County honors Mary Helen Hoff with an honorary roadway designation

Woman who inspired creation of POW-MIA flag lived in Orange Park

By Wesley LeBlanc wesley@opcfla.com
Posted 9/22/21

ORANGE PARK – Hundreds of residents, veterans, first responders and military members gathered at Moody Avenue Park last Friday, Sept. 17, for an honorary roadway designation ceremony for the late …

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County honors Mary Helen Hoff with an honorary roadway designation

Woman who inspired creation of POW-MIA flag lived in Orange Park

Posted

ORANGE PARK – Hundreds of residents, veterans, first responders and military members gathered at Moody Avenue Park last Friday, Sept. 17, for an honorary roadway designation ceremony for the late Mary Helen Hoff, the woman behind the country’s famous POW-MIA flag.

During any 10-minute drive through Clay County, there’s a good chance you’d see the world-famous black and white POW-MIA flag. It features the silhouette of a person with the words “You Are Not Forgotten” underneath and POW-MIA in big, bold, white letters up top. That flag was inspired by Clay County resident Mary Helen Hoff when she lived near Moody Avenue.

“On behalf of our family, I want to give a thank you to everyone involved in making this dedication a reality,” Mike Hoff, Mary’s son said. “Mom would be both humbled and deeply appreciative of this effort and this honor. I can’t think of a better road to have her name associated with. Just a few miles east of here on River Road drive is where mom got it all started.”

Hoff said it was on that home’s dining room table where she began her crusade to get Washington to acknowledge missing and imprisoned military members in Southeast Asia. Mike Hoff said there was a stack of correspondents as part of the effort, along with hundreds of silver and copper bracelets with names of POW-MIA service members.

The bracelets were sent to the families of those individuals and Hoff said seeing all of those names makes one realize how many individuals and their families were deeply affected by the war in Vietnam. He said he hopes that people driving by Mary Helen Hoff roadway designation sign are sparked to look into her name, what she did and why POW-MIA members must be remembered.

Terry Hoff, her daughter, attended and she presented the county with a POW-MIA banner flag designed and created by the company that originally made the flags for her mother.

Mary Helen Hoff’s history with POW-MIA military members is personal. In October of 1973, Hoff and a contingent of other members of the League of Families of American Prisoners of War and Missing in Southeast Asia went to Laos, a major battleground area during the Vietnam War, according to the Clay County historical archives.

“There, she spoke to a Pathet Lao Colonel who gave her some hope that Hoff and others might still be alive or at least their bodies found,” archive records state. [She told The Oregonian Newspaper] ‘he always left open the possibility they might be found, but without committing himself.’”

Hoff’s husband, Michael Hoff, was among 300 men missing from Laos. One prisoner who returned said “you wives are as much a prisoner of war as we were.”

Before that trip, Mary Helen Hoff contacted New York Flag manufacturer, Annin and Co., and she persuaded an executive there to help with designing the flag.

“I said, ‘I don’t want a lot of colors,’ Hoff said, according to Clay County’s historical archives. “I had seen a picture of one of those POWs wearing black-and-white pajamas and because of that, I said, ‘We need a stark, black-and-white flag.’”

This flag went on to become an international symbol. It also reminds of Hoff’s contributions to the nation’s history, and her dedication to never letting the nation forget its POW-MIA military members.

That all that now forever will be memorialized on Moody Avenue in Clay County.

 

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