Color Guard with POW/MIA flag outside of formation

All About POW/MIA Flag Protocol

DrillMaster Ask DrillMaster, Color Guard/Color Team, Honor Guard, Honor Guard Training, Instructional 42 Comments

Depending on where you live in the US, you can count on strong feelings as to whether the POW/MIA flag should be marched in a color guard for a parade.

Title 36 U.S. Code § 902 – National League of Families POW/MIA Flag

The information in the Flag Code is instructions for US government agency display. It has no information on a citizen, let alone the military, flying the flag.

League of Families Information

This information comes from a Veteran Service Organization, neither of which may dictate standards for the military. Link at the end of the article.

Military Service Manual Guidance

Other information that I have been able to find, with the assistance of Mike Kelley (DrillMaster002) reminded me, comes from AFI 34-1201, Protocol:

2.11.10. The POW/MIA flag will always be the last flag in any display.

What that means: In a line of flags, it will be the last flag in the stand. When flown from the same halyard as the US and a state flag, it is at the bottom, not in between the US and state. [Yes, I am aware that certain agencies have written guidance counter to this. My reasoning here comes from extensive research.]

Proper Display of the POW/MIA flag from a fixed flag pole

2.11.11. The POW/MIA flag will always be the last flag in any display, except on the six national observances for which Congress has ordered display of the POW/MIA flag. On these days it is flown immediately below or adjacent to the United States flag as second in order of precedence (however it still would be flown after other national flags). The six national observances are National POW/MIA Recognition Day (third Friday of September), Armed Forces Day, Memorial Day, Flag Day, Independence Day and Veterans Day. The POW/MIA flag is not carried or displayed in parades or reviews, however is authorized to be carried at official military funerals.

POW/MIA flag as a personal Color at a funeral

What that means: Even though this text is for the US Air Force, ALL SERVICES are not allowed to carry any non-military flag with very few exceptions and that includes the POW/MIA flag. Only an honor guard member may carry it as a Personal Color for the funeral of a former POW. Read here.

All Services. Military personnel in uniform or civilian clothing are not authorized to carry any non-military flag AR 840-10, MCO P5050.2 and AFI 34-1201. This means all military color guards are not authorized to carry the POW/MIA flag in or outside of a color guard formation. Again, the only time the flag is carried on its own (never with guards) is during a funeral for a former POW. It is not carried in parades.

Military, including JROTC, CAP, Sea Cadets, & Young Marines: No, you are not authorized to carry the POW/MIA flag.

First responders: Follow The Honor Guard Manual. Most likely you march a POW/MIA flag within the team formation. My advice is to stop including it in your color guard. March the US, state, and department flags.

Veterans groups: Veteran color guards follow a service D&C manual, which then dictates that you should follow the manuals that affect it (flag and protocol manuals). The end result is to not march it at all, it’s not authorized. Many veteran color guards carry it as part of their standard compliment of the American flag, joint service flags, and then the POW/MIA flag, but that’s not protocol to add any other flag: no state or POW flag is authorized. March the US and state flags or, if you want to march a joint service color guard: US, Army, MC, Navy, AF, & CG, no other flag is authorized in a full or partial joint service colors formation.

Depending on your location in the US, you will hear some very strong convictions (read: yelling matches) on whether it is OK to march it in a color team or not. Strong convictions do not replace written standards and just because a national veteran’s organization has written guidance does not mean that guidance has taken service standards into account. I know this is not comfortable to read.

The POW/MIA flag history is here. The League of Families website is here.

Comments 42

  1. Good afternoon! I’m so glad I stumbled upon this page! Where can I find the history of the Color Guard? I’ve been researching and can only find articles here and there, but nothing too official on Color Guard and it’s origin and how it’s evolved to today. Your knowledge is greatly appreciated!

    1. Post


      I don’t know that anyone has written of the origins and evolution of what we know today as the military color guard. I have written briefly on the subject but only since WWII.


  2. When flags are ordered half mast, what is the order the American flag, POW, and state? Do all 3 get raised? Are there days only the American and state are raised? I work in park services and want to make sure we are displaying the flags correctly when half mast.

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      When flags are displayed on separate poles, all flags are lowered to half. Other flags must be at the same level, not “slightly” (whatever individual guess that might be) lower.

      Foreign national flags, if present are not lowered. In this case however, all commonwealth flags would be lowered, if present.

      If any flag is displayed below the American on the same halyard, it is removed when the American is to be displayed at half.

      Flags are raised and then lowered to half-staff.


  3. Drill Master: I am a former Drill Sgt and commander of an elite Honor Guard. My question to you is this: when we post the military branch flags with the National colors,where does the POW/ MIA flag position. I have heard different protocols. Your input will be very appreciated! Thank you in advance. Drill Sgt Hensley Commander Black Tiger Honor Guard

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      Drill Sgt Hensley,

      The POW/MIA flag is always preposted (posted alone before the ceremony without any ceremony for its posting).

      It is helpful if it is posted near the missing man table (how many place settings, 1-7, is up to you). Posting it near the table, which is off on its own, creates a special place for both as a whole.

      If that is not possible, it is positioned at the far left (viewer’s right, last) and if you post the colors for a ceremony, you would place the flags into the stands to its right. The same goes for a personal or positional color except that the POW is last most of the days of the year with the exception of six days each year. The six national observances are National POW/MIA Recognition Day (third Friday of September), Armed Forces Day, Memorial Day, Flag Day, Independence Day and Veterans Day.

      Let me know if you any further questions, I’m happy to help.


    1. Post

      Mr. Hansard,

      Taps is NEVER sounded when the American flag is raised to half-staff. It is only sounded for a funeral or memorial service and at lights out.

      Only the Star-Spangled Banner is played or sung or the bugle call To The Color is sounded while raising the flag to full truck or half-staff. That is the standard and we should not attempt to make the ceremony any more “emotionaler”.

      The POW/MIA flag is not raised to half-staff to music. That is an honor only for our national standard. After the American flag is at half, other flags can be raised in sequence or all together on separate poles.

      We do not salute any other flag except the American flag.


  4. When there is a color guard for a patriotic program (honoring 9/11, PO/MIA) we have been told it is not necessary for them to present the American flag, as there is going to be a 40 foot American flag on the field. Is this considered correct?

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      Ms. Koepp,

      Every color guard, regardless of the ceremony, must carry the American flag at a minimum.
      There seems to be this idea that if an American flag is present, then no others should be in the vicinity. This is simply not true.
      Coincidentally, carrying the American flag flat is against the Flag Code.
      Your color guard should present the American flag along with other appropriate flags for the occasion (state, city, county, organizational).
      The POW/MIA flag is not carried by military color guards and should not be carried by veteran and other teams either.


  5. Having 3 adjacent flagpoles with the American on the left, the State Flag in the middle, and the City Flag on the far right, I have this question. On National POW/MIA Recognition Day is it proper protocol to just take down the State Flag, replace it with the POW Flag, then take down the City Flag and replace it with the State Flag?
    Do all flags come down starting with the City Flag, State Flag and last the American Flag, and then hoist first the American Flag, the POW Flag, and finally the State Flag.

    1. Post

      Mr. Garrity,

      Great questions.

      You can fly the POW/MIA flag directly underneath on the same halyard as the American flag at any time of the year. This would alleviate any issue with moving your state and city flags.

      If you still wish to fly the POW on a separate pole, the POW would be in the center and the state flag would replace the city flag on the last pole.

      The American flag is hoisted first and lowered last.

      Please let me know if you have any further questions.


      1. DrillMaster;

        All three flags flown 24×7 on the 3 staffs. My question is when I take down the State and City Flags to arrange for the POW Flag, can the American Flag remain up during the change, or must all flags come down before making the change?

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          Mr. Garrity,

          Thank you for your great question.

          You do not have to take all of the flags down. If I may make a suggestion, you can fly the POW under the American 24×7 and then never have to change the flag arrangement.


          1. DrillMaster;

            I like your solution to my question, but we only have a clasps for a single flag at each staff, no place to connect multiple grommets.

            Thanks for clarifying the question of taking all flags down, I wanted to understand the protocol before National POW/MIA Day this month.

            Much Appreciated!!
            James Garrity

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      Ms. Perry,

      There is no reason to not have a Missing Man Table or even have the POW/MIA Table Hat Ceremony on Memorial Day or at some point over the weekend at a dinner. That’s what the hat table ceremony was designed for. There are so many personal thoughts on everything to do with the POW/MIA flag and both the single and multiple seat tables that individuals force (actively or passively) on others with no basis in fact. Memorial Day is about those who never made it home. Prisoners of War who may possibly still be out there (this is just a supposition) and those still Missing in Action fit that category.

  6. In reference to the POW flag when flow directly (which by definition without being apart) should it be then in the bottom of the gourmet of the American flag which also would represent the POW’S are still part of our heart never to be forgotten

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  7. Post

    Mr. Price,

    Thank you for your question. There is no official “gap” between flags. An inch or two between the bottom grommet of the US and the top grommet of the second flag (state or POW) is aesthetically pleasing. Speaking of which, I encourage you to read this article: It can help you understand the various outside display setups.

    Civilians and governments usually follow the Army standards found in AR 840-10. All of the services follow the same standards for the most part, but the Air Force decided that the second flag on the pole must be low enough on the halyard so that the US does not touch it when it is at rest. It sounds fine on paper but looks ridiculous.

    1. Behind the stage we have 7 flag poles. With the US flag to the left followed by the 6 military branches. Where should the POW flag be displayed?
      Thank you

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        Mr. McKinney,

        The POW flag can be off on it’s own, if that is appropriate for what you will be doing or in line with and last in the flag lineup.

        The order is, from the viewer’s left-to-right, US, (state,) Army, Marine Corps, Navy, Air Force, Space Force, POW.


        1. Thank you, Drill Master for the information it was very helpful. However, I do have few other questions if you don’t mind. If we have 6 flag poles posted behind the stage for the 6 branches and the 7th flag pole in the center but 10 feet behind the other flag poles with the US flag (see below) is that a correct setup? And if we wanted a POW flag would that go under the US flag or should we add another flag pole? If so where? Thank you again.

          AR MC NA AF SP CG

        2. Thank you, Drill Master that was very helpful. I have a few more questions. Behind the stage we have 6 poles representing the 6 branches. 10 feet behind the 6 flags poles and center is a flagpole slightly taller with the US flag (see Below).

          AR MC NA AR SP CG

          Is this correct? If not, how should we arrangement them? Last question if you wanted to display a POW flag where would it go?

          Thanks again!

          1. Post

            Mr. McKinney,

            Now I understand better what you are talking about. Thank you for the graphic representation of your idea. The US centered and taller is the standard. Usually, all flags are in the same line but if you did that, there would be an imbalance. Your idea works well and does not violate flag display protocol.


  8. Is there a proper way to fold the POW/MIA flag for display? My thoughts are to fold it the same way as the U.S. flag barring no other protocol.

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      1. I have a question regarding the POW/MIA flag or chair cover. I am a member of the American Legion and I have been fighting an up hill battle with individuals saluting the POW/MIA during the placement of it. Sir I was a member of the Navy Honor Guard in DC as part of the firing squad and developed a great respect for our flag, so much so I am on the National Americanism Commission – Flag Etiquette. Many Posts salute the POW/MIA chair cover during our opening ceremony and it drives me crazy. I know that it is not covered in the US Flag code, but to my core I know it is wrong. The POW/MIA is not a National flag/emblem and should not be saluted, more so not when the Standard has been posted, it is disrespectful and I argue it is wrong to disrespect the very flag these men fought to defend. Bottom line no matter how I feel about it, is the anything in print to defend my position? Oh yes, it does not require saluting the cover in the Legion manual of Ceremony’s. Thank you

        1. Post

          Mr. Eubanks,

          Thank you for your question and your service, especially with the Navy Ceremonial Guard!

          It’s amazing what our veteran service organizations come up with that are completely out of protocol. It boggles my mind. I offered to help educate the AL and DA in 2011, but was turned down.

          I have teamed up with DeVaughn Simper, vexillologist at, and we both came up with essentially the same answer:

          The POW/MIA flag is the flag of a civilian, non-governmental organization. The sentiment associated with the flag is understandable but saluting this flag is inappropriate. It would be the same as saluting a civilian company or military departmental or organizational flag. Even state, county, and city flags are not saluted.

          Army Regulation 600-25 Chapter 2 is very specific on when salutes are required/rendered.

          “We’re not in the military” is a statement I have heard a few times coming from veterans over the years. This is a claim that, while on the surface may be true, you may be in a uniform and possibly presenting/posting the colors. At the very least you are rendering a military hand salute, and are therefore required to follow military protocol. We don’t get to pick and choose what we want to do and while written standards are freely available to us.

          As for saluting a chair cover, that is also inappropriate. Not only is it not a national flag, it’s merely a decorated cloth made to cover a chair. Saluting it makes even less sense than saluting the flag it represents.

          Whether the AL manual requires it or not, I do not know. However, it is against protocol.

          One more thing. I understand the sentiment that is stirred up by the flag and even the symbol. It should always be treated with respect. However, some do seem to be letting their emotions get the better of them by making the POW flag and chair cover represent everything to do with the Vietnam War when, in reality, it only represents POWs and those MIA during that conflict.

          You are 100% correct.


  9. How do you dispose of a POW/MIA flag? Read where you can dispose of it as you wish but with dignity. Then I read you can take to your post and they will dispose of it for you? I do not want to disrespect this flag or any other. Thanks in advance for your help.

    1. Post

      Mr. Smith,

      Thank you for the great question! My thought is that we want to show respect to all of our flags. I recommend retiring any flag the way we would the American. If it is cotton, fold it into a rectangle and burn it. If it is synthetic, shredding is best. If you cannot shred it yourself, you can cut it into strips or take it to a local veteran organization to have them dispose of it.

  10. Drill Master,

    My company is currently in the process of displaying the military branches on a wall (hanging long ways down) with the US flag hanging dead center and raised above all of the branches. My question to you is, if we are hanging a POW/MIA flag with the other branches, in which order should they go? Would it be POW/MIA, Army, Marines, Navy, Air Force, Coast Guard or should the POW/MIA flag be displayed after the Coast Guard flag? Thanks brother.

    1. Post

      Hi Eric,
      Excellent question! I suggest hanging it after the Coastie flag since that is the proper placement 359 days each year. The other six are the only days the POW flag has precedence, but since this will be a permanent display, having it last seems to be the most appropriate option.
      Thanks for the question!

      1. Ok sounds good to me. I’ve been looking for the answer to this question for months and have gotten no where. Thanks for making this page, and thanks for getting back with me so soon, we are literally hanging these flags as we speak and I was worried I wouldn’t get an answer in time. Thanks again. Currahee! God bless the grunt in the mud!

      2. I have three flags us flag, P.O.W and the Army flag, place them on the house, reason why is that place we live they won’t let us place them in the ground, we was told yesterday to remove the P.O.W/MIA flag By risingveiw company that taken care of the military base housing which is located in Bellevue Ne, so how would we place our flags in order, I spent 22 years in the Army this does not agree with me at all, please send me something that say that the P.O.W/MIA is right to fly to my email.

        thank you veery much SSG retire Clifford Driscoll

        1. Post

          SSG Driscoll,

          Thank you for your service to our nation and you question.

          From what I gather from your message you live in base housing as a retiree at Offutt Air Force Base in Nebraska and the housing management agency has asked you to remove the POW flag from your display. This is one of the many reasons my wife and I do not live on base here in FL. Incredibly restrictive with no solid, logical reasoning.

          There is no legitimate reason to remove the POW flag, especially when all government buildings are required to flay it, unless the management agency restricts the display to just two flags.

          There is what we call the Flag Code. 4 U.S. Code Chapter 1 – THE FLAG, Then you have 36 U.S. Code § 902 – National League of Families POW/MIA flag,

          I wonder if this is a “You can’t fight city hall” situation. I hope not.

          I hope this information helps you.


  11. DrillMaster,
    I have seen both white and gold fringes on the MIA flag. The vendor states that the majority are with a white fringe. The photos here generally show a gold fringe. Which color would be appropriate? I am assuming yellow to match the fringes on the other flags.

    1. Post

      Mr. Cochran,

      I would suggest the gold colored fringe, just like you said, to match other posted flags. I want to emphasize that the POW flag is not authorized to be carried in a military color guard formation.

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  12. I have been presenting the Veterans Day program for several years in The “Winter Texan” RV park in south Texas. There are several Canadian veterans that spend the winter here. I have always included Canada in my program. When the colors are presented by the JROTC the US, Canadian, and POW/MIA are carried in the order listed. Are we doing anything wrong? I can’t find any information about how a foreign flag fits in.

    Thanks for your help.


    1. Post

      Mr. Dimmitt,

      Thank you for your question. How nice that you honor our Canadian friends in the program, well done!

      POW/MIA Flag: The standards for our military services, which extend to everyone in uniform (Active Duty, Guard, Reserve, veteran groups, ROTC, JROTC, Young Marines, Sea Cadets, Civil Air Patrol), is to never carry the POW/MIA flag unless it is for the funeral of a former POW. Display of the flag is fine, but it is not an authorized flag for parading in a color guard or as a separate lone flag. The POW can be preposted in a stand for your ceremony or left out of the ceremony altogether.

      Foreign National Colors on US Soil: As far as the foreign flag is concerned, it most definitely can and should be part of the ceremony and color guard, but how it is carried depends on the service. You can read this article about the color guard here.

      Army/Air Force color guards: one foreign national color may be carried to the left of the American flag. The service’s departmental color (JROTC org) must be carried to the left of the foreign national.

      Marine Corps/Navy/Coast Guard color guards: only the National Ensign and departmental colors are authorized in the main, four-man team. the foreign national color must be carried by an additional team consisting of three members, two rifle guards and the color bearer.

      I hope this clears up everything for you.

      I edited your post to remove your email address from the body so that you do not get bombarded with spam.


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