From the Deckplates

By Senior Chief Jim Murphy, U.S. Navy (Retired)

The history is so simple as to add a certain poignant yet subtle sophistication. Sadly, these characteristics are muddied by U.S. law that prohibits official support of service flags. The congressional charter, like those awarded to other pre-existing corporations, was “purely honorific,” as explained in the 25 August 2005 Congressional or Federal Charters: Overview and Current Issues by Kevin R. Kosar. As such, the Institute of Heraldry clearly states in Fact Sheet No. 7, revised 1 March 2002, “Service flags and service lapel buttons must be procured from commercial sources. The Government does not manufacture, issue or sell [them].”

The result is mothers left unaware and without these important symbols. Those who are aware may find flags of far lower quality than their significance demands. Even those sold in base exchanges are poor quality compared with the embroidered flags of the past. Those with multiple stars, or gold stars, are even more difficult to find.

How truly unfortunate that is.

Congress should pass legislation rectifying the unofficial nature of the 1984 charter to allow official support and funding for service flags and lapel pins. Even as government spending on many programs is anathema, the United States owes a debt to the mothers of servicemen and women, particularly the mothers of those who have made the ultimate sacrifice.

Support for those mothers is not the only benefit. Flags by their very nature unite people for some common purpose, regardless of individual differences. My father tells a story from his childhood during World War II. An Italian woman moved in across the street but she was not welcomed by her new neighbors because we were at war with them . Surely sensing this uneasiness, she immediately hung her service flag, with two gold and three blue stars, in the front window. My grandmother and others displayed an immediate outpouring of support, for she shared with them the sacrifice of a child’s service.

Service flags could serve the same purpose today. Americans are divided by many things—heritage, religion, race, and politics among them—but shared sacrifice brings people together. This is even more important now, when the number of Americans serving in uniform is far lower than during World War II, possibly causing a negative impact on public support of service members and their families.

Options abound for distributing quality flags at government expense. More important, gold stars can be easily delivered when necessary. The military death gratuity was increased tenfold after 9/11, with a goal of delivering the funds to next of kin within 48 hours of a death notification. While that money alleviates immediate financial concerns, it is of little consequence to a grieving mother. In place of a lost child, she can only look forward to holding a burial flag, which someone else may receive.

A small gold star can never replace a child, but it could help comfort a grieving mother, and Gold Star Mothers deserve nothing less.


Senior Chief Murphy transferred to the Fleet Reserve on 31 December 2008 after 21 years of active service. He served his entire career in the cryptologic community and was a qualified submariner.

Senior Chief Murphy will transfer to the fleet reserve on 31 December 2008 after more than 21 years of active duty.

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