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Service Flag Artifact Highlight #45

This service flag, also called the Blue Star Service Banner, the Blue Star Flag, or the Man-in-Service Flag, was donated to our collection in 1983. The flag consists of a small blue star in the center of a white field with a thick red border. It is made of silk and cotton and has two small plastic rings sewn into the top edge for hanging. The flag has staining throughout and does not appear to be commercially made. It is 15.5 inches long and 11 inches wide.

The service flag is an indoor flag that is displayed from a front window during times of war or hostilities to signify a family member in active service in the Armed Forces. The flag can display blue stars for family members currently serving or gold stars for those that made the ultimate sacrifice. Blue and gold are the only official colors specified for this use, but silver has been used to signify those that were injured. The Silver Star Families of America, an organization founded in 2004, has been working to encourage the U.S. Congress to make the silver star service banner official.

The tradition of displaying the flag started in 1918 when President Woodrow Wilson, at the urging of the Women's Committee of the Council of National Defenses, approved the use of gold stars on mourning arm bands. During WWII, the use of service flags was widespread and besides homes also included businesses and organizations, which often displayed the flags during unveiling ceremonies.

Placer Herald February 23, 1918
Placer Herald December 19, 1942

There were no legal specifications as to the size of the flag and many were handmade at home.

The Lincoln Messenger April 1, 1943

Today, the flags are made according to the standard approved by Congress with the flag size ration of 10:19, the same as the US flag.

Background Image: Two nurses and a service dog looking at a service flag, Circa 1918. PCM Collection.

The flag was donated by Vincent Gianella of Auburn. Vincent Gianella was a professor of geology, who spent his career at the University of Nevada and the Mackey School of Mines. He was a resident of Auburn for twenty years and was a member of the Auburn Rotary Club, the Placer County Historical Society, and the Placer County Historical Museum Foundation.

The Sacramento Bee September 12, 1918

During WWI Gianella’s brother Leo served in France and his brother William enlisted in the Navy. His sister Monica was a nurse. His mother Mary and sisters Monica and Katherine donated an ambulance to the Red Cross for use on the Italian war front.

Background Image: Vincent and Catherine Gianella wedding photo. Married June 27, 1917. PCM Collection.

The flag is on display at the DeWitt History Museum in Auburn.

Click the links below to see other artifacts donated by the Gianella family.