A service flag or banner is one that family members of those serving in the U.S. Armed Forces can display.

It is officially defined as a white field with a red border, with a blue star for each immediate family member serving during any period of war or conflict. According to the Department of Defense code, the flag size ratio must be 10:19, the same as the American flag.

The service flag was designed and patented by World War I Capt. Robert L. Queisser, whose two sons were serving on the front line. The flag was intended to be displayed in the front window of people’s homes to indicate one or more family members were in the Armed Services.

In 1918 President Wilson approved a request from the Women’s Committee of the Council of National Defense that American women who had lost a child serving in the war should wear a black mourning band on the left arm with a gilt star for each child lost.

This approval led to the tradition of a gold star covering the blue star on the service flag to show that the service member had passed. The gold star represented valor and sacrifice to the cause of freedom. (It is believed Wilson coined the term “Gold Star Mother.”)

Just after World War I, the Gold Star Mothers Club was formed by Grace Darling Siebold (her son was Lt. George Vaughn Seibold) to support other mothers who had lost children in the war.

The club’s other purpose was to give loving care/visits to hospitalized veterans confined in government hospitals far from home. American Gold Star Mothers, Inc. was founded in 1929 as a nondenominational, nonprofit, and nonpolitical organization.

Twenty-five mothers living in Washington, D.C., were original members of the group. Other clubs across the nation quickly requested membership. Still active today, there are over 900 members.

In 1936, the United States began recognizing mothers of fallen service members by observing Gold Star Mother’s Day on the last Sunday of September. Amended in 2011, President Barack Obama made this commemorative day Gold Star Mother’s and Family’s Day.

May 1 has been designated as Silver Star Service Banner Day to honor the sacrifices of combat-wounded, ill, and dying service members. For those who serve in the U.S. military, 1 in 10 suffers a severe injury. Most of those injuries are combat related.

Since World War II, the use of service flags and wearing of Gold Star pins (issued by the Defense Department) has declined, but their meaning as symbols of sacrifice remains significant and relevant yet today.

In a proclamation issued Sept. 24, 2015, Obama said that most Americans cannot fully comprehend the price Gold Star family members have paid:

“Their sleepless nights allow for our peaceful rest, and the folded flags they hold dear are what enable ours to wave. The depth of their sorrow is immeasurable, and we are forever indebted to them for all they have given us.”

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