Americans Honor Relatives in the Military

There are thousands of red, white and blue banners popping up all across the country — but these emblems of patriotism only feature one star.

The Blue Star Service Banner has leapt out of the pages of history and back into windows and windshields wherever a family member is serving in the armed services. On a house, this small, modestly decorated flag marks to passersby that the family inside has made the nation's most onerous sacrifice — giving up a loved one who is serving as a member of the military.

"To bring back the banner is to again make the local community more aware of people who are contributing to the military, and of households that are making sacrifices by not having their military members back home," said American Legion National Commander Richard J. Santos.

"It's one way the community can recognize the contribution of the family, and that the family can express its pride."

A simple cotton rectangle of red and white with one blue star in the center for each member of the family in the Army, Navy, Marines or Air Force, the banners were a common sight during World War I, World War II and the Korean War, but began to disappear afterward.

The American Legion had been considering reviving the practice of hanging the banner in a home's front window, but it took the tragedy of Sept. 11 to really spark interest in bringing the flag back.

The banners are available to any relative of an active-duty, National Guard or Reserve service member, and sold through the American Legion for $6.95 a piece.

"With the heightened level of military activity overseas and the war on terrorism and heightened patriotism, we thought it best to bring back the program now," Santos said. "Sept. 11 brought it right back, right away."

Plenty of people seem to agree. Since it began promoting the banners again on Nov. 11, the American Legion has sold more than 9,000 of them and is struggling to keep them on the shelves. Previously, it had sold about 75 banners a year.

"I think Americans appreciate the military veterans and active-duty men and women a little more," Santos said. "Even during times of peace, you have to appreciate the contribution of the family to the country, overseas or here in the homeland, at war or in peace. I think the banner might stay this time."