Most Americans are familiar with the term “Gold Star family,” referring to military families who have lost a loved one who served. Some might not know that the origin of the Gold Star designation is tied to the origin of Blue Star families.
More than one million, seven thousand family members support their military loved ones as members of this group. Not all military families are Blue Star families; we’ll explain why at the end of this article.
The Origins Of The Blue Star Family
In 1917, Army Captain Robert Queisser designed a service flag; motivated by his two sons serving in World War One, the flag as originally designed features a single blue star, which represents an individual family member serving in uniform.
It wasn’t long before this flag caught on with other parents of military members and the same year, an Ohio elected official announced that the Mayor of Cleveland as well as the Governor of the State of Ohio had “adopted” the Blue Star flag.
Flying the flag indicated a Blue Star family in residence. In the event that a loved one represented by a Blue Star died while serving or as a result of military service, the blue star was replaced by a gold star, hence the designation of Gold Star families.
This is the start of the Blue Star family movement, which also led to further consideration for Gold Star families as we’ll explore below. What makes a Blue Star family? Who is allowed to fly the Blue Star flag?
Specifications of the Blue Star Flag
Like many other formal and informal traditions, the Blue Star flag and acknowledgement of Blue Star families in general caught on with the Defense Department during World War Two. Eventually the DoD issued a list of guidelines to establish a formal use of the Blue Star flag; these guidelines regulated:
- The materials and manufacture of the Blue Star flag
- Who is authorized to fly the Blue Star flag
- Under what circumstances can the Blue Star flag be flown
The Blue Star flag, as specified by federal regulation, is described as an 8.5-by-14-inch white field with “one or more blue stars sewn onto a red banner”.
The total size of the flag (as opposed to the size of the white field on the flag) may vary but in general it should be proportional to the U.S. flag. Today, families display these banners when they have a loved one serving in the U.S. Armed Forces.
Who Is Permitted To Fly A Blue Star Flag?
The Department of Defense has specific regulations covering who is allowed to fly the Blue Star flag. Immediate family members are permitted, to include any of the following people related to a service member:
- Stepchildren, stepsiblings, half-siblings
- Adopted parents
- Adopted children and adopted siblings of a United States service member.
A Blue Star flag may also be flown by an organization to honor the service members of that organization serving during a period of hostilities or war.
The contemporary blue star represents one family member serving; today’s Blue Star flag may contain as many as five stars. As with the original version of the flag, if a military family member dies, a gold star is placed over the original blue star.
The Blue Star Lapel
The flag itself wasn’t the only thing the government wanted to regulate when there was still a Department of War; a matching Blue Star service lapel was also authorized and it, too, had restrictions on who could wear it and under what circumstances.
This all came about when the DoD authorized both flag and service lapel. The Department of Defense authorized the service flag and service lapel on Dec. 1, 1967 via an act of Congress in the form of United States Code 179-182.
Use Of Blue Star Service Banners After World War Two
Some military traditions come and go. Use of Blue Star flags or banners had that experience; the flags were popular in both World Wars but were not as visible or as popular during the Korean conflict or the Vietnam war.
But after the 9/11 terror attacks on U.S. soil in Washington D.C. and New York City, veterans groups including the American Legion made a concerted effort to bring back the Blue Star flag. Today we honor both Blue Star families and Gold Star families with them.
What Makes A Blue Star Family?
Not every military family is a Blue Star family. That is because those authorized to fly the Blue Star flag are those who have immediate family members who serve in the military during a time of conflict.
Subsequently, a Gold Star family is defined as the immediate family of a military member who has died while serving during a time of military conflict.
Joe Wallace is a 13-year veteran of the United States Air Force and a former reporter for Air Force Television News
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