Meet the Guy Whose Face Is on the POW Flag

Jeffrey Heisley wasn't actually a prisoner of war

By Matt Cantor,  Newser Staff

Posted Jul 5, 2014 5:12 PM CDT

(Newser) – Jeffrey Heisley was never a prisoner of war—but his silhouette has represented POWs for decades. Suffering from hepatitis, Heisley had to leave the Marine Corps' officer candidate program as a young man. In the course of the illness, he tells Fox News, "I had all my hair cut off and lost quite a bit of weight." That's when, in 1970, his illustrator father decided to use him as a model for a new project: the National League of POW/MIA Families' new flag. "He said, 'Whoa, whoa, whoa, Jeff, let me see your profile,'" Heisley says of his father, Newton, who was a pilot in World War II.

Newton Heisley intended to add color to the design, but the flags were printed before he got the chance, the Home of Heroes notes. Now, under a 1998 law, the flag must be flown six days a year; the White House flies it on July 4. But "many of our flags fly 24/7," says a rep for the POW families league. "Every state capitol has them, many schools have them, and all the military bases post them at their stations." The younger Heisley, a respiratory therapist in Alaska, is "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," notes an American studies professor. While military flags are made in the US, other patriotic symbols—like fireworks—may not be.

The gravestone of U.S. Marine Staff Sgt. Samuel Hewitt rests against a wall as a POW-MIA flag blows in the wind at the Ohio Western Reserve National Cemetery, Friday, Nov. 19, 2010, in Rittman, Ohio.
The gravestone of U.S. Marine Staff Sgt. Samuel Hewitt rests against a wall as a POW-MIA flag blows in the wind at the Ohio Western Reserve National Cemetery, Friday, Nov. 19, 2010, in Rittman, Ohio.   (AP Photo/Tony Dejak)
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