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The POW/MIA (Prisoners of War/Missing in Action) Flag was created to symbolize a movement of women who demanded an accounting of their husbands who were captured or missing in Southeast Asia during the Vietnam War. On a snowy morning in January 1966, Evelyn Grubb (1931-2005), mother of three and pregnant with a fourth child, answered the doorbell. A taxi driver handed her a telegram informing her that her husband, Air-force Captain Wilmer Newlin “Newk” Grubb (1932-1966), was shot down while flying his reconnaissance airplane over North Vietnam. Shocked by the news, her sons, Jeffrey (9), Roland (5), and Stephen (“Van”) (2), sought help from the neighbors. Uncertain about whether Newk had survived the crash, Evelyn was stunned when a friend phoned her to tell her that he had seen Newk, clearly alive, in a photo published a U.S. newspaper which portrays a Vietnamese nurse tending to Newk’s wounds (click here to see this photo). Naturally, the hope of Newk’s survival was rekindled and Evelyn began laboring for the day on which she would be reunited with her husband. She became a formidable activist and the National Coordinator for the National League of Families (“League”). Comprised primarily of the wives of POW/MIA, the League lobbied governmental officials to provide information about their missing husbands, and to enforce the 3d Geneva Convention which concerns the humane treatment of prisoners of war. In addition to meeting with President Nixon and Secretary of State Kissinger, Evelyn Grubb petitioned the United Nations, reminding nations of their legal duties towards prisoners of war under international law. In February 1973, surviving POWs were returned to the U.S. as part of “Operation Homecoming.” Newk was not among them. The League lobbied to get the remains of those remaining in North Vietnam returned to the U.S. In March 1974, Newk and others were disinterred from their makeshift North Vietnamese graves, and returned to the United States. Today, Newk and Evelyn are buried alongside eachother at Arlington National Cemetery.

Mary Hoff (1931-2015), mother of five, also received a telegram similar to the one received in 1966 by Evelyn Grubb. In 1970, Mary received news informing her that her husband, Navy Commander Michael G. Hoff, was shot down over Laos in 1970. It was Mary who had the idea for a flag as she wanted to hang something in her window to identify her family as a family of the Missing. Her vision was of a stark, black and white flag which originated from images of POW’s wearing black-and-white pajamas. Hoff worked with Newt Hisely, a World War II veteran, to design the flag. With input from Mary, Newt designed the POW/MIA flag to include the “You are Not Forgotten” language, betokening our moral duty to bring all soldiers home. Mary subsequently brought her design to a local chapter of the League, which embraced the flag as the symbol of their movement. As National Coordinator of the League, Evelyn Grubb presented the flag to U.S. Secretary of Defense, Melvin Laird in 1972. Unlike Evelyn who was able to realize some closure with Newk, Mary Hoff died without ever learning about the fate of her husband.
© 2022 Hope Elizabeth May