Flag conservation

Flag conservation
Textile conservator, Gwen Spicer of Spicer Art Conservation at work

Friday, June 14, 2019

Remembering World War I and II Service Banners and the 'Home Front'

Sheet music, "Our Service Flag: A Blue Start 
Turned to Gold," 1920, Library of Congress.

Over the years at Spicer Art Conservation, we have seen many types of service banners or service flags that were meant to be displayed by service members' families. First used during World War I, the banner was designed and patented in 1917 by U.S. Army Captain Robert L. Queisser of the Fifth Ohio Infantry, in honor of his two sons who were serving in that war. With subsequent use, their design and sizes were standardized and codified.
The flag or banner is officially defined as a white field with a red border, with a blue star for each family member serving in the Armed Forces of the United States during any period of war or hostilities. A gold star with a blue edge represents a family member who died during Military Operations. This includes those who lost their lives during World War I, World War II, or during any subsequent period of armed hostilities in which the United States was engaged before July 1, 1958, or those who lost their lives after June 30, 1958:
  • while engaged in an action against an enemy of the United States;
  • while engaged in military operations involving conflict with an opposing foreign force; or
  • while serving with friendly foreign forces engaged in an armed conflict in which the United States is not a belligerent party against an opposing armed force;
or those who lost their lives after March 28, 1973, as a result of:
  • an international terrorist attack against the United States or a foreign nation friendly to the United States, recognized as such an attack by the Secretary of Defense; or
  • military operations while serving outside the United States (including the commonwealths, territories, and possessions of the United States) as part of a peacekeeping force. [1]
A personal banner, often placed in a window. The
blue star signifies one family member serving in
the Armed Forces. Should the family member
die in service, the family had the right to replace
the blue star with a gold one.The size of this banner
needed to be the same size ratio as the American flag.

The Gold Star Mother designation originally started in 1928 
by Grace Darling Seibold to recognize mothers who lost 
sons in WWI. The last Sunday in September is observed 
as Gold Star Mother's Day. Above, Gold Star Mother's 
Day at Arlington National Cemetery in 1936.

These banners were widely distributed in the home front, but lost favor during the Vietnam War. There has been a resurgence in their use since the first Gulf War. For example, the Silver Star is a tradition begun in 2004, marking service personnel who were wounded.

A 1918 Service flag, presented to Mills County by Glenwood
Lodge No. 43, Knights of Pythias
Many organizational banners were personalized
with the names of their members and, thus, can be very large.

WWII banner for Navy service. The printed design is
'flocked'. It still has its wooden rod with cord and tassels
WWII Banner from the West Side Rowing Club,
Buffalo, NY
The idea of commemorating members of a group has a tradition with GAR roll of honor as a means to honor valor and bravery of members.

GAR Roll of Honor with 18 names
Names are printed onto cardboard and attached to
fabric with a ribbon

Notes and Resources

[1] Wikipedia, "Service Flag," https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Service_flag, accessed January 12, 2019.

CRW Flags, "Service Flags (U.S.)," https://www.crwflags.com/fotw/flags/us%5Esvc.html, accessed January 12, 2019.

"The Service Flag of the United States," http://www.usflag.org/history/serviceflag.html, accessed January 12, 2019.

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