NEW YORK – With a quarter of a million U.S. troops already deployed for a possible war with Iraq, a few wartime traditions are creeping back to remind Americans what the soldiers will be fighting for.
As troops continue to ship out, yellow ribbons are being tied to trees and doors to show the world that their families have a loved one away on military duty.
"We have gotten many calls from people and e-mails about what the appropriate way is to tie a yellow ribbon … they're all people realizing there are Americans, loved ones overseas, and they're in harm's way," said Ed Morgan, owner of the Virginia Beach-based American Family Traditions Web store.
"They want to make sure they know the home fires are burning for them and they're welcome home."
Many believe the custom dates back to medieval days, when knights would give ribbons to maidens before going off to battle. In more recent times, Tony Orlando and Dawn sang the No. 1 song of 1973, "Tie a Yellow Ribbon Round the Old Oak Tree," during the Vietnam War.
Some stories say the song was inspired by an incident on a bus bound for Miami. A passenger was on his way home from prison after he asked his wife to tie a yellow ribbon around the lone oak tree in the town square of White Oak, Ga., if she still wanted to be with him. When the bus approached the square, the ribbon was out for all to see.
The song became a hit again in 1981, when 52 American hostages were returned after being held captive for 444 days in Iran, and it made yet another appearance during the 1991 Gulf War.
As troops deploy in large numbers for Iraq, the ribbons are especially prevalent now in military towns surrounding the likes of Camp LeJeune and New River Air Station in North Carolina.
Town leaders in Waynesville, N.C., agreed last month to let community groups put ribbons on streetlight poles — each one bearing the name of a local soldier.
"What I expect is the yellow ribbon tradition will become more and more something we see like we did 10 years ago as soldiers and Marines come back home," Morgan said.
More Americans are also placing candles in their windows — a colonial tradition — to symbolize warmth and security and loyalty to family members not at home.
American Family Traditions sells automatic electric candles, various flags, freedom documents and other items Americans can display in or around their homes as troops fight for their freedom abroad. Many of these items have seen a spike in interest of late, Morgan said.
Family members of military men and women are beginning to display U.S. service flags to honor military troops.
During World War I and II, most flags were hand-made by mothers of soldiers. They are white with red borders and have one or more blue stars in the center — one star for each family member serving in the military during times of war or hostility. A gold star is placed on top of a blue one if a service member is killed in action or dies in service.
Susan Naill's grandmother made a flag to fly in her home's window to honor her son during World War II.
Naill, now 60, is president of the Blue Start Mothers of America, Inc., a group established in 1942 that supports service personnel, promotes patriotism, and assists veterans organizations and homeland volunteer efforts.
During the Korean War, Naill's grandmother was one of a few who put the flag in the window again.
"At that time, not too many people put the flags up," Naill said. "I think the country was very tired — people weren't sure what Korea was for. Asia was a farther distance than Europe.
"I'm not sure it was made clear why we were there … the war wasn't very widely accepted."
Families were also hesitant to display the flags during the Vietnam War, which was heavily protested. Women had to sneak away from their homes in the middle of the night to bring home the coffins and bodies of their loved ones.
The flags were hung inside, if at all.
"Why have a rock being thrown through your window? You were going through enough having a son or daughter in the military and having a nation against you," Naill said. "It was kind of pushed under the rug because the nation was looked at as an enemy, and not a defender."
Naill's group and others are urging a resurgence of the flag, which also appeared during the Persian Gulf War. She said people now aren't afraid to support their troops.
"It wasn't until the attack on America that people remembered Pearl Harbor and what happened there and they remembered what it was like when an attack happened," she said. "I feel that we need to encourage the support of our men and women who serve us. Why do we have to hide the fact that they serve our country?"
One tradition that hopefully won't see a huge resurgence is the gold star on the blue banners.
Gold Star Mothers is a 1,200-member group of American mothers who lost a son or daughter during an American war.
The group, formed in 1928, is encouraging people to display their blue banners and replace the stars with a gold one if their loved one dies in battle — a sign that they're proud of the deceased and that the deceased will be honored.
"So many people that have never been involved in a war or anything like this ... it just doesn't seem to bother them. Some don't know the price that has to be paid for our freedom," Gold Star Mothers' Dorothy Oxendine told Foxnews.com.
"I always say, by honoring the gold star mothers, you're always honoring the sons too. … Now that somebody is remembering them, they're really living on."