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Service Star Flags (U.S.)

Last modified: 2003-07-12 by rick wyatt
Keywords: united states | service star | blue star | gold star | ww i | ww ii | sons in service | in service |
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[Service Star flag] [Service Star flag] [Service Star flag] by Rick Wyatt, 12 January 1999

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The "Sons in Service" flag was used during World War I and World War II. Each family was entitled to hang a small Son In Service flag in their window, the blue star in the center of the red-bordered white rectangle signified a family member in active service. The star was replaced (or covered) with a gold star (in practice, yellow or dark yellow) if the family member died in action. (Hence the name of the organization "Gold Star Mothers" of women who had lost sons in the war.) There were other variations to the star for missing in action, injured, captured, etc, etc, but flags of that sort are rarely, if ever, seen.

Sons in Service flags made and used by families usually were no larger than about one foot long. They were always hung vertically, a stick being sewn into the top heading of the flag and a piece of string attached to both ends of the stick - the string suspended at its midpoint from a hook or some other feature of a front window of the home.

If a family had a husband and a son, or multiple family members in the service of their country, then additional blue stars were set into the white rectangle. Organizations and corporations extended this practice to fly flags incorporating stars for each of their members/employees who were off to war and, of course, would change/overlay the blue stars with gold ones when the news came back that one of theirs had died in action. These larger flags (I have one with some 50 stars in a circle, a quarter of them in gold, measuring about 8 feet long overall) were sometimes flown outside on a pole, but most often were suspended from the ceiling of the factory / meeting hall indoors.

It is not always easy to determine a date for these flags, though I believe that WW I era flags were more likely to be made of wool, and WW II flags usually were sewn of cotton bunting. However, they are definitely no older than 1917, the date of entry of the USA into WW I. Some WW II era flags with one or two stars were printed on silk and sold retail for those who didn't feel like sewing their own.

Nick Artimovich, 2 May 1997

To elaborate on what Nick Artimovich and Nathan Bliss wrote about this flag, I have a book entitled "The Flag of the United States -- Your Flag and Mine" by Harrison S. Kerrick (Champlin Printing Co., Columbus, Ohio; 1925) that states (pg. 114):

"The State of Massachusetts, by resolution of its House of Representatives, May 28, 1918, established a new form of recognition of service under the U.S. Flag, based upon the practice that arose during the World War of displaying in the home office, club, or factory, a blue star (loyalty, sincerity, justice) upon a white field (hope, purity, truth) each star representing a member of the family or organization in service, by adding thereto certain emblems symbolizing events of service as indicated on opposite page."
The illustration shows nine different emblems, all based on the blue 5-pointed star (pointing up). It is entitled "The Star of Service - For the Flag, for Liberty, for Justice.":
  1. A Blue Star - "Service in Army or Navy."
  2. A Blue Star with a Gold Greek Cross in the Center - "Wounded in Service."
  3. A Blue Star with a Gold Ring superimposed - "Decorated for Distinguished Service."
  4. An inverted Blue Star with both the Gold Greek Cross and the Gold Ring (as in (2) and (3)) - "Missing."
  5. An inverted Blue Star inside of a Red Ring - "Captured."
  6. An inverted Blue Star superimposed over a Red Pentagon - "Wounded and Decorated for Distinguished Service."
  7. A Gold Star bordered Blue with a Gold Ring superimposed on it - "Decorated for Distinguished Service," also seems to indicate the serviceman died, but that is not stated.
  8. A Blue Star superimposed over a Red Pentagon with a Gold Greek Cross in the Center and a Gold Ring Superimposed on it - "Wounded, Decorated for Distinguished Service and Missing."
  9. A Gold Star bordered Blue with a Laurel Wreath superimposed on it - "Died in Service. Laurel Wreath Optional."
Below the illustrations is the following caption:
"Gold represents wounds, distinguished service and death. Red, represents missing or captured. If desired, rank may be shown by the proper insignia of Officer or non-Commissioned Officer placed directly above the star. Service in the 'Zone of Advance' and foreign service may be symbolized by a gold chevron placed below the star, one shown for each six months of such service."
Notice there is no mention of the red border of the flag, as used in practice.

Dave Martucci, 2 May 1997

Current Regulations

The authorization for the flag is still on the books as 36 USC 176 and the instructions for design and display in the Department of Defense awards manual, DoD 1348.33-M.
Joe McMillan, 13 July 2000

The current regulation is in the Department of Defense Awards Manual, DOD 1348-33M, which is quoted below:

C10. Flag for Organizations. The flag for organizations shall correspond to that described for an immediate family in paragraphs C10. through C10., above, subject to the following additional provisions:
C10. Instead of using a separate star for each Service member, one star may be used with the number of Service members indicated by Arabic numerals, which shall appear below the star.

C10. If any Service members are deceased, as determined under the circumstances cited in paragraph C10., above, a gold star shall be placed nearest the staff, or above the blue star in the case of a flag used in a vertical display (Figure C10.F1.). Below that star shall be the Arabic numerals.

C10. The gold stars in both cases shall be smaller than the blue stars so that the blue shall form a border. The numerals in all cases shall be in blue.
I believe World War II practice may have been slightly different. You can read the whole thing at

Joe McMillan, 19 May 2002

[21 Star Service Star flag]