Today, July 4, many people are flying their American flags to celebrate American independence. During World War II (and World War I) people often displayed a different type of patriotic flag. It was (and still is) known as a Military Service Flag.
At the 1944 FFA Convention and again at the 1946 FFA Convention there was an unveiling of a Military Service Flag but there was no description or explanation given about the Service Flag or its significance. Perhaps the reason for the lack of information was that in those days, people knew about the Service Flag and its meaning. Over time that knowledge has faded from our memory.
At the 1944 FFA Convention the Service Flag was unveiled by two Future Farmers, Private Chester Asay of Lovell, Wyoming, and Seaman Jim Hutchins of Estelline, Texas. The photo below is of the FFA Service Flag with two of the 1943-44 National Officers examining it — National First Vice President O. Beverley Roller, Weyers Cave, Virginia, and National President Robert Bowman, Buttonwillow, California.
At the 1946 Convention, the unveiling of the Service Flag was part of a Memorial Service and was a very solemn occasion (but there is no photograph of the Service Flag in the 1946 Proceedings). So exactly what is a Service Flag and how does it relate to the FFA?
The following information about the Service Flag is from the U.S. Flag Depot, Inc:
The Service Flag is an official banner authorized by the Department of Defense for display by families who have members serving in the Armed Forces during any period of war or hostilities the United States may be engaged in for the duration of such hostilities.
The service flag (also known as “blue star banners” or “son in service flags”) was designed and patented by World War I Army Captain Robert L. Queissner of the 5th Ohio Infantry who had two sons serving on the front line. The flag quickly became the unofficial symbol of a child in service.
During World War II, the practice of displaying the service flag became much more widespread. Virtually every home and organization displayed banners to indicate the number of members of the family or organization serving in the Armed Forces.
See a color photo of a Service Flag below showing two sons in the armed forces.
A blue star on the flag indicated a family had a son in the service. If the family had more than one son in the service additional blue stars were added to equal the number of sons serving. If a son was killed while in the service, a gold star was sewn over the blue star. The gold star took the position of honor and was placed over the topmost blue star The gold star was smaller than the blue star to create a blue border surrounding the gold star (see photo below). The color of the stars is also symbolic in that the blue star represents hope and pride and the gold star represents a sacrifice to the cause of liberty and freedom.
In 2010 a silver star was approved to be displayed on the service flag if the person was wounded in action.
The flag was designed to be displayed inside of the house with the flag being placed in a window looking outward. While the flag was designed for families, organizations were allowed to have a service flag indicating the number of their members who were serving in the armed forces. There is a short video (2 minutes) about Service Flags at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wnM-bqKe674.
At the 1946 Victory Convention, there was a special unveiling of the FFA Service Flag during the Memorial Service. As part of the ceremony, FFA President Stuff introduced Mr. and Mrs. Alben Borgstrom and stated ”Out on the northern shores of the Great Salt Lake in Utah is a little farming community called Thatcher, where stands a farm house with five stars in the window. Four of them are gold. The four Borgstrom brothers, sons of Mr. and Mrs. Alben Borgstrom, all of them former Future Farmers of the Bear River Chapter, lost their lives in the service of their country.” The reference to the stars alludes to a Service Flag [Note: The story of the Borgstrom brothers was in a previous Friday Footnote].
Even though there is no photo of the 1946 Service Flag unveiling, there is evidence that the Service Flag had two stars on it along with two numbers. In an article titled “W.VA. Farm Boys Win National Honors” written by L. S. Harvey, Agricultural Agent from Morgantown, W.V in the Baltimore and Ohio Magazine, he states (1947, p. 15): “At this convention a memorial service was held and the organization’s service flag was unveiled. It bore two stars: the gold star for 7,188 members who gave their lives, and a blue star for the 260,000 members who wore military uniforms in World War II.” A photo of the Mississippi FFA string band that appeared in the 1946 FFA Convention Proceedings appears to have the Service Flag in the background but the Service Flag is partially obscured. See below.
Other Mentions of FFA and the Service Flag
In the February 15, 1945 issue of the Kansas Future Farmer magazine, Jack Graham, the Reporter for the Columbus chapter informed us that (p. 14): “We are going to purchase a new service flag in the near future, also an album in which we will list all the members who are in the armed forces, together with their picture and rank. So far we have two gold stars on our flag. John Dunbar who was lost in the South Pacific Area, and Richard Vincent who was killed in action on the western front.”
In a speech to the Rocky Mountain Association of Fairs in 1943, Zadok G. Hudgin, agriculture teacher at the Billings (MT) High School indicated that the Billings FFA had over 30 stars on its service flag.
At the 1944 summer conference of agricultural teachers in Ohio (which was held at three separate locations due to the war emergency) the OVATA dedicated a large Service Flag with 120 stars representing the number of agriculture teachers in the armed forces. Seventy-five percent were in the Army with the other 25% being in the Navy. There were two gold stars on the Service Flag (Weiler & Woodin, 1975)
One of the youngest FFA members to die in World War II was Nathan Maclean of Livermore, California. He was a founding member of the Livermore Union High School FFA chapter and specialized in sheep raising, especially the Romeldale. One month after the surprise attack on Pearl Harbor, Maclean volunteered for the U.S. Marine Corps. Maclean was killed in action at age 17 during the Battle of Guadalcanal in the South Pacific.
On December 2, 1942, Livermore High School held a “simple but impressive memorial services” in Maclean’s honor, a mere 11 months after he left school to join the military and just six months after his graduation. The principal read a selection, then presented the school service flag to the student body president and charged him with placing a gold star on the flag. The student body stood in silence before singing the National Anthem. The school flag was lowered to half-mast (National FFA Organization, 2013).
In the Twenty-Sixth Annual Bulletin of the Sandwich Historical Society (New Hampshire) published in 1945, it was reported that the village of Sandwich added two gold stars to its Service Flag in 1944. One gold star was for Bob Ballentine who was a Wolfeboro boy who came to Sandwich to attend Quimby School. We learn that (Forristall, 1945, p. 32) “He was an honor student, became state president of the Future Farmers of America, and also won a Scholarship for the agricultural course at the State University where he was a student when called into service. He is an outstanding example of fine American boyhood sacrificing a life of promise to his county’s need.”
As we celebrate our freedom during this July 4 weekend, let us remember the FFA members and agricultural teaches who are represented by both blue and gold stars on various service flags including those unveiled during the 1944 and 1946 FFA Conventions. They sacrificed so that others could experience freedom.
A postcard from World War II
A special thanks go to David Laatsch, a retired agriculture teacher in Wisconsin, who provided invaluable assistance in educating me about the Service Flag.
It would be appropriate to display the FFA Service Flag at the National FFA Convention this year as a remembrance to the first unveiling of the FFA Service Flag exactly 75 years ago at the 1944 FFA Convention. I hope our FFA Service flag is safely tucked away in the FFA Archives.
Hartley, L. S. (1947, July). W. VA. Farm Boys Win National Honors. Baltimore and Ohio Magazine, Vol. 33, No. 7.
Hudgin, Z. G. (1943, March 13). Future Farmers and the Fair. The Billboard. Volume 55, No. 11, P. 40.
Forristall, Mrs. W. H. (1945). Twenty-Sixth Annual Bulletin, Part II, Education in Sandwich, Sandwich Historical Society.
National FFA Organization Official Blog. https://nationalffa.wordpress.com/2013/05/24/honoring-ffa-member-and-fallen-soldier-nathan-maclean/
Weiler, W. G. & Woodin, R. J. (1975). Education for Agriculture. A History of the Ohio Vocational Agriculture Teachers Association, 1925 – 1975. Ohio Agricultural Education Curriculum Materials Service, Columbus.