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Service Flag (U.S.)

Service Star, Blue Star Banner

Last modified: 2006-08-26 by rick wyatt
Keywords: united states | service star | blue star | gold star | ww i | ww ii | sons in service | in service | service flag |
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[Service Star flag] [Service Star flag] [Service Star flag] images 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

The Name Game

The term "service flag" can apply to all the military and civilian service flags. That is blindingly obvious. But by act of Congress (Title 36, United States Code, Section 901), the flag to be displayed by members of the immediate family of persons in military service during time of hostilities is Legally, Officially designated as the "Service Flag."

DoD 1348.33-M authorizes the Secretary of Defense to approve the design of the flag and prescribe regulations governing its manufacture and use. It also refers to this flag as "The Service Flag." The fact that some organizations and flag companies call it "The Blue Star Banner" is neither here nor there. The flag is an official symbol authorized by Congress. There's nothing wrong with calling it the Blue Star Banner, of course, and there is indeed a long tradition of referring to it by that nickname. But a nickname is all it is--like Stars and Stripes or Old Glory for the national flag. It is not the official name of this flag.

The following is the law:

Sec. 901. - Service flag and service lapel button
  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. Regulations. - The Secretary may prescribe regulations necessary to carry out this section.

Joe McMillan, 10 April 2003

Referring to the In Service flags as Son In Service flags is a common mistake. The emblem as patented was called an In Service emblem as it would allow for the display by someone who had a father, husband, son, mother, sister and daughter who were in the military. The gold star represented anyone who died, male or female, in the military by any cause including disease and accident, not just "in action."

The information regarding the gold star came from an original order form dated in early 1948. It's official name is Gold Star Lapel Button. There still exist a number of the blue star pins on their original card of issue and all the ones I've owned or have seen had been labeled "In Service Emblem." They probably picked up the "Son" because most persons in the military are men. There are patent files in the state library and next time I go up there I'll look it up and get a copy of the information. The patent was issued on November 6, 1917 but I don't have the number.

Ed Sims, 11 July 2003

[21 Star Service Star flag]