Old blue star banners make a comeback

By Brian Kelly

Herald Writer

STANWOOD — They were signs of service and sacrifice. A common icon representing pride and patriotism.

When America’s window on the world was a view to an Earth engulfed in war, families in neighborhoods across the country hung small flags — with a blue star on a field of white, outlined by a red border — to show there was someone in the family at war.

The blue star banners are back. And the nation’s largest veterans’ organization hopes they will become popular reminders of the sacrifice that members of the military are making.

"It’s a great way to show our unity as a nation and to recognize these folks for putting their lives on the line for us," said Joe March, spokesman for the American Legion.

During its national convention in August, members of the American Legion had talked about rekindling the banner program as a way of honoring the military. The idea soon took on more urgency, however.

"What happened two weeks later, and what no one could have imagined, was America was brutally and viciously attacked by terrorists," March said.

Through its posts throughout the country and its Web site, the American Legion is also promoting the banners "to show our unity as a neighborhood, and as a nation, in battling the war against terrorism," March said.

The first banners were raised in World War I by an Army captain who had two sons in the front lines. The popularity of the banners reached its greatest height during World War II.

"It was just an automatic thing those days. My mother had one up for me," said Bob Westphal, acting adjutant of the American Legion post in Stanwood.

Westphal was an artilleryman who served in Europe for 14 months during World War II. His mother raised a second star when his younger brother joined the Navy during the war.

There were actually two kinds of banners used in the past. The color of the star would be changed from blue to gold if the military member died.

Westphal, 77, recalled how he would walk through his Seattle neighborhood, looking at the banners in neighbors’ windows.

"I’d walk to the bus and make sure the stars on the block were still blue," he said. Occasionally, he would see a gold star and feel sorrow for the families.

The banners’ popularity plunged during the Korean and Vietnam wars. And the Gulf War concluded so quickly there wasn’t time to organize widespread acts of patriotism.

But with the war against terrorism expected to last for years, supporters of the banner program are hoping to educate others on the tradition.

"This is one of the things that help people remember the freedoms afforded to them because somebody is out sleeping in a ditch in the rain. Or in this case, the snow in Afghanistan," said Randy Macey, adjutant and past commander of the post in Mountlake Terrace.

Some posts have not received banners yet, and Stanwood is one of few in the region that actually has some for sale.

Roughly 30,000 have been sent out, and the American Legion is taking orders directly. The Legion also has static-cling plastic banners that people can put on car windows, plus posters, decals and lapel tags that look like blue star banners.

Although the banners aren’t being sold for much more than they cost to make, any extra funds will be used to support the Legion’s programs for veterans and their families.

There are approximately 1.37 million people on active duty in the military, March said, plus another 70,000 or so National Guard and reserve troops.

"The success of this will be measured when there’s probably five banners for every one of them," March said.

"We would like to see them in every single community across America. Virtually every neighborhood in every town has someone serving in this war against terrorism."

You can call Herald Writer Brian Kelly at 425-339-3422 or send e-mail to kelly@heraldnet.com.

Call 1-888-4LEGION to buy a blue star banner, or visit the American Legion’s Web site at www.legion.org to download a copy of one.

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