Family pride

Sunday, November 11, 2007
Dennis Siebert displayed the banner recently presented to him by David Hitt outside the American Legion Hall in Jackson. The stars on the banner represent members of Siebert's family who are on active duty. (Aaron Eisenhauer)

Drive around Jackson and you'll see small red, white and blue banners displayed on cars, in the windows of houses and even in front of a few businesses.

Most have one blue star in the center of the white box. Some have two and one has three.

The Blue Star Service Banner became the unofficial symbol of a child in the military during World War I. The federal government regulated the guidelines for when, and by whom, the banners should be displayed in the late 1960s.

The stars in the middle symbolize an immediate family member currently serving in the armed forces -- be it a child, parent or sibling. Each banner can have up to five stars. If someone dies during service, a gold star is embroidered over the blue one.

The Blue Star Service Banners are being distributed by Dave Hitt from the American Legion 158 in Jackson. Hitt said he feels strongly that every person with an immediate family member in the service should have a Blue Star Service Banner to show their pride in that service member.

Joe Hicks kissed his wife, Ami, after receiving a banner from Dave Hitt on Wednesday. The banner, which has a single star to represent a family member on active duty, is for Ami to display in their home. (Aaron Eisenhauer)

"[Strongly] enough about it that I'm not worried about the cost," he said. Hitt takes the name and information of the service member and the family member who wants the banner, orders and pays for the flags himself and then distributes them.

"It's something that needs to be done," he said.

Hitt started the Blue Star Service Banner program in August upon becoming commander of the Jackson American Legion. He has had requests for 80 and has given out about 40 flags so far.

Wednesday he handed out a three-star banner to Dennis Siebert of Jackson. Siebert is the only one to have a flag with three stars: One star for his son in the Army who just returned from Iraq, one for his son-in-law in the National Guard based in Cape Girardeau, and one for his other son-in-law who joined the Army this summer and leaves for Germany this month.

"It shows that I'm proud of my son and my sons-in-law," Siebert said. "It's a hard job. It's something that needs to be done."

Siebert was in the Naval Reserve for six years. He also told Hitt he would like static-cling banners for the window on his vehicle.

"And one for my wife, too," he added.

As for the three-star cloth banner, "It's going in my window where everyone can see it," he said.

Siebert's stepdaughter, Ami Hicks, and her husband, Joe, were in Jackson visiting her family before they deployed to Germany. Siebert surprised them by ordering a flag for Ami to display.

"I had never heard of it," Ami said. "I thought it was really awesome."

Joe, who joined the Army this summer, said the welcome from the area has been tremendous.

"I'm not really from a small town," he said. "Since I've been here, the support has been awesome."

Hitt has gotten banner requests for natives of Southeast Missouri in several areas around the country.

"He said he has these banners in Texas and Florida, and I was like, well now you'll have one in Germany," Ami said. The couple agreed it would go in the front window of their new house overseas.

Other American Legions and VFW posts distribute the banners, as well as some Web sites, but Hitt said a lot of times those are printed on paper.

"This is the real deal," he said of the banners he orders from a catalog.

As soon as he receives the flags, he finds the family member who requested it and drops it off.

"There's not a big ceremony," Hitt said.

He has brought the banners to schools, people's homes and just parking lots. He also distributes them from the American Legion in Jackson.

"I didn't think we counted because we don't live here," Ami Hicks said after she got her banner. Hicks grew up in Jackson but has been living in Florida.

Hitt said a lot of people are either unaware of the banners or confused on who can have them. Many people think the service member has to be in a war zone.

"That's not the case at all," Hitt said. "The National Guard is serving in the military. Marines are serving in the military. They're still qualified for a Blue Star Banner."

He said a woman stopped him in the grocery store and asked if she should take her banner down because her son was leaving the combat zones.

"I said gosh no," Hitt said.

The Blue Star Service Banners are not limited to showing a family member is at war.

"Primarily it's to show pride in the fact that one of your family members is serving his country in the military. Or her country," he said.

"If I never get another request, it's been rewarding to the ones I have talked to and I feel good about what we are doing," Hitt said.

"It makes me feel good that they're appreciative and they're proud of what their family members are doing."

After she got her banner, Ami rolled it up, unrolled it, looked at it and smiled, then rolled it up again.

"It's so special for the families," she said. "It's special for me."

charris@semissourian.com

335-6611, extension 246

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