For those who have never been involved in sending a close friend or relative off to war, it is hard to imagine the myriad of emotions experienced on a daily basis – a mixture of pride and anguish that will never leave a parent, sibiling, or spouse until their warrior comes home. As a reservist myself, I cringe to think of the effect that a deployment would have on my parents. Fortunately, the culture surrounding military families provides for the single greatest support system that could exist around such a massive organization.
But on this day, we remember those who never came home as well as the families they left behind.
If you have seen enough war movies, then you would probably recognize a service flag: a vertically-rectangular banner with a red rim surrounding a star on a field of white. The tradition of military service flags began in 1917 during WWI, when a US Army captain designed them as a symbol to honor his two sons who were also serving in the war. It was quickly adopted by government officials, and by WWII, they were in widespread use.
The most meaningful part of the flags are found right in the center. One blue star signifies that you have one immediate family member serving in a time of war. During WWII, one, two, and even three-star banners were a common sight across America. Some families even had four stars on their flags, with five being an extremely rare (and humbling) find. If you have an immediate family member serving in a time of war, then you are entitled to display a banner in the window of your home. This tradition is actually protected by law – much like the Medal of Honor, only specifically-licensed firms can manufacture them.
Unfortunately, while banners with blue stars were often seen around the country, many of them were replaced with gold stars as the wars drew on. This meant that a family member had given their life in service to their country. By the end of WWII, over 400,000 Americans had lost their lives in battle – and almost every one of them had a mother waiting at home for them who instead received a folded flag.
But ever since the service banner tradition began, there has also been a club specifically for the mothers who had lost a child to war. The Gold Star Mothers Club is an organization that no mother wants to be eligible to join, but once they are, it serves as a great source of comfort and support. It also provides as an outlet for grief and a way to serve veterans and their families; in a way, many mothers can “adopt” and serve a veteran in order to honor the child that they lost.
It is a sobering truth that many of our nation’s blessings were secured through the lives of those almost 1.2 million brave Americans who have fought and died since the time of the Revolution. As you enjoy time with your families this Memorial Day, please take a moment to reflect on those that we have lost and the families that are left without one of their own.