HomeUpcomingPress RoomFeaturesDisplay

Families have always been essential to the U.S. Air Force

A service flag and mother are powerful symbols in this World War II poster. Gasoline and rubber for tires were urgently needed to win the war and give her boy “a chance to get home.” Office of Defense Transportation, 1944.

A service flag and mother are powerful symbols in this World War II poster. Gasoline and rubber for tires were urgently needed to win the war and give her boy “a chance to get home.” Office of Defense Transportation, 1944.

DAYTON, Ohio - A two-war flight suit on display in the World War II Gallery at the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force. (U.S. Air Force photo)

DAYTON, Ohio - A two-war flight suit on display in the World War II Gallery at the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force. (U.S. Air Force photo)

DAYTON, Ohio - Just as Airmen have done since World War I, the FACs in Southeast Asia brought a part of home with them by incorporating popular cartoon characters into nose art, uniform patches, and other military items. This unofficial flag was used by the FACs of the 20th TASS, who flew with the call sign Covey. Made by the wife of one of the Covey FAC’s, it has the popular character “Snoopy” from Charles Schulz’s comic strip Peanuts. The flag is on display in the A Dangerous Business: Forward Air Control exhibit in the Southeast Asia War Gallery at the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force. (U.S. Air Force photo)

DAYTON, Ohio - Just as Airmen have done since World War I, the FACs in Southeast Asia brought a part of home with them by incorporating popular cartoon characters into nose art, uniform patches, and other military items. This unofficial flag was used by the FACs of the 20th TASS, who flew with the call sign Covey. Made by the wife of one of the Covey FAC’s, it has the popular character “Snoopy” from Charles Schulz’s comic strip Peanuts. The flag is on display in the A Dangerous Business: Forward Air Control exhibit in the Southeast Asia War Gallery at the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force. (U.S. Air Force photo)

DAYTON, Ohio - Articles in this display include a pre-addressed postcard to Ton Duc Thang, President of North Vietnam, to enlist his support in determining the fate of Lt. Larry Potts. Despite repeated appeals like this one, North Vietnam remained unsympathetic. POW/MIA bracelets and buttons reminded the public of the plight of prisoners in Southeast Asia. Many people wore the bracelets until the fate of their POW/MIA was resolved—and then sent the bracelet to the returned POW if he was alive. Also included are articles used as late as 1975 by the Volunteers for POW/MIAs of Dayton, Ohio. The black flag is the official POW/MIA flag, which is flown six times a year at designated federal sites. It was designed in 1971 by Newt Heisley, a WWII pilot and advertising artist who never profited from the uncopyrighted design. (U.S. Air Force photo)

DAYTON, Ohio - Articles in this display include a pre-addressed postcard to Ton Duc Thang, President of North Vietnam, to enlist his support in determining the fate of Lt. Larry Potts. Despite repeated appeals like this one, North Vietnam remained unsympathetic. POW/MIA bracelets and buttons reminded the public of the plight of prisoners in Southeast Asia. Many people wore the bracelets until the fate of their POW/MIA was resolved—and then sent the bracelet to the returned POW if he was alive. Also included are articles used as late as 1975 by the Volunteers for POW/MIAs of Dayton, Ohio. The black flag is the official POW/MIA flag, which is flown six times a year at designated federal sites. It was designed in 1971 by Newt Heisley, a WWII pilot and advertising artist who never profited from the uncopyrighted design. (U.S. Air Force photo)

DAYTON, Ohio - William H. Pitsenbarger's personal effects sent to his parents following his death. These items are on display in the Southeast Asia War Gallery at the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force. (U.S. Air Force photo)

DAYTON, Ohio - William H. Pitsenbarger's personal effects sent to his parents following his death. These items are on display in the Southeast Asia War Gallery at the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force. (U.S. Air Force photo)

DAYTON, Ohio -- Although the U.S. Air Force is the nation's youngest service, its proud history not only shows the essential contributions of officers or enlisted troops, active duty members or reservists, but also a history of family commitment. 

"This importance of family is no more evident than when taking a stroll through the galleries of the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force," said Senior Curator Terry Aitken. "From exhibits that highlight a mother's sacrifice, a wife's love or a father's pride, many displays show a common theme: family." 

In the museum's Kettering Hall, an exhibit describes the origin of service flags and pins. These are the red and white flags seen in many home's windows with a blue or gold star in the middle. 

The tradition of displaying service flags began during World War I. In 1917, an Army captain designed a small banner as a tribute to his two sons serving in France. The flag quickly became a popular symbol. In September 1917, it was recorded that Ohio had adopted the service flag as a fitting tribute because: "The world should know of those who give so much for Liberty. The dearest thing in all the world to a father and mother...their children." 

Eventually, groups such as the Blue Star Mothers of America and American Gold Star Mothers formed with supporting service members and their families as a common goal. 

An exhibit in the Air Power Gallery shows a father and son's strong bond. A flight suit on display was worn during World War II by Lt. Haldane King, a B-25 pilot. It was next worn during the Southeast Asia War by his son, Capt. Haldane King Jr., a KC-135 pilot, who in turn passed the suit to the museum. 

Other exhibits throughout the museum show how wives of deployed service members helped boost morale. The entire family could be proud of Wild Weasels, those Air Force members who flew some of the most dangerous missions over Vietnam and other Southeast Asia countries. In the "First In, Last Out: Wild Weasels vs. SAMs" exhibit in the Modern Flight Gallery an apron signed by all wives of the Wild Weasel school was worn by a Wild Weasel's wife. 

In the "Badge of Honor: 100 Missions Up North" exhibit, wives even joined in on the action. While pilots would tally the number of missions they flew over Southeast Asia, displaying the number on their hats or patches, the wives would count how many days they were away from their husbands. One pilot had a patch made for his wife after they had been married 10 years. Between his tour in Southeast Asia and the number of days he was on alert, he had been away for about 1,100 days. 

In another exhibit featuring the Forward Air Controllers, the unit adopted a flag showing the cartoon character Snoopy, which was made by one of the unit member's wife. The flag was proudly used by the unit for the rest of the war in Southeast Asia. 

Families also have been instrumental in making sure service members are treated fairly. During the Vietnam War the wives of prisoners of war formed the National League of Families of American Prisoners and Missing in Southeast Asia. They launched a public campaign to bring pressure on North Vietnam to reveal names of captives and to ensure their humane treatment. This contribution is memorialized in a POW exhibit in the museum. 

But the presence of family stories in the museum doesn't end there. It continues today and a foundation is laid for tomorrow. 

"Thousands of artifacts in the museum's collection are obtained as a result of family members who want to preserve the legacy of their father, mother, aunt, uncle or child," said Aitken. "They want to ensure the service legacy of their family member is preserved for tomorrow's generation to see and know." 

For example, a pararescue exhibit highlights William H. Pitsenbarger, an airman who was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor for his exceptional bravery in Vietnam. Many of his personal items that were sent to his parents following his death are now included in this exhibit. 

And while the continuous storyline throughout the U.S. Air Force's history shows how the United States depends on these brave airmen to protect the country from danger, the real strength comes from the heroic families on whom Air Force men and women rely. 


NOTE TO PUBLIC: For more information, please contact the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force at (937) 255-3286.

NOTE TO MEDIA: For more information contact Sarah Olaciregui at the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force Public Affairs Division at (937) 255-1376.

Featured Links

Plan Your Visit button
E-newsletter Sign-up button
Explore Museum Exhibits button
Browse Photos button
Visit Press Room button
Become a Volunteer button
Air Force Museum Foundation button
Donate an item button