UNITED STATES NATIONAL
SERVICE FLAGS - FACT AND FICTION
by Richard R. Gideon
Copyright 2004, Richard R. Gideon - AMERICAN VEXILLUM Magazine
U.S. military forces have been dispersed over a wide portion of the earth's surface, and those who have family members enrolled in one of the various branches of the armed services have revived a tradition that dates back to W.W.I. - displaying the National Service Flag, or simply the "Service Flag."
The history of the Service Flag is well known. A former U.S. Army officer, R. L Queisser of Cleveland, Ohio, created the flag in 1917 to honor his two sons who were serving in France. Using "national colors," Queisser created a white field surrounded by a broad red border half the width of the white field itself. He used blue stars to symbolize his sons - one star for each. The flag quickly caught on as a window banner (an advertisement for a window banner is in the October, 1917 edition of National Geographic). But it was during W.W.II. that the Service Flag really took hold, becoming a common sight in homes across America. During the Korean conflict the Service Flag saw limited revival, and from that point until the Iraq War its use during American conflicts was almost nil. (It may be said, correctly I believe, that W.W.II. was the last major conflict in America's history that united citizens to a common resolve regardless of political affiliation. When Germany attacked Russia even the American Communist Party urged its members to support the war, and later to join the fight.)
The purpose of this article is to clarify some misconceptions concerning the usage and display of the Service Flag in its various iterations. In particular, we will focus on the regulations governing the Service Flag, who is entitled to display it, and how it should be displayed. We will also look at the lesser known but as important Service Button (lapel pin).
Department of Defense (DoD) Directive 1348.20, 1 December 1967, implemented an Act of Congress which authorizes a Service Flag and Service Lapel Button (see 36 U.S.C. 179-182). This directive has been updated and revised since then (1348.33m - September, 1996), but the basic concept is the same.
The agency of the Department of Defense responsible for implementing the regulations is the U.S. Army's "The Institute Of Heraldry" (TIOH) at Ft. Belvoir, Virginia. DoD regulations spell out the technical aspects of the flag, who is authorized to display it, and the certification requirements for making and selling both flags and buttons. The latter item is quite important; there is a fine of up to $1,000 against "..any person, firm, or corporation which manufactures such service flag or service lapel button without having first obtained a certificate of authority to manufacture, or otherwise violates the provisions of the Act...." The DoD provides each manufacturer detailed instructions concerning proportions, colors, and placement of stars.
Having laid some groundwork, let us now consider some of the more popular myths concerning the National Service Flag (Endnotes reference the relevant portions of the regulations).
MYTH: The Service Flag is (always) a window banner.
The Service Flag section of 1348.33m does not use the phrase "window banner." In fact, the word "banner" does not appear in the regulations. The regulations do mention that the flag may be displayed in a window if desired.2 The regulations read in part, "When the service flag is displayed other than by being flown from a staff, it will be suspended either horizontally or vertically." The patterns supplied to manufacturers show how to make the flag for both horizontal (flag pole) and vertical (banner) display.
MYTH: If displayed in a window the Service Flag must be 8" x 15".
There is nothing in the regulations specifying size. What is specified is proportion. The Service Flag or Banner must have an aspect ratio of 1:1.9 (not including the header or attachment) - the same as the flag of the United States. If a Service Flag and a U.S. Flag are being flow together, the Service Flag must not be larger than the U.S. Flag. Which leads to the next myth:
MYTH: The Service Flag must be smaller than the U.S. Flag.
Actually, the regulations say that "When displayed with the flag of the United States, the service flag shall be of approximately equal size but never larger than (emphasis added) the flag of the United States."3
MYTH: The Service Flag is for the soldier who served in the military.
This is one of the biggest misconceptions of all: The Service Flag isn't for the soldier - it's for the SOLDIER'S FAMILY. Also, it isn't to honor those "who served" in the military (past-tense)"; it is to honor one's family member WHO CURRENTLY SERVES.4 Displaying a Service Flag for a deceased W.W.II. ancestor actually sends the wrong signal to anyone observing the flag and understanding its significance.
MYTH: If a service man or woman is wounded then the blue star is changed to silver.
During W.W.II. there were examples of this kind of usage, but current DoD regulations call for only two star colors: 1) BLUE, indicating that a family member is in service, and 2) GOLD, indicating the enrolled member has died under honorable conditions. The gold star is lapped over the blue star so that a blue border shows. Also, the death does not have to be combat related. The regulations clearly state "killed or died while serving," and do not specify how the death occurred.
MYTH: A service man or woman must be in an area of hostile action in order for the family to display the Service Flag.
Not so. The regulations say nothing about where service men or women have to serve; the only requirements are that a family member be enrolled in the military during a time of war or national emergency. It is just a proper to fly a Service Flag for a daughter who is a doctor in a state-side hospital as it is for a son who is a tank commander in Iraq.
MYTH: Service Flags are to be displayed exclusively by immediate family members.
While it is true that the Service Flag is for the families of service men and women, there is a little know section of the rules that permits ORGANIZATIONS to display Service Flags for their members who are currently enrolled in the military. "Organizations" has a broad meaning; it could be an employer, a religious congregation, a fraternity or sorority group (college related or not - such as a Rotary Club), school, or some other recognized entity (except, obviously, a military unit itself). The only difference between flags for organizations and families is in the number of stars. Since it is quite possible that the organization will have many members enrolled in the military - and thus more blue stars than the white field can accommodate legally - then the regulations read that a single blue star will be used, and an Arabic numeral or numerals will be placed underneath it.5 The proportion of the number is specified as half the size of the star.
MYTH: An immediate family member is anyone related to the enrollee.
Although this has been a sore spot with many grandparents, the regulations state that an immediate family member is "wife, husband, mother, father, stepmother, stepfather, parent through adoption, foster parents who stand or stood in loco parentis (the position of a parent), children, stepchildren, children through adoption, brothers, sisters, half brothers, and half sisters of a member of the Armed Forces of the United States." A grandparent, acting in loco parentis qualifies; otherwise the grandparent does not. There has been a move afoot to change the regulations to include grandparents, but as of this writing the original wording remains.
MYTH: A Service Flag should have the name and Service Branch of the enrollee embroidered upon the flag, and the flag may be trimmed with gold fringe.
This myth probably grew out of the desire of families to let the world know the names of their military children, but the regulations do not state anything of the kind. Although the rules do not specifically preclude such a practice, the patterns supplied by the DoD are specific about what should go on a Service Flag, and a name, Service Branch, and fringe are not in the patterns. In fact, the DoD adverts that the flag must be treated with respect, as one would the national flag, and prohibits its use in advertising (except to draw attention to itself, of course) or on objects for sale.6 "It will not be embroidered on such articles as cushions, handkerchiefs, and the like; printed, or designed for temporary use and discarded; or any portion of a costume or athletic uniform. Advertising signs will not be fastened to a staff or halyard from which the service flag is flown."
MYTH: Only "window banners" are really service flags.
Quite clearly this is not the case. Outdoor flags made to specifications are not only authorized but encouraged. Lapel buttons (with Blue Stars only) are also authorized - a little known aspect of the regulations.
MYTH: Service Lapel Buttons come in a variety of sizes, and star colors may be blue or gold.
There is only one regulation lapel button, and it is tiny: the authorized size is 3/16 x 3/8, in inches! Also, the regulations clearly state that only one blue star is authorized.7 There is a Gold Star Lapel Button8, but it is a different shape and size, and may not be sold commercially. It is an award to the family members of a military man or woman who died in service under honorable conditions.
MYTH: Service Flags must be made in the United States.
Not so; although the manufacturer must be licensed. Nothing in the regulations specifies that manufacturers must be located in the United States. Of course, many people might cringe at the idea of a flag purporting to represent one's military son or daughter being made in a country with less than honorable intentions toward the United States. But if a Service Flag is "Made in U.S.A" it should say so. If the flag is "Made in China" it should say that as well. If it is important to you to know where the flag is made then read the packaging carefully. Such markings as "Made by XYZ Inc., an American Company" or "Distributed by XYZ, U.S.A" do not necessarily mean the same thing as "Made in U.S.A," nor does "Made in U.S.A" always mean that the company that made the flag is an American company - as we all know, there are plenty of foreign companies operating in the U.S.A or that own American businesses. Toyota, a Japanese Company, makes cars in the United States. Chrysler, formerly an American company, is owned by a German corporation. General Motors, an American company with assembly plants in the United States, imports components for many of its nameplates. But regardless of where the flag is made it should conform to specifications.
We now turn our attention to the difference between theory and practice when it comes to dealing with flag regulations. The Flag Code governing the U.S. flag is quite specific about such details as how the flag is to be treated and what may and may not be done with it, but in reality the Flag Code is broken every day and without consequence. The daily newspapers run ads for "Fourth of July" sales in which the U.S. Flag becomes an advertising icon. Because there are no penalties involved with breaking it, the Flag Code is nothing more than a set of rules of etiquette. If this seems strange one must remember that, unlike many other countries, our national flag belongs to the people and not a particular government agency, and it is difficult to consign penalties against the improper use of the flag when that usage may be a matter of individual interpretation or freedom of speech.
The Service Flag is a very different story. Capt. Queisser gave the copyright to the United States, Department of Defense, and that agency owns the rights to the flag's design. So does this mean that your "Aunt Tillie" can't make a Service Flag to display in her window for her grandnephew in the Army? Well, unless she has the DoD's permission, in theory - yes, that's what it means: "C10.3.3. Delegation of Authority. The Secretary of the Army is hereby designated to act as the Executive Agent of the Secretary of Defense for granting certificates of authority for the manufacture and sale of Service flags and Service Lapel Buttons conforming to the approved design described herein; providing appropriate design instructions to manufacturers; and administering the provisions of 36 U.S.C. 181, under which any person (emphasis added), firm, or corporation who manufactures such Service flag or Service Lapel Button without having first obtained such a certificate of authority, or otherwise violates reference, shall, on conviction thereof, be fined not more than 1,000 dollars." Is it likely that the "flag police" will visit "Aunt Tillie?"; it is highly unlikely. In talking to a number of legal professionals about this subject the collective opinion is that the provisions of 1348.33m are vague, and that the Department of Defense has more on its mind at the moment that worrying about "Aunt Tillie."
Even so, a large number of people who should know better are ignorant of the history and rules surrounding the Service Flag. This sometimes includes local chapters of veteran's or service organizations. In some cases it includes the military itself! This writer has had direct experience in this arena; in November of 2001 I visited a multi-service recruiting office near my home to show a sample flag and let the recruiters know that their families were qualified to display it. I was given the impression that the recruiters thought I was "pulling a fast one!" But some time later things had changed: In 2003 an officer of the U.S.S THE SULLIVANS contacted me concerning making a 5-Gold Star Service flag as a dress flag for the ship. I expressed some concern over whether the ship would be in technical violation of the rules (although it was unlikely anybody would care). To the Navy's credit, they checked with The Institute Of Heraldry, and received a rules waiver. Most families, and members of the military themselves, are more than willing to abide by the provisions of 1348.33m since they feel that the Service Flag is something special. The only group that I can identify that bristles when I mention the regulations involving Service Flags and Buttons are W.W.II. veterans, and then only a very few of them. It's understandable, however; their concept of the Service Flag is based on experiences of 60 years ago.
Lastly, there is nothing in the regulations concerning the Service Flag or Button that prohibits anyone from buying one of these items to give as a gift to a qualified family or organization. To buy a Service Flag or a Service Lapel Button for a neighbor with a son or daughter in the military is an expression of thoughtfulness and concern.
1 - 128 bit Cipher Strength browser needed
2/4 - C10.3.2.1. The Service flag authorized by Section 176, title 36, U.S.C. may be displayed in a window of the place of residence of persons who are members of the immediate family of Service members 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 may be engaged, for the duration of such period of war or hostilities.
3 - C10.3.5.1. The Service flag shall be treated with dignity and respect. When displayed with the flag of the United States, the Service flag shall be of approximately equal size, but never larger than the flag of the United States. The flag of the United States shall occupy the position of honor.
5 - C10.3.4.1.2.1. 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.
6 - C10.3.5.4. For cautions against the improper use of the Service flag, users should be guided generally by Section 176 of title 36, U.S.C., which apply to the flag of the United States of America.
7 - C10.3.2.2. Service Lapel Button. The Service Lapel Button shall be a blue star on a white rectangular field within a red border, 3/16 inch x 3/8 inch in over-all size (Figure C10.F1.). The shades of colors and the detailed dimensions shall be in accordance with manufacturing instructions furnished to licensed manufacturers by the Department of the Army. C10.3.6.1. The blue star of the Service lapel button worn by members of the immediate family shall signify that one or more Service members are serving in the Armed Forces of the United States under the conditions specified in paragraph C10.3.2.3., above. Multiple blue stars are not authorized.
8 - C10.2.1. The Gold Star Lapel Button authorized by 10 U.S.C. 1126 (reference(uu)) is made up of a gold star 1/4 inch in diameter mounted on a purple disk 3/4 inch in diameter. The star is surrounded by gold laurel leaves in a wreath 5/8 inch in diameter. The opposite side bears the inscription, "United States of America Act of Congress, August 1966," with space for engraving the initials of the recipient. (Editor's Note: This is a separate section in 1348.33m and does not come under the heading of "Service Flag and Lapel Button")
Copyright April, 2004, AMERICAN VEXILLUM Magazine - all rights reservedFAQ's on the National Service Flag:
When was the Service flag first flown?
The Service flag was first displayed in the front windows of homes during World War I to signify a son or husband serving in the Armed Forces. The flag quickly became known as the "son in service flag" with each blue star indicating one family member. During World War II, the Department of War issued specifications on the manufacture of the flag as well as guidelines indicating when and by whom the Service flag could be flown or the Service Lapel button could be worn (an example of the flag can be seen hanging in the window of Mrs. Ryan's house in the movie Saving Private Ryan). Another great movie with the Service flag is the Majestic!
What does the blue or gold star signify?
The blue star represents one family member serving in the Armed Forces. The blue star is covered or replaced with a gold star to indicate that the family member was killed or died during the war or period of hostilities. The blue star represents hope and pride, and the gold star represents sacrifice to the cause of liberty and freedom.
What do multiple stars signify?
Each blue star indicates one family member serving in the Armed Forces of the United States. If multiple stars are shown, a gold star takes the place of honor nearest the staff
How were World War I and World War II Service flags made?
During WWI and WWII, most flags were constructed using cotton fabric with the white field and blue stars sewn onto the red banner. Many flags were also manufactured using felt, satin or silk. The original samples we had two embroidered on wool felt.
Why only one star on the Service Lapel Pin (button)?
Department of Defense regulations specifically state that multiple stars are not authorized. "The blue star of the Service lapel button worn by members of the immediate family shall signify that one or more Service members are serving in the Armed Forces of the United States ... Multiple blue stars are not authorized."
DOD regulations further state: "...A gold star in not authorized as part of the Service Lapel Button...", however, the Service lapel button may be worn in conjunction with the Gold Star Lapel Button which is distributed to applicable family members if the member of the Armed Forces loses their life during an armed conflict.
Was the Service flag flown during Vietnam?
In 1966, the Department of Defense revised the regulations and the specification for the display of the Service flag. Although some families did display the flag, we can only speculate that due to the open contempt that was publicly displayed during the Vietnam conflict, few families chose to display the Service flag, or even knew of its existence.
Can I make my own flag?
Yes! In fact, most flags made during WWI and WWII were made by the families with the relative serving in the Armed Forces. Current DOD regulations only require that persons who manufacture and sell the Service flag obtain a certificate of authorization.
Organizations may also display the Service flag?
The Service flag may be displayed by an organization to honor the members of that organization serving in the Armed Forces of the United States during any period of war or hostilities.
Why display the flag now?
The Service flag is authorized for display by Americans to honor their family members who are serving in the Armed Forces of the United States during ANY period of war or hostilities. It is not necessary for the Service member to be stationed overseas, or be present where hostilities are taking place. All of the military service members contribute to the performance of our Armed forces regardless of where they are located, and they can also be called upon at any time to enter combat!
Our Armed Forces continue to participate in activities to combat the War against Terrorism, and to police unrest throughout the world.
Keep America proud of our Armed Forces by participating in this custom to honor our servicemen and women and to recognize and acknowledge the risk their families face while their loved ones fight to protect our freedom and security!
Please join us in reviving this tradition by displaying the flag, wearing the button, or telling your friends that have family members serving in the Armed Forces.SERVICE FLAG AND SERVICE LAPEL BUTTON
This fact sheet furnishes information concerning service flags and service lapel buttons
Which are for use by members of families of persons serving in the Armed Forces
1. Department of Defense Directive 1348.20, 1 December 1967, implemented an Act of Congress which authorizes a service flag and a service lapel button (See 36 U.S.C. 179-182).
2. The Secretary of the Army has been designated to act as executive agent of the Secretary of Defense for the purpose of granting certificates of authority for the manufacture and sale of service flags and service lapel buttons conforming to the approved design described herein; providing appropriate design instructions to manufacturers; and administering the provisions of Section 181 of the Act referred to in paragraph 1 above, under which any person, firm, or corporation which manufactures such service flag or service lapel button without having first obtained a certificate of authority to manufacture, or otherwise violates the provisions of the Act, shall, upon conviction thereof, be fined not more than $1,000. The Secretary of the Army, in turn, has delegated to the Director, The Institute of Heraldry, United States Army, responsibility for issuing certificates governing the manufacture and sale of the service flag and service lapel button.
3. Portions of the information which follows have been taken from the Department of Defense Directive cited in paragraph 1 above, and Department of Defense Instruction 1348.33-M, Manual of Military Decorations and Awards, July 1990.
(1) "Members of the immediate family" include wife, husband, mother, father, stepmother, stepfather, parent through adoption, foster parents who stand or stood in loco parentis, children, stepchildren, children through adoption, bothers, sisters, half brothers, and half sisters of a member of the Armed Forces of the United States.
(2) "Organizations" include those group organizations such as churches, schools, colleges, fraternities, sororities, societies, and places of business with which the member of the Armed Forces was or is associated. TIOH FACT SHEET, No. 7 – Revised 1 March 2002
(1) The service flag authorized by the Act may be displayed in a window of the place of residence of persons who are members of the immediate family of a person 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 may be engaged, for the duration of such period of war or hostilities.
(2) The service flag may be displayed by an organization to honor the members of that organization 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 may be engaged, for the duration of such period of war or hostilities.
(3) The service lapel button authorized by the Act may be worn by members of the immediate family of a person serving in the Armed Forces of the United States may be engaged, for the duration of such period of war or hostilities.
(1) A design for the service flag is approved as follows:
(a) Flag for immediate family. On a white rectangular field a blue star or stars within a red border.
1. The number of blue stars will correspond to the number of individuals from the "immediate family" who are symbolized on the flag.
2. The flag horizontally displayed will have the stars arranged in a horizontal line or lines with one point of star up (figure 1).
3. The flag described in 1 and 2 above may be displayed vertically (figure 2).
4. If the individual symbolized is killed or dies while serving, from causes other than dishonorable, the star representing that individual will have superimposed thereon a gold star of smaller size so that the blue forms a border. On flags displaying multiple stars, including gold stars, when the flags are suspended, as against a wall, the gold star(s) will be to the right of, or above the blue star(s) (figure 1 and 4).
(b) Flag for organizations. The flag for organizations will correspond to that described for an immediate family member, as above, subject to the following additional provisions:
1. Instead of using a separate star for each member, one star may be used with the number of the members indicated by Arabic numerals, which will appear below the star (figure 3).
2. If any members are deceased (having been killed or died while serving, from causes other than dishonorable), a gold star will be placed nearest the staff, or above the blue star in the case of a flag used in a vertical display (figure 4). Below this star will be the Arabic numerals.
3. The fold stars in both cases will be smaller than the blue stars so that the blue will form a border. The numerals in all cases will be in blue.
(c) Color and relative proportions. The shades of colors used in the flag and the relative proportions shall be in accordance with manufacturing instruction furnished to licensed manufacturers by the Department of the Army.
(2) Design of the Service Lapel Button.
The service lapel button shall be a blue star on a white rectangular field within a red border, 3/16 inch by 3/8 inch in overall size (figure 5). The shades of colors and the detailed dimensions shall be in accordance with manufacturing instructions to licensed manufacturers by the Department of the Army.
d. Display of the Service Flag
(1) The service flag shall be treated with dignity and respect. When displayed with the flag of the United States, the service flag shall be of approximately equal size but never larger than the flag of the United States. The flag of the United States will occupy the position of honor.
(2) When the service flag is displayed other than by being flown from a staff, it will be suspended either horizontally or vertically.
(3) Users are cautioned against the use of the service flag for advertising purposes. It will not be embroidered on such articles as cushions, handkerchiefs, and the like; printed, or otherwise impressed on paper napkins or boxes or anything that is designed for temporary use and discarded; or used as any portion of a costume or athletic uniform. Advertising signs will not be fastened to a staff or halyard from which the service flag is flown.
(4) For cautions against the improper use of the service flag, users should be guided generally by the provisions of 36 U.S.C. 176 which apply to the flag of the United States of America.
e. Wearing of the Service Lapel Button
(1) The blue star of the service lapel button worn by members of the immediate family shall signify that one or more members are serving in the Armed Forces under the conditions specified in paragraph 3b(3) above. Multiple blue stars are not authorized.
(2) A person eligible to wear the gold star lapel button may wear the service lapel button in conjunction therewith if that person is also entitled to wear the service lapel button. A gold star is not authorized as part of the service lapel button.
f. Application for Licensing
(1) Applicants who desire to enter into the manufacture and sale of the service flag or the service lapel button should address applications to Director, The Institute of Heraldry, 9325 Gunston Road, Room S-112, Fort Belvoir, Virginia 22060-5579.
(2) A certificate of authority to manufacture and sell the service flag or the service lapel button will be granted only upon agreement in writing by the applicant that he will not deviate in the manufacture or sale of the approved official service flag or service lapel button as described herein. The certificate of authority shall refer to the Act cited in paragraph 1 above.
(3) Drawings and instructions for the service flag and the service lapel button will be provided to manufacturers with the issuance of their certificate of authority.
g. Purchase of Service Flag and Service Lapel Button
(1) Service flags and service lapel buttons must be procured from commercial sources. The Government does not manufacture, issue or sell service flags or service lapel buttons.