I doubt I could have found a more appropriate column subject for this Veterans Day special in the Leavenworth Times. The subject is 100 years old this month, but its origin is virtually unknown to readers. The subject is the blue star flags hung in windows during several wars to signify that a person from that house was in military service.
The subject is a red, white and blue cloth banner of vastly varying sizes and wording. Virtually no one is aware of the origin of this famous banner – until this column. In all my years of collecting militaria, I’ve often displayed these banners, but had no clue of their origin. Read on.
When the Great War, later known as World War I, began, the U.S. was neutral and not involved. But due to several overt and often deadly events, on April 6, 1917, the United States answered the president’s call and soon entered the war on the side of the Allied nations.
In November 1917, an Army captain named Robert L. Queisser, a veteran of service on the Mexican Border under Brig. Gen. John J. Pershing, had two sons serving in the National Guard. He wanted to honor their service, so he invented, or developed, a banner he and his wife could hang in a window to show all who passed by that someone living in that house was serving his country. The blue star service flag was born.
An article in the November issue of Military Trader magazine, a monthly periodical filled with interesting articles about military history, provided the most information I’ve ever found about the origin of the famous flag.
Queisser’s desire to provide a tangible way to honor his sons caught on to a degree he could never have imagined. Fortunately for him, he patented the design, which benefitted him and the American Red Cross, to which he donated half of the profits from the sale of the flags.
A blue flag in the center of a white field on the flag signified that a man from that home was serving in the military. Variants showed the service of those in every military service as well as all Army branches.
If two men were serving, there were two stars, and so forth for as many men as were serving. The article said the flag was often referred to as a “son in service flag.” Women were prohibited by law from serving in any military service in 1917, ergo only sons could serve. That was the law. Later the law was changed, and so was the use of the flag.
The popular flag was continued and expanded during WW II, but discontinued during the Korean and Vietnam wars for varying reasons. Fortunately it was reinstated for the Gulf and Afghanistan conflicts, although made of paper and not in the many varieties as during the world wars.
So now, for this Veterans Day, you know a lot more about a famous flag or banner than you ever did.
John Reichley is a retired Army officer and Department of the Army civilian employee.