In 1917, as tens of thousands of American soldiers, sailors and Marines headed to Europe to fight “The Great War,” mothers began a new tradition.
They sewed small square red, white and blue banners and hung them in their front windows to show that they had a child in the military.
Initially called “mother’s flags,” they were eventually renamed “service banners” and authorized for other family members – spouses, fathers, siblings or children of service members.
Service flags are an official military symbol that indicate that a member of the household is serving in a U.S. armed service – the U.S. Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines or Coast Guard – during wartime.
It has been authorized for use only five times; during World War II, Korea, Vietnam, the Gulf War and for the current conflicts with Iraq and Afghanistan.
The flags can often be seen displayed in the front windows of private homes or in front of businesses that have one or more employees in the military.
The white flags rimmed in red feature one or more stars in the center – one for each family member in the military.
Congress officially recognized the flags in 1942, when their form and use was formalized for the blue and gold stars, but the silver star was left out.
In 1967 the Department of Defense implemented further formalization of the service flags, setting rules for the use and manufacture of the flags.
The star comes in three variations; gold, silver and blue.
Blue stars indicate the family has an active duty service member during a time of conflict: any soldier, sailor, airman, Marine or Coast Guardsman in active service, from the day they are sworn-in through the conflict’s end, retirement or the end of military service.
One star appears on the flag for each service member in the family.
There are several official organizations related to the banner, including Blue Star Mothers of America and Blue Star Families of America.
According to tradition, if the service member is killed, the blue star is covered with an embroidered gold star.
Gold star flags are not restricted to service members killed in action or while deployed, but are for any service member who dies during active service.
Among the most honored gold star banners is that of the Sullivan family, which features five gold stars. The Sullivan brothers all died in action when their ship was torpedoed and sunk during WWII.
Today the guided missile destroyer USS The Sullivans (DDG-68), named in honor of the brothers, flies a five-star gold star flag in memory of her namesakes.
There are two official organizations for gold star recipients; American Gold Star Mothers and Gold Star Wives of America.
By tradition a service member severely wounded and returned to the U.S. for treatment and rehabilitation a silver star replaces the blue.
The silver star banner is not related to the silver star medal.
Despite the official recognition of the silver star parents of severely wounded servicemen and women still covered their blue star with silver thread.
An unofficial flag, created by the Silver Star Families of America was designed to resemble the blue and gold star flags without infringing on the Pentagon’s design.
That flag features a silver star on a blue field, with a red and white border.
Silver Star Families was recognized by Congress in April 2010, authorizing the silver star flag for the first time since 1942, but Pentagon officials have not yet approved a final design for the banner.
Because of the politicization of the Vietnam War, the service flag did not see common use among the families of servicemen during the era.
To honor those veterans, a veteran’s service flag was created for those who served, but were not recognized at that time.
The veteran’s banner is similar in form to the service flag, with a blue field and red border, with a white star for veterans and a gold star for veterans who died after their service was complete.
While the veteran’s star is not officially recognized by the Pentagon as official military heraldry, it was approved as an unofficial symbol of past service.
More information on the service flag can be found at the Institute of Heraldry web site .
Information courtesy the Pentagon Institute of Heraldry and serviceflags.com .
Free service flags for blue star families are available at mybluestarflag.com , courtesy of Grantham University.
When night fell on June 2, 1969, Seaman 1st Class Michael Clawson, a 20-year-old sailor on the destroyer USS Frank E. Evans, was one of two brothers serving in the United States military in 1969.
Arnie Clawson, his 21-year-old brother, was a Marine stationed at Dong Ha, in the Vietnam demilitarized zone. Every night the news reported attacks at Dong Ha.
“I was so worried about Arnie,” their mother. Brookings resident Terry Clawson said.
“I was not worried about Michael,” she said. “He was was in the Navy. He was safe.”
But safety is only relative.
The Evans was commissioned during World War II, served during the Korea, earning six battle stars and numerous other awards.
In June 1969 the Evans had just finished shelling the coast of Vietnam in support of ground operations. The destroyer was patrolling in the South China Sea – between Spratly Island (claimed by Vietnam) and Saigon – as an escort for the Australian aircraft carrier HMAS Melbourne.
The Melbourne was in the midst of flight operations when the Evans inexplicably turned starboard when it should have turned port, and cut directly in front of the aircraft carrier.
The destroyer was split in half. The bow section, with 74 sailors still on board, immediately sank to the bottom of the South China Sea.
Among the drowned sailors was Michael Clawson.
“It was just awful,” Terry said of the days that followed,
Since that day, May and early June, which also include Michael’s birthday and Memorial Day, are difficult for her.
“The whole month is trying,” Terry said.
Terry didn’t recieve a gold star flag, nor was she or her sons honored for thier service. The only honor she received was a visit from her son’s surviving shipmates.
“They came to see me,” she said, “they told us what a great young man he was.”
None of the names of the men who died on the Evans that day appear on the Vietnam Memorial, she said.
Terry’s older son, Arnie, returned from Vietnam, whole but miss his brother.
“They were very close,” Terry said.
Today Terry finally has a gold star banner to commemorate the loss of her son. She volunteers with the Emblem Club, helping to send letters and packages to servicemen overseas.
Thursday’s news of the 1,000th U.S. Afghanistan casualty was especially poignant for Terry.
“The subject of war is ‘Young men go to war and young men die,’” she said.Curry County citizens have a long history of service, and every person who served, left behind their loved ones.
Public library wall honors those who serve today
The Chetco Community Library has a display of active duty military members who have a tie to Curry County, Most are graduates of Brookings-Harbor High School, others are children or siblings of Curry County residents.
There are 19 young men and women on the wall: six soldiers, six sailors, two airmen and five Marines, a fraction of those from the county who currently serve.
The wall is in the Teen Time section of the library, and shows each service member’s photo is linked by a string to their most recent location in the world.
Most of the links lead to Iraq or Afghanistan. Others are stationed at bases in Japan or other overseas bases.
The display was created by Children’s Librarian Dori Blodgett, whose son is featured on the wall.
Blodgett also created a public scrapbook that family members can update with their service member’s latest accomplishments, assignments or promotions.
The wall and book – which has grown into several books – is to show pride in the county’s military members, Blodgett said.
A Blue Star Mothers group is currently forming for Curry and Del Norte families.
Blue Star Mothers is a nationwide organization for mother’s to come together for support and for projects to help the troops.
Fathers, spouses, siblings and other family members are welcome.
The first Brookings- area Blue Star chapter meeting will be held at 3 p.m. Sunday, June 6, at the Veterans of Foreign Wars building on Pacific Avenue in Brookings.