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Service Flags and Pins

DAYTON, Ohio - These service flags from different eras show how designs have varied. Though they are now commercially made according to standards approved by Congress, many have been home-made with wide variations in symbols, shapes, fringe and lettering. The blue and gold stars remain constant elements. The flags are on display in Kettering Hall at the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force. (U.S. Air Force photo)

DAYTON, Ohio - These service flags from different eras show how designs have varied. Though they are now commercially made according to standards approved by Congress, many have been home-made with wide variations in symbols, shapes, fringe and lettering. The blue and gold stars remain constant elements. The flags are on display in Kettering Hall at the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force. (U.S. Air Force photo)

DAYTON, Ohio - Service pins on display at the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force. (U.S. Air Force photo)

DAYTON, Ohio - Service pins on display at the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force. (U.S. Air Force photo)

A mother of three children in military service, Placquemines Parish, La., June 1943. Service flags for individual families can have up to five stars each. (U.S. Air Force photo)

A mother of three children in military service, Placquemines Parish, La., June 1943. Service flags for individual families can have up to five stars each. (U.S. Air Force photo)

This couple, symbolizing the average American family of World War II, has lost a child in military service—the mother clutches a government telegram informing her of her family’s loss. The blue star on the service flag in this anti-espionage poster will soon be replaced by a gold star. Government Printing Office, 1943.

This couple, symbolizing the average American family of World War II, has lost a child in military service—the mother clutches a government telegram informing her of her family’s loss. The blue star on the service flag in this anti-espionage poster will soon be replaced by a gold star. Government Printing Office, 1943.

Remembering those who died for our freedom: two members of the 377th Security Forces Squadron (SFS), Master Sergeant (MSGT) Timothy Uding and Senior Airman (SRA) Neng Hang, escort God Star Mothers Carmen Lopez and Florence Williams, while they place a wreath in remembrance of sons and daughters who did not return from war, at the New Mexico Veterans Memorial Park, Albuquerque, N.M. (Photo courtesy of DVIC)

Remembering those who died for our freedom: two members of the 377th Security Forces Squadron (SFS), Master Sergeant (MSGT) Timothy Uding and Senior Airman (SRA) Neng Hang, escort God Star Mothers Carmen Lopez and Florence Williams, while they place a wreath in remembrance of sons and daughters who did not return from war, at the New Mexico Veterans Memorial Park, Albuquerque, N.M. (Photo courtesy of DVIC)

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.

The Bendix Aviation plant, Brooklyn, New York, showed its pride in its employee service members with this very large service flag during World War II. A plant guard salutes in this March 1943 photo. (U.S. Air Force photo)

The Bendix Aviation plant, Brooklyn, New York, showed its pride in its employee service members with this very large service flag during World War II. A plant guard salutes in this March 1943 photo. (U.S. Air Force photo)

Note: This exhibit is located in Kettering Hall.

Service flags are symbols of love and patriotic pride that families feel for their sons, daughters, husbands, wives, fathers and mothers who serve in the military during wartime. Usually hung in home windows, these small banners are a tribute to those defending America by serving in the U.S. Air Force, Army, Navy, Marines or Coast Guard. Each blue star on a service flag represents a loved one serving, and gold stars denote those who have died in the line of duty.

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. Capt. Robert Queissner's flag quickly became a popular symbol. in September 1917, the Congressional 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."

Organizations and regulations formed round the service flag concept. During World War II, the War Department created specifications for the flags' size and design, though many homemade variations appeared. In 1967, Congress wrote guidelines for service flags and related lapel pins and buttons, and specified who could wear, make or sell them. Though originally a symbol for parents, service flags may be displayed by anyone in the service members' immediate family and by organizations they are affiliated with, such as employers, schools, churches and clubs. They can be displayed only in times of war or hostilities.  

Several organizations embrace the service flags as a symbol. American War Mothers (founded 1917), American Gold Star Mothers (1928), and Blue Star Mothers of America (1943) all take patriotic pride in the service flag, and each of these nonprofit groups has been chartered by Congress. Public service is their common goal -- they emphasize patriotism and non-sectarian, non-political support for service members and their families. 

These groups are very active today. Each organization has chapters in several states and they organize many projects to support the troops. For example, Blue Star Mothers of America's "Operation Shoe Box" delivers packages of morale-boosting items such as candy, toiletries, snack food, writing supplies, games, magazines and many other items that service members are happy to get from home. American Gold Star Mothers and American War Mothers do similar projects focusing on memorials, Memorial Day remembrances and on assisting families of fallen service members. In addition, these groups have funded lodging near hospitals for wounded troops' families, assist veterans in their dealings with the Veteran's Administration and volunteer in VA hospitals. 

All these groups are symbolically united by the blue and gold stars of service flags and perform great service in caring for troops, their families and one another.

Service Pins
Lapel pins and jewelry are another way to show that one has a relative in military service. The examples on display are from World Wars I and II. Like service flags, they are authorized by the U.S. Government and have appeared in many different forms. The Gold Star pin, denoting a family member killed in service, is given by the Department of Defense.

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