What is the Black and White Flag Flown on POW/MIA Recognition Day?

By USO Staff

You’d recognize it if you saw it.

Its black and white pattern is striking, as are its words “You Are Not Forgotten.” Typically, it is flown on POW/MIA Recognition Day, on the third Friday in September, but in some locations, it is displayed all year-round.

Formally known as the POW/MIA flag, the solemn black-and-white banner originally stood as a tribute to the troops who fought in Vietnam and remain missing or unaccounted for. Today, it is also a symbol of all those who still haven’t come home from other conflicts, as well.

Other than our nation’s flag, it’s the only symbol allowed to fly at the White House and has occupied that place of honor on National POW/MIA Recognition Day since 1982.

The History of the POW/MIA Flag

The quest to create the POW/MIA flag began January 7, 1970.

That day, Navy Lt. Cmdr. Michael G. Hoff launched his Sidewinder A7A Corsair from the USS Coral Sea to begin an armed reconnaissance over Laos. As he completed a strafing run near the city of Sepone, he radioed that a fire warning light had come on. The plane inverted and the flight leader reported seeing Hoff’s aircraft explode after impact.

After learning Hoff may never come home, his wife, Mary Helen – a member of the National League of Families – began a campaign for more information. The POW/MIA flag was one result of her efforts.

Annin & Company, flag maker for all United Nations members at the time, and an employee of Annin’s advertising agency, collaborated on the flag’s design.

POW/MIA Flag Adopted by the Nation

On March 9, 1989, members of the 100th Congress overwhelmingly passed legislation that proposed the installation of a POW/MIA flag, which had already been flown over the White House, in the Capitol rotunda.

The following year, U.S. Public Law 101-355 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.”

Distinguishing the POW/MIA flag further, the League ensured its message would be heard far and wide by refusing to trademark or copyright the artwork. Additionally, there are no legal restrictions for using the POW/MIA flag and the League does not benefit financially from its sales.

This story originally appeared on USO.org in 2014. It has been updated in September 2021.

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