Service Flag Adorns an AWOL Letter

Today’s post is written by Chelsey MacBride-Gill, a College Park volunteer.

While processing the records of the American Expeditionary Forces (10th Division HQ), I came across an unusual letter from a concerned citizen Thomas Hartman, dated October 12, 1918.  Most of the papers in the folder simply stated that a soldier was absent without leave (AWOL) and ordered to report to the nearest military authorities or that a guard should be sent to accompany the man back to camp.  In contrast this was a hand-written letter to the commanding officer of Camp Funston, Kansas about two local men who were AWOL in the town where Mr. Hartman lived–Raymond, Kansas.  The small hand-drawn flag on the bottom of the letter made me curious.

Letter from Thomas J. Hartman to Major General Wood, October 12, 1918. RG 120, Records of the American Expeditionary Forces, HQ 10th Division, 220.712.

On April 6, 1917, Congress approved President Woodrow Wilson’s decision to declare war on Germany.  The Congressional Research Service has reported that over 4 million men served, more than 200,000 were wounded, and over 110,000 servicemen died during World War I.

Service flags have evolved over time.  The Service Flag (also known as the Blue Star Banner or Sons in Service Flag) was created in 1917 by Army Captain Robert L. Queisser of the 5th Ohio Infantry in honor of his sons who were serving in WWI.  A silver star is for those who have been wounded, or contracted a serious illness or injury in a war zone.  A gold star represents a service member who has died.

A CBS newsreel that is part of a documentary series on WWI shows a woman sewing a sixth star onto a Service Flag with five stars, with a man raising the flag above his doorway.  The headline reads, “They Expect Their Six Boys Home for Christmas.  The Governor of South Carolina, Richard I. Manning, and His Wife Have Given 6 Sons to the Allied Cause.”

The Service Flag is now authorized by the Department of Defense with specifications about how it may be displayed and by whom.  In 2011, Congress as well as President Obama supported the designation of May 1, 2011, as “Silver Star Service Banner Day.”

Back in October 1918, of the two AWOL men, Private Joseph L. Price was awaiting trial and Private Shipler was under investigation.  One wonders if Mr. Hartman’s letter had greater impact because of his hand-drawn Blue Star Service Flag and what it meant.




“American War and Military Operations Casualties: Lists and Statistics, February 26, 2010.  Table 1. Principal Wars in Which the United States Participated: U.S. Military Personnel Serving and Casualties.”  Congressional Research Service. []

“Motion Picture Newsreel Films used for a Documentary Series on World War I, compiled ca.1908 – ca. 1930.”  Record Group 4, National Archives at College Park, College Park, MD.  (Local Identifier 200-CBS-WWU-233/ARC Identifier 89353)

Letter from Thomas J. Hartman to Major General Wood, October 12, 1918.  RG 120, Records of the American Expeditionary Forces, HQ 10th Division, 220.712.  National Archives at College Park, College Park, MD.

Text of the Senate Bill supporting “Silver Flag Banner Day.”  “Bill Text, 112th Congress (2011-2012), S.RES.178.ATS.”  []

“The Service Flag of the United States.”  []   Accessed April 25, 2013.

”United Service Flag“ poster.  Each Star (290 in all) represents a United Employee now in the Armed Service of the United States,” ca. 1917 – ca. 1919.  (ARC Identifier 512600, NWDNS-4-P-162)  []



One thought on “Service Flag Adorns an AWOL Letter

  1. “Can’t trust postmaster so will male it some where else.” Now THAT’s a small town. 😉

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