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United States Service Flags are Back in Style

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Service Flags

Immediate family member service flag, hung horizontally. Blue star on a white background, surrounded by a red border.

Copyright © 2002 by Rod Powers

Rarely seen since World War II, family members of United States Military members are beginning to display United States Service Flags again to honor family members who are members of the United States Military, during the "War on Terrorism."

The Service Flag was first (unofficially) used during World War I. The flag is white with a red border and one or more blue stars in the center: one star for each family member serving in the military during times of war or hostility. If a service member dies, the blue star is covered by a gold star.

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. However, 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.

In 1967, the United States Congress Codified the Service Flag, specifying who is authorized to display the flags, and requiring a license granted by the Department of Defense for the manufacture and sale of service flags and lapel buttons.

From the United States Code, Title 36, Section 901:

Sec. 901. - Service flag and service lapel button

    (a) Individuals Entitled To Display Service Flag. -

      A service flag approved by the Secretary of Defense may be displayed in a window of the place of residence of individuals who are members of the immediate family of an individual serving in the Armed Forces of the United States during any period of war or hostilities in which the Armed Forces of the United States are engaged.

    (b) Individuals Entitled To Display Service Lapel Button. -

      A service lapel button approved by the Secretary may be worn by members of the immediate family of an individual serving in the Armed Forces of the United States during any period of war or hostilities in which the Armed Forces of the United States are engaged.

    (c) License To Manufacture and Sell Service Flags and Service Lapel Buttons. -

      Any person may apply to the Secretary for a license to manufacture and sell the approved service flag, or the approved service lapel button, or both. Any person that manufactures a service flag or service lapel button without having first obtained a license, or otherwise violates this section is liable to the United States Government for a civil penalty of not more than $1,000.

      Note: The way the law and current regulations are currently phrased, one must obtain a license to manufacture service flags, even if you plan to make the flag for your own use only. One obtains a license by stating, in writing, that they guarantee not to deviate in the manufacture and/or sale of the service flag as described in regulations (DOD 1348.33-M). One can obtain a license (Certificate of Authority) by writing to:

        Director, The Institute of Heraldry
        9325 Gunston Road
        Suite 112
        Fort Belvoir, VA 22060-5576

      Along with the Certificate of Authority, the Institute of Heraldry will also supply drawings and instructions for the manufacture of Service Flags and/or Lapel Buttons.

    (d) Regulations. -

      The Secretary may prescribe regulations necessary to carry out this section.

As required under the law, the Department of Defense has published specific guidelines for the design and display of service flags and lapel buttons. These instructions are contained in DOD 1348.33-M, Manual of Military Decorations and Awards.

Service Flags

The Service flag may be displayed, in a window of the place of residence of persons who are members of the immediate family of Service members serving in the Armed Forces of the United States during any period of war or hostilities in which the Armed Forces of the United States may be engaged, for the duration of such period of war or hostilities.

"Immediate family member" is defined as: wife, husband, mother, father, stepmother, stepfather, parent through adoption, foster parents who stand or stood in loco parentis, children, stepchildren, children through adoption, brothers, sisters, half brothers, and half sisters of a member of the Armed Forces of the United States. Unfortunately, the definition does not include grandparents.

The Service flag may also be displayed by an organization to honor the members of that organization serving in the Armed Forces of the United States during any period of war or hostilities in which the Armed Forces of the United States may be engaged, for the duration of such period of war or hostilities.

"Organization" is defined as: group organizations such as churches, schools, colleges, fraternities, sororities, societies, and places of business with which the member of the Armed Forces of the United States was or is associated.

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