A service flag or service banner is a flag that family members of those serving in the United States Armed Forces have proudly displayed for 100 years. The traditional service flag consists of a white field with a red border, with a blue star for each family member serving or a gold star for those that died while in service. The service flag was originally designed in 1917 by United States Army Captain Robert L. Queisser of the Fifth Ohio Infantry, in honor of his two sons who were serving in World War I. After which it was quickly adopted by the public and by government officials.
By early 1918 in Story City, service flags were already being mentioned in the Story City Herald. Several organizations in town made service flags in honor of the members of their group that were serving. In January it was announced that the Grace Sunday school would unfurl their flag soon. On March 17th the Grace Sunday school held a special service to dedicate their service flag which had 21 stars on it at that time. The service was described as “a most impressive one, with patriotism the dominating note in song and speech.”
St. Petri Church dedicated their service flag on the night of Sunday, March 3rd. After the choir and the audience sang “America”, the flag was presented by Rev. Solum on behalf of the Young People’s Society. There were 10 stars on the flag that represented young men from this society.
Also, at this same time the Herald featured an article titled “Half the Band at the Front”. The Story City Band had a service flag dedication on March 4th, 1918. A year prior in 1917 the band had 26 members; the flag they dedicated that night had 13 stars. The article closed with the statement that “the Story City Band is one of the most patriotic organizations in the country.”
As early as February 7, 1918 ads were running in the Herald to purchase service flags from the National Flag Company. For $1.25 they would ship a 12x18 inch one star service flag to your home. They also took custom orders for multiple star flags.
The Tjernagel family hosted their 12th annual family reunion in September of 1918. The main feature of this meeting was a family service flag with 24 stars on it. Two of these twenty four family members were from Story City, the rest were from elsewhere in Iowa and other states. At the next reunion in 1919 the feature of the meeting was an album with photographs of all of the Tjernagel relatives who were in the service during the war. A copy of this album is on display at the Carriage House Museum in our “Story City in the World War” exhibit.
In the April 25, 1918 edition of the Herald, it was announced that the Greater Community Congress had purchased a service flag that would be large enough to represent all of those that enlisted in the military from Story City. This community service flag was dedicated at the Memorial Day service that year. The service was held in the Grand opera house and drew a large crowd. It featured “inspiring addresses and excellent music and song.” The community service flag was “hung at the top of the center of the stage and with its seventy stars was a strikingly beautiful object.” By the end of the war it would have over 200 stars plus 5 Red Cross emblems and one YMCA triangle.
The Historical Society has attempted to find out if these services flags are still in existence but so far we have not been able to locate any. If you have any information on the location of these larger organizational service flags or smaller family service flags from WWI, please contact the Historical Society at 515-460-1749.