Springs man, famous for POW flag design, dies

May 16, 2009
photo - Colorado Springs resident Newt Heisley designed the POW/MIA flag many years ago. Photo by JERILEE BENNETT, THE GAZETTE
Colorado Springs resident Newt Heisley designed the POW/MIA flag many years ago. Photo by JERILEE BENNETT, THE GAZETTE 

The Colorado Springs man who designed the black and white POW/MIA flag flown everywhere from federal buildings to Harley-Davidson fenders died Thursday at his home.

Newt Heisley was 88.

"Newt wanted no hoopla. All he wants is a celebration," his fiancee, Donna R. Allison, said.

That's what he'll get on Flag Day, June 14, from 1-4 p.m. at the American Legion Post 38 in Security. The public is invited. He will be entombed at Shrine of Remembrance next to his wife of 61 years, Margaret "Bunny", who died in 2005.

The prolific image he sketched in pencil in 1971 has the silhouette of a man under a guard tower and behind barbed wire. It's a symbolic reminder that not every soldier returned from the war in Vietnam.

The flag flew over the White House when President Ronald Reagan marked the first POW/MIA Recognition Day. Biker groups adopted the flag, tattooing the image on their bodies, patching it on jackets and flying it from their bumpers.

Newt Heisley sported the image on his hat, lapel and license plate.

"Everyone knew it was Newt's flag," Allison said. "He would personally sign them for people, that's what he would do for years."

He never dreamed it would be a national icon. He was simply "the ad guy" around town.

"He was just working for an ad agency. He came up with the rendition of the flag," said his son, James Heisley. "At first he was almost embarrassed, but he got kind of used to it. It defined his life."

Newt Heisley was proud of what the flag meant. He was a C-46 transport pilot in World War II in the Pacific.

"It was typical to present it in black-and-white and his idea was to go back and do some color," James Heisley said. "They came and looked at it and said, ‘That's it.'"

Newt Heisley worked in advertising for 25 years in big Manhattan agencies before moving to Colorado Springs to start an his own advertising firm.

"He decided there had to be greener pastures," James Heisley said. "He almost took a job in Bermuda, but my mom was a little leery of living on an island. They said, ‘Let's head West and see what we can see.' They were on the way to California and pulled into a hotel room in Colorado Springs in the dark. In the morning he saw Pikes Peak and said, ‘Bunny, we aren't going any further.'"

He retired from Heisley Design and Advertising in 1987.

"He didn't expect to get any recognition. If he had a nickel for every time that image appeared, he and I'd be multi-multi millionaires," James Heisley said. "Newt always said it was better as public image."

He also is survived by another son, Jeffrey N., who modeled for the silhouette on the flag; daughters-in-law Susan Heisley and Deborah Heisley; and granddaughter Sara Heisley.

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