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Cool Things - Service Flag

World War I service flag

During times of conflict a simple banner hanging in a home's window can speak volumes about the life of the family inside.

Jerry Tweed left his home in Beloit, Kansas, to join the U.S. Army in September 1917. His enlistment would take him to the front lines of some of the most deadly battles of the First World War. Back in Beloit, his mother, Elizabeth Tweed, made the service flag shown here to hang in the window of her home, letting passersby know the sacrifice the family was making to the war effort.

Service flags were a new display of patriotism during World War I. Captain Robert Queissner of Ohio, whose two sons were serving on the front lines, designed and patented the first flag in 1917. Its popularity quickly spread as Americans recognized the importance of honoring their soldiers. Use of the flags increased during World War II, only to diminish during subsequent conflicts, including Korea, Vietnam, and the Persian Gulf War. In recent years, as a result of the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan, the flags have once again become more widely used. The Department of Defense allows the flag to be displayed by families who have members serving in the Armed Forces during any period of war or hostilities.

Flag Design

The design of the flag is simple, but conveys much meaning. One or more blue stars are sewn to a white background, with a red border around the edges. The number of stars indicates the number of people a family currently has serving in an active conflict. The blue of the star represents hope and pride, and indicates that the service member is living. If a gold star is displayed, it represents sacrifice, indicating that the soldier has died in battle.

Mrs. Tweed's flag is made of red and white silk, with a blue star embroidered at the center. Her flag is unique in that it has the words "Over There" embroidered around the star. The phrase references a popular song written by George M. Cohan in 1917. The theme of the song is a man's responsibility to his country during times of war and serving to make his family proud. It was also a warning to America's enemies that "the Yanks are coming" and they "won't come back until it's over, over there."

This is exactly what Jerry Tweed did. He arrived in France in time to provide support to the front lines of the Meuse-Argonne Offensive, which was part of the final Allied offensive of the war. Tweed experienced long marches, rain-soaked trenches, and the deaths of fellow soldiers. On Nov. 10, 1917, his unit was ordered to the front lines. While trying to cross the swollen Meuse River, they received orders that all hostilities would end at 11 a.m. the followin day. In his journal, Tweed wrote, "Everything seems so quiet." By Nov. 18, a bath, new clothes, and fried potatoes had improved his life considerably.

After the war, Tweed remained around Prum and Trier, Germany, driving officers (including General John J. Pershing) wherever they needed to go. He returned to Beloit in 1919, married, and was a partner in Black-Tweed Motors. He later owned an ice cream shop.

Jerry Tweed's daughter donated this service flag to the collections of the Kansas Museum of History in 2009. The State Archives also has the diary Tweed kept while serving over there.

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Entry: Cool Things - Service Flag

Author: Kansas Historical Society

Author information: The Kansas Historical Society is a state agency charged with actively safeguarding and sharing the state's history.

Date Created: April 2010

Date Modified: July 2014

The author of this article is solely responsible for its content.