The History of The Vietnam War POW/MIA Flag

In 1971, Mrs. Mary Hoff, an MIA wife and member of the National League of American Prisoners and Missing in Southeast Asia, recognized the need for a symbol of our POW/MIAs.  Prompted by an article in the Jacksonville, Florida TIMES-UNION, Mrs. Hoff contacted Norman Rivkees, Vice-President of Annin & Company which had made a banner for the newest member of the United Nations, the People’s Republic of China, as a part of their policy to provide flags to all UN member nations.  Mrs. Hoff found Mr. Rivkees very sympathetic to the POW/MIA issue, and he, along with Annin’s advertising agency, designed a flag to represent our missing men.   Following League approval, the flags were manufactured for distribution.

The flag is black, bearing in the center, in black and white, the emblem of the League.  The emblem is a white disk bearing in black silhouette the bust of a man, watch tower with a guard holding a rifle, and a strand of barbed wire; above the disk are the white letters POW and MIA framing a white 5-pointed star; below the disk is a black and white wreath above the white motto YOU ARE NOT FORGOTTEN.

Concerned groups and individuals have altered the original POW/MIA Flag many times; the colors have been switched from black with white to red, white and blue, to white with black; the POW/MIA has at times been revised to MIA/POW.  Such changes, however, are insignificant.  The importance lies in the continued visibility of the symbol, a constant reminder of the plight of America’s POW/MIA’S.

On March 9,1989 a POW/MIA Flag, which flew over the White House on the 1988 National POW/MIA Recognition Day, was installed in the United States Capitol Rotunda as a result of legislation passed overwhelmingly during the 100th session of Congress.   The leadership of both Houses hosted the installation ceremony in a demonstration of bipartisan congressional support. This POW/MIA Flag, the only flag displayed in the United States Capitol Rotunda, stands as a powerful symbol of our national commitment to our POW/MIAs until the fullest possible accounting for Americans still missing in Southeast Asia has been achieved.

Month & Day
March 15-17
1919 The American Legion is
founded in Paris by members of the American Expeditionary Force.
September 16
1919 The U S. Congress charters The
American Legion.
November 10-12
1919 First national convention of The
American Legion convenes in Minneapolis, Minn.  Organization’s
Constitution and Preamble are adopted.  Resolution adopted
supporting the Boy Scouts of American as first youth program.
August 9
1921 U.S. Veterans Bureau, forerunner of
the Veterans Administration, is created as a result of efforts
by The American Legion.
June 15
1923 First “Flag Code” is drafted during
conference called by The American Legion.  Congress adopted the
code in 1942.
July 17
1925 American Legion Baseball program is
June 23
1935 First American Legion Boys State
convenes in Springfield, Ill.
June 1
1938 First American Legion National High
School Oratorical Championship held in Norman, Okla.

September 19-21
1942 Preamble to the Constitution of The
American Legion is changed for the first and only time since it
was written in 1919.  The word “War” is changed to “Wars.”
December 15
1943 Harry W. Colmery, past national
commander of The American Legion, writes in longhand on hotel
stationery the first draft of what will become the “GI Bill of
June 22
1944 President Franklin Roosevelt signs The
GI Bill into law.
May 29
1946 A $50,000 grant from the American
Legion and the American Legion Auxiliary is presented to a
small, struggling organization – the American Heart Association
– to inaugurate a nationwide program for the study, prevention
and treatment of rheumatic heart disease.
May 4
1950 The American Legion votes to
contribute funds to the field of mental health with the
provision that the three major mental health organizations then
in existence be amalgamated into one.  They accepted this
provision and the National Association for Mental Health was
July 9
1954 The American Legion Child Welfare
Foundation is formed.
September 1
1966 The American Legion voices great
concern over the fate of POWs in Vietnam.
August 26
1982 The American Legion presents a
$1million check to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund toward the
construction of ‘The Wall’ in Washington, D.C.
July 21
1983 The American Legion announces its
sponsorship of an independent study of the effects of exposure
to Agent Orange on Vietnam veterans.  (The results of “The
American Legion Columbia University Study of Vietnam-era
Veterans’ were presented to Congress in 1989.)
January 1
1989 The Department of Veterans Affairs
begins operations.  The American Legion fought for the VA to
become a cabinet-level department, arguing that veterans
deserved representation in the highest conuncils fo government.
October 16
1989 Longstanding objective of The American
Legion is achieved as the U.S. Court of Veterans Appeals begins
October 11
1990 The Family Support Netword of The
American Legion is formed to assist the families of military
personnel deployed during Operation Desert Shield/Desert Storm.
June 15
1991 The American Legion’s first Junior
Shooting Sports National Air Rifle Championships are held at the
Olympic Training Center at Colorado Springs, Colo.
April 5
1993 The First class of recently discharged
veterans begins training in Sterling, VA for eventual placement
in well-paying jobs in the construction industry.  The landmark
training and job-placement program is a joint effort by The
American Legion and the Laborers’ International Union of North
August 24
1994 The American Legion announces creation
of the Citizens Flag Alliance to work for a constitutional
amendment to protect the American flag from physical
September 24
1994 The American Legion announces
partnership with the Smithsonian Institute’s Air and Space
Museum to develop an exhibit for the bomber Enola Gay, which
droped an atomic bomb on Hiroshima, Japan.  Previous museum
plans and drawn intense criticism from veterans, scholars and
the public.
January 30
1995 The American Legion announces
acceptance of scaled-down exhibit “without political commentary”
for the Enola Gay, ending the greatest controversy in the
Smithsonian Institute’s 149-year history.
October 1
1995 The American Legion forms a Persian
Gulf Tast Force to enhance the organization’s service to these
September 16
1996 The first $20,000 postsecondary
scholarship in the Samsung -American Legion High School Scholars
program are granted to 10 students.
June 11
1997 The American Legion National Emergency
Fund exceeds the $1 million mark in grants to flood victims in
Ohio, Kentrucky, Indiana, Minnesota, and North Dakota.

September 3
1997 The first National Law Enforcement
Office of the Year award is presented during the 79th National
Convention in Orlando, Fla.
March 28
2000 The American Legion, the American
Legion Auxiliary and the Fons of The American Legion donate $2.7
million to the World War II Memorial Fund.  Donations exceed 3.4
million by year end.
September 5
2000 The American Legion presents the first
“Spirit of Service” Award to active duty service members for
their off-duty volunteer activities.
August 28-30
The American Legion passes resolution
to rekindle Blue Star Service Banner program.
September 12
2001 The American Legion reactivates the
Family Support Network following terrorist attacks in New York
and Washington, D.C.
October 10-11
2001 The American Legion creates the
American Legacy Scholarship Fund for children of military
members killed on active duty on or after September 11, 2001
September 11
2002 The American Legion takes lead in
conducting “A Day To Remember” events to mark the anniversary of
the terrorist attacks on the nation.
November 8
2002 The American Legion launches national
“I Am Not A Number” campaign to identify and document the delays
veterans face in obtaining earned medical care benefits from the
Department of Veterans Affairs.
October 17
2003 American Legion efforts on Capitol
Hill break the deadlock on the Disabled Veterans Tax when
Congress creates a 10-year phase-in for service-connected
disabled retirees to receive military retired pay and VA
disability compensation without subtraction from either.  Legion
efforts also result I passage of the Military Family Tax Relief
September 3
2004 American Legion lobbying leads to more
progress in elimination of the Disabled Veterans Tax with
passage of PL 108-375 that eliminates the 10-year phase-in for
100 percent service-connected retirees, allowing them to
immediately begin receiving both retired pay and VA disability
September 19
2004 The American Legion launches a
national program, the Blue Star Salute, where posts across the
country hold public events to recognize troops, their families
and local businesses on Armed Forces Day.
May 7
2005 The American Legion lobbied
successfully to remove from VA funding legislation
administration-proposed increases in VA prescription co-payments
and institution of user fee for Priority Group 8 veterans using
VA health facilities.  Efforts focus on legislation to provide
mandatory, vice discretionary, funding of VA health care.

The American flag is a source of American history, legend, unity and respect. Through the years the number of stars in the canton has increased with the addition of new states, and the meaning of the flag has expanded to unimaginable heights. From its unofficial beginning as the Continental Colors or Grand Union flag to the long serving 50-star American Flag, Americans have been on a quest to protect, preserve and serve the flag. Today the flag flies everywhere from classrooms to federal buildings to homes and even cars. It’s internationally recognized in every country and city around the world.

Number of Stars Design Information Dates in Use
0 Stars Continental Colors

  • Also known as the Grand Union flag, the Union flag, the Continental flag, the Somerville flag and the Great Union
  • Designed with a British Union Jack in the canton and 13 alternating red and white stripes
  • Considered to the be the first American flag, but it was never official
  • The Maritime Committee of Continental Congress considered it the official flag of the American naval forces
  • More Information on the Continental Colors
  • Purchase a Continental Colors flag
13 Stars Betsy Ross Flag

  • First official flag of the United States
  • Designed with 13 stars and 13 stripes to represent the 13 colonies (Delaware, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Georgia, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Maryland, South Carolina, New Hampshire, Virginia, New York, North Carolina, Rhode Island)
  • Since Congress did not specify dimensions, proportions, shapes or star patterns, flags varied dramatically
  • Legend says that Betsy Ross designed and sewed the first American flag, but most historians disagree
  • The person who sewed the first flag is unknown, but the designer is thought to be Francis Hopkinson
  • The Second Continental Congress passed the Flag Resolution of 1777 on June 14, 1777 making the Betsy Ross flag official
  • This date is now celebrated annually as Flag Day
  • The only president to serve under this flag was George Washington
  • More Information on the Betsy Ross flag
  • Purchase a Betsy Ross flag
15 Stars Star Spangled Banner Flag

  • Designed with 15 stars and 15 stripes to represent the 13 original states plus Kentucky and Vermont
  • Made by Mary Pickersgill and her daughter
  • In 1812 the flag was flown over Fort McHenry, which inspired Francis Scott Key to write the Star Spangled Banner poem, which was put to music to become America’s national anthem
  • The Star Spangled Banner is on display at the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of American History
  • George Washington, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison and James Monroe all served under this flag
  • More Information on the Star Spangled Banner
  • Purchase a Star Spangled Banner flag
20 Stars 20-Star American Flag

  • Also known as the Great Star Flag and the Flag of 1818
  • Congress passed the Flag Act of 1818, adding five new stars to the flag and reducing the number of stripes from 15 to 13
  • The five additional stars represented Tennessee, Ohio, Louisiana, Indiana, Mississippi
  • This flag was designed by Navy Captain Samuel Reid
  • James Monroe was the only president to serve under this flag
21 Stars 21-Star American Flag

  • One star was added with the admission of Illinois to the Union
  • James Monroe was the only president to service under this flag
23 Stars 23-Star American Flag

  • Two stars were added to the flag for the admission of Alabama and Maine
  • When Alabama was admitted in 1819, the free and slave states were balanced, but with the addition of Maine, the Union held a majority of
    free states
  • James Monroe was the only president to serve under this flag
24 Stars 24-Star American Flag

  • One star was added to the flag for the admission of Missouri
  • The name “Old Glory” spawned from a 24-star flag flown by shipmaster Captain William Driver
  • The flag, which was given to him by his mother and friends, became famous by the time of the Civil War
  • Driver, who lived in Tennessee, was afraid the flag would be seized by Confederate forces, so he hid the flag between layers of his comforter
  • In 1860 ten more stars were added to the flag for the admission of new states
  • Today Old Glory is one of America’s greatest treasures
  • James Monroe, John Quincy Adams and Andrew Jackson served under the 24-star flag
25 Stars 25-Star American Flag

  • One star was added to the flag for the admission of Arkansas
  • Andrew Jackson and Martin Van Buren served under this flag
26 Stars 26-Star American Flag

  • One star was added to the flag for the admission of Michigan
  • Sailing under a 26-star American flag, U.S. Navy Lieutenant Charles Wilkes led the first American expedition to explore Antarctica
  • Martin Van Buren, William Henry Harrison, John Tyler and James Polk served under this flag
27 Stars 27-Star American Flag

  • One star was added to the flag for the admission of Florida
  • James Polk was the only president to serve under this flag
28 Stars 28-Star American Flag

  • The 28th star was added to the flag when the United States annexed Texas; an action that would spawn the Mexican-American War
  • This was the first war in which American troops carried the flag into battle
  • The United States defeated Mexico and gained land that would become New Mexico, Utah, Nevada, Arizona, California and most of western Colorado
  • James Polk was the only president to serve under this flag
29 Stars 29-Star American Flag

  • One star was added to the flag for the admission of Iowa
  • James Polk was the only president to serve under this flag
30 Stars 30-Star American Flag

  • One star was added to the flag for the admission of Wisconsin
  • James Polk, Zachary Taylor and Millard Fillmore served under this flag
31 Stars 31-Star American Flag

  • One star was added to the flag for the admission of California
  • Millard Fillmore, Franklin Pierce and James Buchanan served under this flag
32 Stars 32-Star American Flag

  • One star was added to the flag for the admission of Minnesota
  • James Buchanan was the only president to serve under this flag
33 Stars 33-Star American Flag

  • One star was added to the flag for the admission of Oregon
  • The Civil War began on April 12, 1861, under this flag
  • James Buchanan and Abraham Lincoln served under this flag
34 Stars 34-Star American Flag

  • One star was added to the flag for the admission of Kansas
  • South Carolina, Mississippi, Florida, Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, Texas, Arkansas, Tennessee, North Carolina, and Virginia seceded from the Union in 1861
  • President Lincoln did not remove stars from the flag because he believed the Southern states were still part of the government
  • In protest some Northeners cut 11 stars out of their personal flags
  • Abraham Lincoln was the only president to serve under this flag
35 Stars 35-Star American Flag

  • One star was added to the flag for the admission of West Virginia
  • Virginia split into two separate states because parts supported the Confederacy and other parts supported the Union (the section that would become West Virginia supported the Union)
  • This was the first time that a new state formed out of rebellion of the original state
  • The Civil War ended on April 9, 1865, under this flag
  • Abraham Lincoln and Andrew Johnson served under this flag
36 Stars 36-Star American Flag

  • One star was added to the flag for the admission of Nevada
  • 3 months before the flag became official, a 36-star flag was used to cushion President Lincoln’s head the evening of his assassination at Ford’s Theatre
  • “The Lincoln Flag” is currently on display at the Columns Museum of the Pike County Historical Society in Milford, PA
  • Andrew Johnson was the only president to serve under this flag
37 Stars 37-Star American Flag

  • One star was added to the flag for the admission of Nebraska
  • Andrew Johnson, Ulysses S. Grant and Rutherford B. Hayes served under this flag
38 Stars 38-Star American Flag

  • One star was added to the flag for the admission of Colorado
  • Rutherford B. Hayes, James A. Garfield, Chester A. Arthur, Grover Cleveland and Benjamin Harrison all served under this flag
43 Stars 43-Star American Flag

  • Five stars were added to the flag for the admission of North Dakota, South Dakota, Montana, Washington and Idaho
  • Benjamin Harrison was the only president to serve under this flag
44 Stars 44-Star American Flag

  • One star was added to the flag for the admission of Wyoming
  • Benjamin Harrison and Grover Cleveland served under this flag
45 Stars 45-Star American Flag

46 Stars 46-Star American Flag

  • One star was added to the flag for the admission of Oklahoma
  • William H. Taft was the only president to serve under this flag
48 Stars 48-Star American Flag

  • Two stars were added to the flag for the admission of New Mexico and Arizona
  • President Taft passed an Executive Order in 1912 establishing proportions for the flag and arranging the stars in six horizontal rows of eight, with each star pointing upward
  • This flag was in service for 47 years, lasting through two World Wars and making it the longest serving flag until July 4, 2007, when it will be succeeded by the 0-star American flag
  • William H. Taft, Woodrow Wilson, Warren Harding, Calvin Coolidge, Herbert Hoover, Franklin D. Roosevelt, Harry S. Truman, and Dwight D. Eisenhower served under this flag
  • Purchase a 48-star American Stick Flag
49 Stars 49-Star American Flag

  • One Star was added for the admission of Alaska
  • President Eisenhower passed an Executive Order in 1959 to have the stars arranged in 7 rows with 7 stars in each row, staggered horizontally and vertically
  • Dwight D. Eisenhower was the only president to serve under this flag
50 Stars 50-Star American Flag

  • One star was added to the flag for the admission of Hawaii
  • 17-year-old Bob Heft predicted that Hawaii would gain statehood after Alaska, and designed a 50-star flag for his high school history class
  • After Hawaii had been added, President Eisenhower selected Heft’s design to become the national emblem
  • As of July 4, 2007, the 50-star flag will be America’s longest serving flag
  • Dwight D. Eisenhower, John F. Kennedy, Lyndon B. Johnson, Richard M. Nixon, Gerald R. Ford, Jimmy Carter, Ronald W. Reagan, George Bush, William J. Clinton, and George W. Bush served under this flag
  • More Information on the 50-star American Flag
  • Purchase a 50-star American Flag

The American Legion —– Still Serving America

The American Legion is the largest wartime veterans’ group in the nation, with approximately 2.8 million members. In recent years, a new generation of wartime veterans has become eligible to join. The American Legion, the millions of service men and women who served on duty during the Persian Gulf War, Somalia, and Haiti. Their wartime service gives them eligible, just as those who served during Grenada, Panama, and Lebanon. Today’s active-duty service men and women are currently eligible for Legion membership, because the Persian Gulf period has not yet been declared over by the U.S. government.

Not only is the Legion the largest, but it is also the most active veteran’s organization. Veterans care and benefits have always been at the top of The American Legion agenda. The Legion constantly battles for adequate funding for the Department of Veterans Affairs, especially to restore veterans’ medical care to a level promised them by a government they swore to serve and defend. The Legion has introduced comprehensive proposals to improve the VA Health Care System and to reform its unfair and complicated eligibility rules.

The Legion has long been the leader of the efforts to gain adequate care and compensation for Vietnam veterans and their families affected by exposure to Agent Orange and for those who suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder. Based upon that experience, the Legion was among the first to call attention to the phenomenon of strange illness reported by those who served in the Persian Gulf, and thus demanded that those sick veterans be compensated for service-oriented illnesses.

Because of drastic downsizing of the armed forces, The American Legion has voiced strong and consistent concern for our nation’s national defense. Today’s men and women in uniform are some of America’s finest citizens: yet they are over deployed and underpaid. The American Legion is reconnecting with those in uniform to help them at the local level while pushing hard at the top levels of government for essential increases in pay and funding.

More than a veterans organization, The American Legion stands second to none in patriotism and has led the movement to return to the people their right to protect the American Flag from acts of physical desecration.

With the formation of the Citizens Flag Alliance, a coalition of like-minded organizations founded in 1944 by The American Legion, the voice of the people is heard in Congress. Forty-nine state legislatures have petitioned Congress to send them a flag-protection amendment for ratification. Legislation to achieve protection will be considered in the 107th Congress.

The American Legion is dedicated to improving America through involved and committed volunteerism. The Legion donates more blood than any other organization in the country. In 1999-2000, Legionnaires gave more than $28 million to Children and Youth programs, such as its long-standing sponsorship of American Legion Baseball, Boys State and Boys Nation, and Boy Scouts. More than $9 million was donated to charitable organizations such as the United Way and Red Cross. And last year, Legionnaires gave more than 3.9 million hours in volunteer service to their communities and VA hospitals.

Those who stood to defend their nation in time of war… who continue to stand for a strong national defense in a changing world…and who steadfastly work to preserve the fabric of the nation…that is today’s American Legion, STILL SERVING AMERICA.