Company reviving 'service flags'

Tuesday, January 15, 2002

They were a common sight during World Wars I and II: "service flags," the small banners with large blue stars that families would hang in front windows to honor their relatives at war.

Now, a St. Louis company wants to revive and expand the tradition, and a local American Legion post is willing to order the flags and sell them at cost.

The flags bore as many stars as the family had members in the service. When a soldier or sailor was killed, his family marked their loss with a gold star.

Gateway Seed Co. in St. Louis obtained endorsement from the Pentagon, hired a flag-making company in South Carolina and began selling the flags last week for $16.99 each. The small, family-owned company also created similar flags for the families of firefighters and police officers, as well as a general flag -- for anyone -- that bears the letters USA.

Cape Girardeau American Legion Post 63 commander Melvin Amelunke said families of servicemen can order similar service banners at $6.95 each through the American Legion.

"I'd like to see them up," said veteran Herb Nance, a local flag expert. "You have to show your patriotism, and that's one way to do it."

Amelunke said the idea of giving the flags away was brought up at a recent meeting, but that was too expensive.

"But we'd be tickled to order them and sell them at cost," Amelunke said.

The idea is for families of service personnel and all firefighters and police officers to show their contribution to America's security with the window flags. The military version is traditional -- a white field, a red border and as many as six blue stars. The fire flag replaces the star with a red Maltese cross, a symbol of firefighters. The police flag uses silver badges.

"These flags were everywhere during World War II," said Steve Rupp, 49, a member of the family that owns Gateway Seed. "President Bush told us all to do something patriotic. So why not have one of these flags in the homes of everyone who is serving us in this war?

"And we wanted to honor firefighters and policemen because this war is so unusual, being fought overseas and here at home," he said. "We lost hundreds of firefighters and policemen. It's true that, until Sept. 11, we tended to take for granted what they do."

Rupp said the company would provide gold insignia for the flags, if needed.

Remembered the Sullivans

Rupp, of Florissant, Mo., remembered hearing stories about service flags and gold stars from his parents, Lloyd and Jeanne Rupp of Florissant. Lloyd Rupp and one of Jeanne Rupp's brothers served in the Marines during World War II.

Steve Rupp's own first memory of service flags is from the old movie, "The Fighting Sullivans," about five brothers from Waterloo, Iowa, who were killed when their ship, the cruiser Juneau, was torpedoed after a sea battle near Guadalcanal on Nov. 13, 1942. Rupp said he saw it on TV as a boy and clearly remembers the depiction of a five-star flag at the Sullivan home.

He said the image stuck with him as a powerful and simple statement of family pride and hope.

Rupp said Gateway Seed was doing business as American Heroes to sell the flags. He said the company will share some proceeds with the United Service Organizations, known as USO.

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