner for families of those listed as Prisoner of War or Missing in Action. She must have been quite persuasive, because wheels were immediately set in motion. Rivkees and Annin (the country’s oldest and largest flag maker) contacted a local advertising agency, Hayden Advertising, and contracted graphic designer Newt Heisley to design a symbol to represent the group.
The job came just as Heisley’s son Jeffrey was returning home from his Marine training at Quantico, VA. He had become ill with hepatitis, and Jeffrey’s gaunt appearance became the inspiration for the symbol’s silhouette. The guard tower and barbed wire symbolized prison camps. Newt Heisely, himself a World War II veteran who flew missions in the Pacific, was glad he got the chance to design the symbol and help the group. “I used to fly within range of the Japanese and wondered how I would hold up if I ever got captured. When I did the design, I thought how easy it would be to forget those guys”, he said.
The now familiar slogan, "YOU ARE NOT FORGOTTEN", was born of that sentiment.
Heisley's first attempt didn't suit Hoff and she returned it. "I said, 'I don't want a lot of colors,' " Hoff told the Florida Times-Union in 2009. "I had seen a picture of one of the POWs wearing black-and-white pajamas. And because of that I said, 'It needs to be stark, black-and-white. She also refused to copyright the image, allowing it to be used by anyone.
The first Banners Annin Flagmakers produced were sold out of Mary Hoff's home.
She took the Banner to a meeting of the Florida League of Families of Prisoners of War and Missing in Action and asked them what they thought about it. Evelyn Grubb, wife of POW “Newk” Grubb, as National Coordinator of the National League of Families, took that design to the League’s Board of Directors for their approval during their January 22-23, 1972 meetings. The League voted to adopt the symbol and immediately began the manufacture and distribution of POW☆MIA Flags.
Commander Michael G. Hoff, U.S.N., remains Missing today.
Mary Hoff worked tirelessly to create POW☆MIA Awareness in America. For not only her husband, but for EVERY Missing in Action American Serviceman that has not returned home. When you see the POW☆MIA symbol, ask yourself, What can I do?