FORT SAM HOUSTON, TEXAS (May 5, 2016) -- At the post gas station I saw a vehicle, with a young girl driving it, stop to fill up at the pump next to me. I noticed a small flag in the window with two blue stars on it, and assumed that the stars reflected the rank of the Soldier that owned the vehicle. I was surprised that a Major General would have a daughter that young.

Soon after that incident, I was hired to support an Army program called Survivor Outreach Services. When I reported to work, I noticed one of the ladies at work had a little purple and gold lapel pin she wore all the time, and another had a pin that was a variation of the flag that I had seen at the gas station.

I was curious: the flag on the car had two blue stars, the flag on one lady's pin had one blue star and one gold star and another simply had one blue star. Why were all the flags different, why were there two different stars, why did only these two ladies in the office have the flags? I, in my infinite wisdom, was too embarrassed to ask what any of these things meant.

Fortunately, one of my first assignments was to develop a web page that clearly defined the different versions of the flags and pins for the American public.

I am an Army veteran, with one deployment, and was married to an active duty Army soldier, with eleven deployments, and never understood the momentous meaning these symbols had. It blew my mind that I'd never heard of, learned about, or understood what these symbols represented.

The Service Flag was designed and patented by World War I Captain Robert L. Queissner of the 5th Ohio Infantry whose two sons were serving on the front line. The flag was designed to be displayed in the front window of peoples' homes, to indicate the number of family members serving the war effort as members of the Armed Services.

In 1918 President Wilson approved a request from the Women's Committee of the Council of National Defense that allowed mothers who had lost a child serving in the war to wear a gold gilt star on their traditional black mourning band. This practice led to the blue star on the Service Flag being covered with a gold star to indicate that the service member had been killed.
This practice became much more widespread during WWII, when organizations and families took great pride and displayed banners indicating the number of members of the organization, or family, serving in the war.

Between WWII and today, the practice of wearing or displaying service flags or gold stars had diminished greatly… but the meaning of the symbols is a significant as it was 100 years ago.

Each time you see a blue service star, you should be aware that the person displaying it has a loved one--possibly in harm's way--supporting the freedoms we enjoy every day. A gold service star indicates that someone in that person's family has lost their life while serving our armed forces and our Nation.

Please take a moment, when appropriate, to thank the bearer of the star. A simple "I appreciate your family member's service," or "My sympathies for your loss," is all it takes to remind the bearer that the service or sacrifice means something… even if the practice isn't widely recognized anymore.