Newt Heisley, the commercial artist who imagined and designed the black and white POW/MIA symbol, died last Thursday at his home in Colorado Springs.
Heisley was born in Williamsport, Pennsylvania in November, 1920, orphaned before he was a year old and raised by his grandparents. He majored in art at Syracuse University, worked as a cartoonist and artist for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and enlisted in the Army Air Corps in World War II.
After the Second World War he worked for various advertising agencies in New York City and New Jersey for 25 years. Heisley was employed by an agency in New Jersey in 1971 when he sketched out a design for a flag manufacturer named Annin & Company. Annin had been hired by the wife of a missing soldier to create a flag for the National League of Families of American Prisoners and Missing in Southeast Asia.
Heisley drew a stark, three piece design. The top rocker is the legend POW-MIA. The center portrays a young man with his head bowed, a guard tower and a strand of barbed wire. Beneath that illustration are the words, “You Are Not Forgotten.”
The model for the young prisoner was Heisley’s 24-year-old son Jeffrey who was home on leave from the Marine Corps and suffering from hepatitis when his father sketched him.
The words under his son’s sketch were also based on Heisley’s personal experience. In the book Faith Under Fire, Heisley said he had often been afraid of “being taken prisoner and being …forgotten” when he piloted C-46 transport planes across the Pacific during his war. “That experience came back to me and I wrote down the phrase, ‘You are not forgotten.'”
The flag Heisley designed in 1971 first flew over the White House in 1988. It was placed on permanent display in the Rotunda of the Capitol Building the next year. And an act of Congress in 1990 made the flag an official “symbol of our nation’s concern” for the prisoners we abandoned in Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos. Another Congressional Act ordered that the flag be flown over federal buildings on six days of the year including Memorial Day and Independence Day.
Heisley moved to Colorado Springs in 1972 and opened a small advertising agency there. His wife of 61 years, Margaret Heisley, died in 2005. Next Tuesday, he will be buried in a private ceremony next to her.
He is survived by his sons James and Jeffrey, their wives Susan and Deborah Heisley and his granddaughter Sara Heisley.
A public celebration of his life and work will be held on Flag Day, June 14th, at American Legion Post 38 in Security-Widefield, Colorado near Fort Carson.
Newton Foust Heisley was 88. He died at peace in his own bed.
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