ORANGE PARK, Fla. – A section of Moody Avenue in Clay County was designated as Mary Helen Hoff Memorial Avenue in honor of the woman behind the POW/MIA flag.
Members of the community and local leaders gathered for a designation ceremony at Moody Avenue Park on Friday — which marked National POW/MIA Recognition Day — to honor the life and legacy of Mary Helen Hoff.
In January of 1970, after giving birth to her fifth child, she learned her husband, Cmdr. Michael Hoff, was declared missing in action in Laos during the Vietnam War. Through this painful situation, she was determined to find a way to support other families in the same situation.
“Just a few miles east of here on Rivero Drive is where mom got it all started. Our home had a formal dining room where she started her crusade to press Washington to account for those missing in action and prisoners of war in Southeast Asia. A large circular dining table was stacked with correspondents that she was both sending and receiving in this effort,” said son Mike Hoff. “Even more visually and emotionally striking were the hundreds of silver and copper bracelets overflowing on that table with names of POWs and MIAs from nearly every service branch in every corner of this great nation.”
Mary Helen Hoff would then start selling POW and MIA bracelets, influencing the creation of the POW-MIA flag.
Due to her tireless efforts and compassion, the POW/MIA flag now flies over the White House, the U.S. Capitol, the Departments of State and countless government buildings across the country.
Clay County is honoring her life and legacy by designating Moody Avenue from Peoria Road to Bus Loop Drive in front of Montclair Elementary School in Orange Park as Mary Helen Hoff Memorial Avenue.
“I only hope that seeing mom’s name on a street sign will spark a conversation on who she was and more importantly who and what she was fighting for. As a nation, we should never forget the sacrifices made to keep us all safe and able to enjoy the freedoms we sometimes take for granted,” Mike Hoff said.
Clay County Manager Howard Wanamaker said: “We will never forget those who with great honor gave everything to ensure we the United States of America are strong and free. I am proud to say that the idea for POW/MIA flag here in Clay County.”
This year marks the 50th anniversary of the flag — whose inspiration started in Clay County — since its original creation.
Not only will the new mile marker honor Mary Helen Hoff’s legacy, it will also pay tribute to all those that are missing or died in combat.
Whether it be through the POW/MIA flag, the new mile marker or the countless families Mary Helen Hoff helped whose family members didn’t return home from combat, her legacy is cemented in compassion and hope — something Clay County hopes will never be forgotten.