Tag Archives: 1970

How one American became the symbol for U.S. POWs and those missing in action



How one American became the symbol for U.S. POWs and those missing in action


Jeffrey Heisley’s profile has long been a symbol for America’s prisoners of war.

Most Americans don’t know who Jeffrey Heisley is, but chances are good they’ve seen his profile and contemplated the painful sacrifices of countless Vietnam veterans and their families.

It is the silhouetted face of a young Heisley that adorns the iconic POW/MIA flag that flies above the White House with Old Glory on the Fourth of July and just below the star-spangled banner on flagpoles throughout the nation. The black and white banner, which drew attention to U.S. combat forces taken prisoner of war or deemed missing in action, was designed by Heisley’s father in 1970, and the then-22-year-old’s turn as a model came about quite by accident.

“My Dad was a commercial illustrator and did a lot of work in the New York/New Jersey area,” Heisley, who grew up in Glen Ridge, N.J., said.


One of Newt Heisley’s freelance clients was Annin Flags, America’s oldest flag maker, which was chosen by POW advocate The National League of POW/MIA Families to produce the flag.

Heisley was in the United States Marine Corps’ officer candidate program, and dealing with a bout of hepatitis that would eventually force him to drop out. Between the rigors of training and his illness, the young Heisley had inadvertently taken on the gaunt look of a POW.

“It’s very important for the families of those missing in action and for former prisoners to have a tangible symbol of what their families have gone through.”

– Jeffrey Heisley

“I had all my hair cut off and lost quite a bit of weight because of the hepatitis. I look back at pictures of myself now and I’m amazed at how bad I really did look,” said Heisley.

His father called him into his studio one night in a moment of thoughtful inspiration.

“He said, ‘Whoa, whoa, whoa, Jeff, let me see your profile,'” Heisley, now 66 and a respiratory therapist in Wasilla, Alaska, recalled. “He spun me around a couple times, looked at my face and my profile. “He didn’t say a whole lot about what he wanted it for.”

Years later, the profile of a young Heisley still appears above the words, “You are not forgotten” on the flag, which was ubiquitous in the 1970s, and saw a resurgence in the 1990s.

According to Ann Mills-Griffiths, executive director of The National League of POW/MIA Families, the flag is receiving international attention.

“Many of our flags fly 24/7 now, every state capitol has them, many schools have them, and all the military bases post them at their stations,” said Griffiths.

The Defense Authorization Act of 1998 requires that the League’s POW/MIA flag fly six days each year, including Independence Day — when it even flies at the White House. Other than “Old Glory,” the POW/MIA flag is the only one to fly over the White House since its Recognition Day in 1982, according to the League of Families website.

Scot Guenter, professor of American Studies at San Jose State University, believes there’s deep meaning behind the flag.

“You’re looking at the man behind the symbol. But what happens in patriotic culture is that the symbols become larger than life as they’re invested with shared meaning and values for people,” Guenter explained.

Newt Heisley died in 2009 at 88. Although neither he nor his son were ever prisoners of war or missing in action, Newt Heisley served in the U.S. military as an Army Air Force pilot in World War II.

Jeffrey Heisley said it’s humbling to know his family took part in creating a powerful symbol of American patriotism. It’s something he holds with great respect and honor.

“It’s very important for the families of those missing in action and for former prisoners to have a tangible symbol of what their families have gone through,” said Heisley. “And it’s very important for those of us not involved in the situation not to lose sight of their plight, and never to lose sight of those left behind on the field of action.”




Sixty-seven rounds of ammunition fired over 13 seconds (which killed four students, wounded nine others, resulting in one permanent paralysis) became the shots that changed the world. It was May 4th 1970 at Kent State University in Ohio. Unpopularity of the Vietnam War was at its peak that spring, and with the invasion of Cambodia a week before, the tension was fever-pitch. In that atmosphere, the Ohio National Guard fired upon students recklessly, harming observers and passers-by.

The tragedy set off a nationwide student strike participated by no fewer than eight million students that shut down hundreds of colleges and universities and came to symbolize the sharp political and social divisions of the age. Among the most potent images to emerge from the incident is this photo of 14-year-old runaway from Florida Mary Vecchio wailing over the body of Jeffrey Miller, one of the slain students. Snapped by John Filo, an undergraduate photojournalism major, the shot appeared on the front pages of newspapers around the country and won a Pulitzer Prize.

Filo was in the student photography lab when the shots rang out. The bullets were supposed to be blanks, the shooters later testified that they used the real ones because they were in fear for their lives, which was doubtful based on their distance from the protestors. “Triggers were not pulled accidentally at Kent State”, Time magazine concluded. Other photographers also captured the scene from other angles. Vecchio was accused by Florida’s Governor Claude Kirk of being planted by the Communists. She later ran away from home again, sent to a juvenile home, and was arrested for loitering and marijuana possession. She later admitted that the picture “destroyed my life”.

An editor had airbrushed the fence post above Ms. Vecchio’s head out of the photo in the 70s and the altered photo has been reprinted in many magazines since.
Kent State Student Reacting to Death of Slain Protester





The Sunset Strip



Pink Floyd Billboard

Joni Mitchell, Blue, billboard sunset Strip, circa 1971

Smokey Robinson billboard on the Sunset Strip circa 1978








Here are more of my reflections growing up a teenage in the 60s in Southern California…

If you were going to drive into the city from Woodland Hills it meant you were “going over the hill”. Whether it be Hollywood or Westwood or even San Diego – it was “over the hill”. And you never went “over the hill” unless you had a real purpose. You’d think we were living on the Ponderosa and had to pack saddlebacks to ride into town for vittles.

But there was a new attraction that the kids were buzzing about. The Sunset Strip. In the 40s and 50s this stretch of Sunset Blvd. between Beverly Hills and Hollywood was nightclub row. Sinatra played there. Sammy played there. Dino even had his own club. These hot spots featured dance floors and palm trees and exotic names like the Macambo, the Trocadero, Casa Manana, and Ciro’s. I was never actually in one of these nightclubs but there were several Looney Tunes that spoofed them so I had a pretty good idea of what went on there thanks to Bugs Bunny.

Now the clubs were starting to cater to young people. Whisky A Go Go led the charge. Some say it was because of the location, others say popular singer Johnny Rivers was the big draw but I contend it was the hot girls in mini skirts dancing in suspended cages that attracted the crowds. Rock groups would stagger down from Laurel Canyon to perform. The Byrds, the Doors (in matching suits), the Seeds, Buffalo Springfield, Love, and even the great Captain Beefheart performed in clubs like Gazzari’s, London Fog, and Pandora’s Box. They weren’t content to just do cover versions of popular songs or pale imitations of current styles. No sir. They examined their roots, experimented, challenged themselves to become artists in the true sense of the word. Their music was new and exciting and groundbreaking. God, the women these assholes must’ve gotten.

There were also a few clubs that catered to teenagers. They didn’t serve alcohol so you didn’t have to be 21. The downside was forfeiting the lucrative bar income. The upside was there were ten million teenagers under the age of 21. And club owners could still charge two bucks for a Coke. The Trip and It’s Boss were the two top teen clubs.

My 17 year old cousin Craig was visiting from Louisville. So for two weeks I had a chauffeur. One night we cruised down the Sunset Strip. We must’ve looked like the Clampett family gawking at all the activity. We were lucky and found a parking space only a mile up the hill from the strip, so we headed down to “check out the scene”. Who’s hipper than a fifteen year-old who still draws comics and a kid from Kentucky?

People were just hanging out, standing around, and many of them were smoking. I didn’t know what but the smell was weird and unlike anything I had experienced. You never forget your first second-hand smoke reefer.

The clubs were so crowded with such long lines that we decided to just bag it. Too much of a hassle. I’d just wait until the Looney Tunes cartoon.

Pandora’s Box was a teen club the size of an outhouse perched on a triangular traffic island on the corner of Sunset and Crescent Heights. Crowds became too large and were snarling traffic at that large intersection. So cops tried to enforce a 10 p.m. curfew (good luck) and later just close the club. This resulted in a protest rally – a mob of mostly clean-cut teenagers and twentysomethings wearing pullover sweaters and miniskirts. Police broke it up, a riot resulted, and observer Stephen Stills wrote the song “For What It’s Worth” about the incident. A month later Sonny & Cher performed at Pandora’s Box but not without dire consequences. They were kicked off a Rose Parade float. It’s amazing Sonny Bono ever got elected to public office with that stain on his record.

I was not part of that riot. But I did buy the record.