In 1999, fellow Vietnam veteran Michael Kelley published a passionate piece opposing the flag on a Vietnam War research portal Swensson runs at De Anza College. "The POW/MIA flag honors a very narrow segment of the veteran population and does that to the exclusion of much larger and equally deserving ... segments of that same population," wrote Kelley, who died in 2011.
Kelley submitted the piece to express his frustration as a member of the California Vietnam Veterans Memorial Committee, and what he called "a number of vigorous ... zealous attempts to include the POW Flag on our memorial."
In 2007, a veterans memorial in Newburgh, Ind., caused controversy when it similarly resisted flying a POW-MIA flag alongside an American one.
Today, the POW/MIA flag flies above both memorials—in large part due to the efforts of Vietnam veterans who don't agree with Kelley.
But at some government buildings, such as the U.S. Post Office in Georgetown, Washington D.C., employees say they can't remember having ever flown the POW/MIA flag.
To combat this, Vietnam veterans such as Nick Haupricht have dropped off the flags at government buildings in his home state of Ohio, according to independent veterans site Veteran News Now.
Willie Hager has similarly pushed the POW/MIA flag in his state of Florida, ever since he lost fellow soldier and friend Thomas Hart in Vietnam. According to Hager, a forensic test showed that the remains the U.S. government sent to Hart's family post-war did not belong to their son, but were dog bones, a story that could not be confirmed by U.S. News.
Efforts by Hager, who is a member of the anti-war group Veterans for Peace, helped lead to legislation in Florida mandating that the flag be displayed over the state capitol. The flag currently flies over state capitols in a number of states, and earlier this month a bill for flying the MIA/POW flag over the Utah state capitol unanimously passed a House committee there.
Franklin believes that the flag continues to grow more prevalent because of the psychological response Americans have to Vietnam.
"The Vietnam War is something that happened to us ... and we're somehow the victims of that," he says. "The POW is the ideal iconic figured that embodies of all that."
Republican Arizona Sen. John McCain, who spent more than five years in captivity as a POW in North Vietnam, has rejected the notion of the POW as an iconic figure.
"I've received scores of letters from young people, and many of them sent me POW bracelets with my name on it. ... This outpouring on behalf of us who were prisoners of war is staggering, and a little embarrassing because basically we feel that we are just average American Navy, Marine and Air Force pilots who got shot down," he wrote in U.S. News in 1973 of his ordeal.
McCain's stance toward the POW/MIA issue hasn't always gone over well. During his first term in the Senate, McCain was disparaged by some POW/MIA activists because he believed there were no live prisoners in Southeast Asia.