Casket flag with "gold" stars.

Discussion in 'Flag Identification and Collecting' started by NAVA1974, May 8, 2012.

  1. NAVA1974

    NAVA1974 Active Member

    We have discussed this phenomenon numerous times on this forum, with visitors insisting that their late relative's casket flag was specially made with gold or golden stars. I have maintained that the flags looked like any other 48-star flag at the time of manufacture. The golden stars were formerly white stars, looking the same on the obverse and reverse of the canton, but only the stars on one side discolored over time. In an attempt to test this theory, I bid on one such flag on eBay:
    Vintage WWII Gold Star Burial Flag - 48 Stars - US/USA/United States | eBay
    This link will die, eventually, so I posted one of the photos, plus a few more that I took, on flickr:
    Flickr: Search nicka21045's photostream
    I believe the look and feel of the golden stars v the white stars support my theory that the gold color comes from the discoloration of the stars on the obverse due to the starch / sizing chemical applied to them to keep them stiffer while they were arranged on the front of the flag, while a sheet of plain, untreated cotton was quite sufficient to make the stars on the reverse.
    As can be seen from the distinct "shadows" on the white stripes that had been folded next to the obverse of the canton for decades, the discoloration affected not only the stars themsleves but any fabric in contact with the stars. It is noted, however, that the sewing thread did not appear to suffer the same discoloration as the stars. Indeed, the stitching protected the white stripes from being discolored by the stars.

    Comments, questions, and/or discussion would be welcome.

    Nick A
    Columbia Maryland
  2. Peter Ansoff

    Peter Ansoff USA Flag Site Admin

    Nick (and all),

    As we briefly discussed at the last CBFA meeting, I think that there is a need for a definitive article on the subject of these gold-star flags. It seems to me that there are a few threads (so to speak!) of research that need to be pulled. E.g.: Is there any documentation on WWII-era flag manufacturing techniques that would support the sizing-on-one-side theory? Do the existing examples all seem to be from the WWII era? Are there *any* known actual references to manufacture of gold-starred flags (all I've ever heard is variants on " . . . someone told me that . . .")? We have a few NAVA members like Laura Kidd who are professional textile conservators -- perhaps they could provide some insight. Another challenge would be to untangle the historiography of the gold-star-flag story -- how long has it been around, and where did it start?

    I don't think I'm qualified to write an article like this, but I'd be interested in helping to research and organize it, and to get it published in Raven or NAVA News.

    Peter Ansoff
  3. APS221

    APS221 Member

  4. Peter Ansoff

    Peter Ansoff USA Flag Site Admin

    Unfortunately, this article is just more conjecture: "it seems possible" and "it seems likely." The whole scenario about European flag manufacturers hearing about the gold star mothers' flags and deciding to put gold stars on US flags strikes me as very unlikely. I think it's telling that the researchers were unable to find a single actual document or even first-hand oral account of this happening, despite talking to the Flag Research Center, the Naval Historical Center, and other authoritative sources.

    Peter Ansoff
  5. APS221

    APS221 Member

    I also found this 2005 article about gold-casket flags online: World War II flags found with gold stars |

    The article cites another article which quotes Harold Langley from the Smithsonian. Langley speculates about French flagmakers, and I suspect he may be the origin of the French flagmaker theory many others have cited. The article also quotes Whitney Smith. He doesn't totally dismiss the theory, but notes the lack of official documentation and the fact that many "gold" stars are actually khaki or light tan.

    I agree with Nick's theory that the "gold" stars are a result of the sizing used in the fabric. Occam's Razor would suggest that the simplest theory with the fewest assumptions is the most likely.
  6. csaanv

    csaanv Member

    I wonder what evidence Mr. Langley was basing his speculations on? You got to realize France was pretty tore up then and I find it hard to believe it was just business as usual after the Germans politely withdrew. I guess it is possible that the Americans could have helped setup a factory and supplied it with cotton, wool bunting, canvas, machines, electricity, and grommets. I am sure the French made some US flags during that time to sell to GIs but 500 G-spec internment flags? Do we know for a fact that there was such a factory or was Mr. Langley whom I have a great deal of respect was just speculating?
  7. NAVA1974

    NAVA1974 Active Member

    I have one of the 48-star internment flags in its original box as shipped from France. The flag looks identical to US made flags of the era. I suspect that the Army sent the flags from the US to be used when burying our soldiers and then returned by mail to the grieving families. They could, of course, have been made in France to US specifications, but I have not heard of any such operation in Europe.
    Nick A
    Columbia MD
  8. csaanv

    csaanv Member

    I agree, it is possible that there could have been an outsourcing operation but as you said there is no paper trial. Surely someone who handled such things for the Army would have stepped up by now. It is not like it was a shameful secret. Who knows, maybe Le Annin had a factory setup outside of Paris?
  9. APS221

    APS221 Member

    I think U.S. Flags could have been produced in France, but the lack of documentation on the subject makes it unlikely. Flag production was pretty important back then, especially during war. Most of French flag production was probably found close to the north and south coast near port cities. Under German occupation, they were probably forced to produce ensigns and jacks for the Kriegsmarine, and war flags for military posts and government buildings across German-occupied Europe. I think France's flagmakers may have made it through the Second World War intact, but I don't believe they are the source of gold star casket flags.

    The articles about the casket flag of U.S. Navy Corpsman William Winfield Colgan:|head
    One of Us: Navy hospitalman's casket flag was golden to his sister |

    First, the article states that Colgan was killed in action on October 4th, 1944 during the Battle of Peleliu. He was killed in the Pacific Theater of Operations, not the European Theater of Operations. I don't think U.S. Flags were being produced in France at this time, since it would be six weeks before the beginning of the Battle of the Bulge. It seems likely that his casket flag came from California or Hawaii.

    Next, the articles mention that a Marine Corps Honor Guard brought his casket to Carteret, N.J. in 1948 and the family noticed the stars were gold. At this time, the flag could have been three or four years old. This could have been enough time for the sizing on the stars to turn "gold."

    In the 2005 article I posted earlier:
    World War II flags found with gold stars |

    Harold Langley from the Smithsonian only speculates that the gold-star flags came from a flagmaker in France, and they were only made in small numbers. In the later article, it seems Andre Sobocinski of the Office of Medical History accepts the speculation as fact.

    The earlier thread on this topic:
    Much of this was discussed, and some posters included pictures of the gold star casket flags. It seems to me that Nick's sizing theory makes sense when you consider that:
    - There is currently no documentation from the U.S. Government or a flagmaker about the production of gold star flags.
    - The gold star flags are not limited to a branch of service or theater of operations.
    - On some flags all 48 stars in the union are gold, on some a few rows or random stars are gold.
    - The gold stars are often found on the "front" of the union, but not the "back."
    - The stars aren't yellow, but rather a light brown/tan/khaki/buff color.
    - On some flags, the gold has left a star-shaped imprint where folded.
    - The thread used to sew the stars is still white.
    I, for one, like the idea that the stars turn gold with age. After all, the Flag Code states, "the flag represents a living country and is itself considered a living thing." It's nice that through a happy accident of chemistry, the white stars on a casket flag turn gold with age.
  10. csaanv

    csaanv Member

    Excellent summation APS221
  11. Robin Hickman

    Robin Hickman Well-Known Member

    I would think that if 49 and/or 50 Star (appliqued, not embroidered) Flags with "golden stars" start showing up, then the "Made In France" theory would be rendered, at best, moot. Anyone see any 49 or 50 Star Flags with golden stars??? Mr. Langley? Anyone?

    Just a thought.....

    Your Friendly Neighborhood Flag Man,

    Robin Hickman
    Eugene, Oregon, USA
  12. tom2001

    tom2001 New Member

    Hi! This is my first post on this forum, but as a collector of WWII posthumous Purple Hearts, I became intrigued by the number of "gold star" flags I've come across. I currently have two in my collection, and on both of them all 96 stars (front and back) are "gold." They are both standard 5 x 9 1/2 casket flags.

    I started to believe the theory that these were foreign made, until I recently acquired a flag with the original shipping box:




    As you can see, the box was mailed from the Punchbowl Cemetery in Honolulu in 1949, which to me would negate the theory that these were French made.

    My second gold star flag has identical construction, but the soldier's final resting place is in Italy. (neither have any maker's marks on them)

    Finally, I do have one burial flag which came from the Philadelphia Quartermaster Depot. This flag is of much heavier construction and even after 65 years the stars are pure white.


    Hope this doesn't muddy the waters!
  13. rhmeekjr

    rhmeekjr New Member

    A brief message about myself. I am a WWII Gold Star Son, Member of the American World War II Orphans Network ( and President of the American WWII Associations Historians Consortium ( I am also a retired Army Officer. The question about the Gold Star flag has come up in AWON as several of our members have these Gold Star flags. I consulted with Mr. Luther Hanson of the US Army Quatermaster Museum, Fort Lee, VA. He has reserached the matter extensively. The flags were indeed made with Gold Stars. An order was given to the Philadelphia Quartermaster Depot in June of 1944 for 300K+ casket flags (also sometimes know as storm flags). Mr. Hanson did indeed determine from personal inteviews that Gold Stars in varying numbers were added to these casket flags. However he has not been able to find any paperwork directing the Gold Stars be added, nor how many, nor to how many flags. One key point, the Gold Stars as all the stars under this oder were applique, not embordiered. So if you have a flag with a Gold Star that is embordiered it was not made under this order. In the border on the edge that would be next to the flag pole if you carefully unfold it about 2 inches inside all US made flags have a label telling where and when the flag was made. My Dad's casket flag's stars are embrodiered and all white, so Mr. Hanson's conjecture is that it was made later in the war. That fits as this is the flag used in 1947 when my Dad was reburied at Sicily Rome American Cemetery. So if you have a casket flag with applique Gold Stars it shoud have a label indicating it was made at the Philadelphia Quartermaster Depot and thus was speciafically made with Gold Stars of varing number.
    In their memory,
    Robert H Meek JR
    Member AWON
    President AWAHC
  14. csaanv

    csaanv Member

    Hi Robert and thanks for posting. You have given us quite a bit of interesting information here. However, I have to respectfully disagree on a few points. There have been many theories concerning the so called "Gold Star" flags and with conflicting origins. To make a special order to change how the US flag is made, such as with gold stars, would have been a real big deal and there would most certainly have been some type of document to implement it. With no disrespect to Mr. Hanson, the main problem with all the different thories is the missing paperwork! None has ever surfaced nor has anyone come forward who has ever seen it. Without that type of evidence it is going to be hard to convince flag or military historians of his theory. Yes, many of us have researched this matter extensively too. Again, respectfully, you can believe whatever you want if it makes you feel good but to have solid history you have to have some type of evidence to back it up. Another point, you said: ...all US made flags have a label telling where and when the flag was made. Yes, it is true the Philadelphia Quartermaster Depot and Mare Island Naval Depot did stamp their flags on the canvas header but not always with the date. However, there were other civilian companies making US flags for the military during WW2 and most of these have no markings whatsoever. I have a few myself. My last point is Mr. Hanson said that your father's embrodiered 48 star flag was made later in the war. Is it possible to post a photo of that flag? The overwhleming evidence is that the government issued flags during the WW2 era and into the 1950s were all made with appliqued stars (except maybe parade flags). The technology and machinery for doing embrodiered stars didn't take off until the late 1950s and the government didn't start to issue casket flags with embrodiered stars until the late 1960s/early 1970s and they would have been with 50 stars. Could you look at your father's flag and confirm it has 48 stars? If it does have 48 embrodiered stars and was issued by the Philadelphia Quartermaster Depot you would have a rare flag indeed.
    Best regards,
  15. rhmeekjr

    rhmeekjr New Member

    I agree with almost everything you have said. As an amateur geneologist I understand its not true without the paperwork. I may have overstated it when I said all flags have labels as Hanson told me this was true of PQD. I would say it all conjecture as to PQD doing the Gold Star flags but for the fact that Hanson a professional historian and museum curator had personally interviewed some of the flag makers at PDQ who remember sewing the Gold Stars on the flags. As to may Dad's flag I may be mistaken and I will check it for the embroidered stars versus applique. I do know that my mother recieved the flag in 47 when my Dad was moved to Sicily Rome.
    Bob Meek
  16. csaanv

    csaanv Member

    Hi Bob,
    I too am a amateur genealogist and also take a critical eye in regards with with my sources. Sorry if I came off knit-picky. Still, I would bet my bottom dollar that your father's flag has 48 appliquéd stars. In regards to Mr. Hanson, would you have any contact information for him? I would love to invite him into the discussion.
    Warmest regards,
  17. APS221

    APS221 Member

    Col. Meek,
    I'm sure you have seen my post earlier in this thread where I present my theory on the origin of gold star casket flags. I share Mike's (csaanv's) skepticism toward Mr. Hanson's assertion that casket flags with gold stars were produced deliberately. This would have been in contravention of executive orders regarding the design and layout of the United States Flag which requires the stars to be white.
  18. NAVA1974

    NAVA1974 Active Member

    I concur with those who doubt that casket flags with gold stars were produced deliberately. I own one, and the fabric of the "gold" stars (actually tan, or light brown) is clearly the same as the white stars on the other side with the exception of the color, which appears to be a discoloration perhaps due to starch or a sizing chemical applied. If a flagmaker were to make a flag with gold stars he would use fabric that was dyed yellow, as "yellow" is the vexillological equivalent of heraldry's "gold." The only time you see actual gold stars on a US flag is on silk regimental colors where the design is painted. Why gold? If you tried to represent "white" on a flag you could use silver, but silver tarnishes to black. Black stars against a dark blue background cease to be visible. Gold remains bright through the ages.

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