By Jerome Tharaud/Havre Daily Newsemail@example.com
In a Memorial Day ceremony to recognize local soldiers and their families, the American Legion will distribute traditional banners that have graced the homes of active-duty service members during conficts dating back to World War I.
Families of the soldiers will receive the blue star service banner in a poster board version, an 8-by-11-inch placard with a blue star against a white rectangle, surrounded by a red border. The banners, distributed across the country by the American Legion, can be displayed in the windows of homes to recognize families with active-duty members of the military.
Certificates of gratitude from the national office of the American Legion will also be issued to active-duty members, including members of the National Guard and Reserves who have been called up or are waiting to be called up, said Jed Damson, adjutant of American Legion Post 11 in Havre.
"It's basically in support of our guys and gals in the service and also support for the families here," said Damson, who is organizing the project in Havre.
Post 11 Commander Dennis Hinkle said the post may have distributed the banners in Havre in the recent past, but that there has been nothing on the scale of what the veterans organization hopes to do this summer.
The first blue star banner was designed in 1917 by an Army captain from Ohio who had two sons serving in World War I, according to the American Legion Web site. The cloth banner became an unofficial symbol of households with family members serving in the military. During World War II, Congress made the custom official and specified guidelines for the banner.
Families with more than one person serving receive a single banner with multiple stars. Family members who were killed or died while serving were represented by a smaller gold star superimposed upon the blue star.
The banners were used widely in both world wars, the Web site said, but were less common in the Korean War and the Vietnam War. The American Legion revived the tradition after the Sept. 11 attacks and began giving a certificate of gratitude to the soldiers as well.
Today the American Legion distributes the banners in both poster board and cloth form. Poster board banners are distributed for free; cloth banners can be purchased for less than $10.
"The idea is to honor the families with loved ones who are serving in the war on terrorism," said Jim Fiedler, assistant director of internal affairs and membership of the American Legion. Fiedler was traveling through Montana recently and made a stop in Havre.
Fiedler said that since he began distributing certificates in Montana in November, about 600 have been sent to Montana posts from the veterans organization's national office. They have been distributed to family members, including spouses, parents and grandparents, Fiedler said.
The American Legion hopes to plan the ceremony with the help of the city and the Havre Area Chamber of Commerce, Damson said. The local units of the American Legion Auxiliary - the women's counterpart of the American Legion - and Sons of the American Legion have been supportive and will also help with the planning, Damson said.
Damson said the American Legion is working with the city and local military recruiters to gather the names of local members of the military. He said it also hopes to cooperate with Havre High School so art or computer classes can help put the calligraphy on the certificates.
"The American Legion likes to work with the community," he said.
Damson said the post will cooperate with other Hi-Line posts like the one in Chinook if they want troops in their areas to be recognized in the ceremony.
The ceremony at the Vets Club will begin after the Memorial Day ceremony scheduled to begin at the steps of Hill County Courthouse at 11 a.m. on May 31, Damson said.
In conjunction with the blue star banner program, the American Legion runs the Family Support Network, which provides financial resources to families coping with a loss of income when a family member leaves to serve in the military, and can also help with routine household chores like mowing lawns and reparing vehicles, Damson said.
For applications for the Family Support Network or to provide information about potential recipients of blue star banners and certificates, contact Jed or Marlyn Damson at 265-4090.