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War on Terror Makes Service Flags Popular

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Service Flags

Each star on a service flag represents a family member who is a member of the military during a time of war.

Official USMC Photo
Updated February 13, 2005
Story by Cpl. Micah Snead

Blue Star Banners, flags, buttons and pins have emerged across the country during the Global War on Terrorism, providing a silent but powerful reminder of the service members who are fighting.

These Blue Star Banners, known as service flags, are used to honor a family member who is a member of the U.S. military during a time of war.

During World War I, Army Capt. Robert L. Queissner, had two sons serving on the front line. He created and patented the white background, red border and one or more blue stars in the center design, but turned the rights to the flag over to the U.S. Government once it became popular.

After a lull in popularity over the last few decades, the blue star has become steadily more visible since Operation Desert Storm, according to Walt Laban, a retired gunnery sergeant, Purple Heart recipient and volunteer at the Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island Museum and Phylis Alexander Ship Store Gift Shop.

"It was very popular around the Korean War but not so much between then and Desert Storm," Laban said. "Over the last 10 years the popularity has gone up quite a bit, even if we have to explain what it is to a lot of people who come into the store. Most people are surprised to learn how old it is and all of the organizations that are behind it."

Each star represents one family member and the flags can feature up to five stars. Despite the numerous symbols of military support that have come and gone over the years, the blue star on the service flag has been a constant according to Air Force First Sgt. (Ret.) and military author, Rod Powers.

"At one time, states had laws on the books which described specific specifications for up to 10 different kind of stars, indicating Prisoner of War (POW), or Missing in Action (MIA), and other statuses," Powers said. "The only design that ever found much favor with the American public was the basic design of blue stars, with gold stars overlaid to indicate the member died on active duty."

The flag became extremely popular during World War II. In 1942, the Blue Star Mothers of America was founded as a veteran service organization and was part of a movement to provide care packages to military members serving overseas and also provide assistance to families who encountered hardships as a result of their son or husband serving during the war. The Gold Star Mothers of America soon followed for the family of military members that were killed in the war.

Blue Star Memorial Highways and freeways began to spring up across the nation. National cemeteries and state parks began dedicating blue and gold star memorials. Eventually the military codified the use and manufacture of the flag to make it one of the few regulated military pride products.

"In 1967, Congress codified the Service Flag, specifying who is authorized to display the flags," Powers said. "It also requires a license granted by the Department of Defense for the manufacture and sale of flags and buttons."

The regulations, United States Code, Title 36, Section 901, are very specific about who can and cannot display the flag and how it should be flown or worn, according to Powers.

"Legally speaking, the Service Flag, banner, or lapel button are only authorized for the immediate family members of a person in the uniformed military services," Powers said.

While friends and businesses may be skirting the regulations by flying the flag or banner, their intentions are good, according to Laban.

"It's always a good thing to see the blue star flying during a war," Laban said. "It has been embraced by companies and friends to show their love and support for their military member."

For more information on the Service Flag, contact your local American Legion Post.

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