Last modified: 2015-01-10 by rick wyatt
Keywords: united states | star | five-pointed star | gold |
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In response to an FOTW request, we are indebted to Karen Blue, Executive Secretary, Veterans Advisory Board, who undertook to research this issue.
Gold Star Flags Hidden Honors of WWII
Table of Contents
C. The Military System
D. War Department Notification Telegrams
E. Philadelphia Quartermaster Depot Flag Making
F. Other Gold Star Flags
H. Smyth County, Virginia, World War II Dead
1. Overseas American Military Cemeteries
2. AGRS Distribution Centers
4. Military Escort Duties
Introduction. This article began as with a question about a gold star military burial flag. I initially thought the flag was a Service Banner which was very popular during WWII and now again with the ongoing U.S. conflicts. Once I saw the flag I knew that it was unique. I had no idea of the magnitude of effort involved in finding the history of it. This was truly a lesson of '"No!" is only the beginning of the conversation'.
PLAN FOR REPATRIATION OF THE DEAD OF WORLD WAR II or "Current Plan" as it was called in 1945. Following the end of World War II, the U.S. government mandated a program to return the bodies of servicemen who had been buried in temporary military cemeteries overseas. Following surveys to the population, the government decided that about three fifths of the 289,000 personnel involved would be returned in accordance with family wishes. Between 1946 and 1951, over 170,000 servicemen were returned. Those servicemen who were not returned to the U.S. were reburied in one of 14 permanent military cemeteries overseas (Note 1).
The Military System.
During WWII the U.S. Army Quartermaster Corps operated the Army Graves Registration Service. This organization was tasked after the war to manage 15 distribution centers (Note 2). Repatriated servicemen arrived aboard U.S. Army Transport Ships (USAT) (Note 3) from their overseas locations. All mortuary preparations had been completed prior to being transported from overseas.
Movement from the port of debarkation to the distribution center generally lasted about 10 days. Upon arrival at the distribution center, each serviceman was assigned an escort from the AGRS Detachment. Generally, officers escorted officers and enlisted men escorted enlisted men. Escorts received training in their duties (Note 4) and remained with the serviceman until the funeral or upon release by the family Next of Kin (NOK). Each AGRS Distribution Center notified the families by telegram. Information in the telegram included the processing center, the date of anticipated arrival, the local responsible funeral home, and the name of the military escort. (Note 5)
Note 1. The American Battle Monuments Commission administers, operates, and maintains twenty-four permanent American burial grounds on foreign soil. Presently there are 124,917 U.S. War Dead interred at these cemeteries, 30,922 of World War I, 93,245 of World War II and 750 of the Mexican War. Additionally 6,010 American veterans and others are interred in the Mexico City and Corozal American Cemeteries. For additional information see: www.abmc.gov/abmc2.htm
Note 2. Under the Program for the Return of World War II Dead, the AGRS operated 15 distribution centers throughout the U.S.:
Location AGRS Unit Number of Personnel Assigned
Atlanta General Depot, Atlanta, GA
Brooklyn Army Base, Brooklyn, NY
Charlotte Quartermaster Depot, Charlotte, NC
Chicago Quartermaster Depot, Chicago, IL
Columbus General Depot, Columbus, OH
Fort Worth Quartermaster Depot, Fort Worth, TX
Kansas City Quartermaster Depot, Kansas, MO
Memphis General Depot, Memphis,TN
Mira Loma Quartermaster Depot, Mira Loma, CA
Philadelphia QM Depot, Philadelphia, PA
San Antonio General Depot, San Antonio, TX
San Francisco Port of Embarkation, San Francisco, CA
Seattle General Depot, Seattle, WA
Schenectady General Depot, Schenectady, NY
Utah General Depot, Ogden, UT
Note 3. The Army Transportation Ships I identified along with the year and number of servicemen returned. Ships participating in the program were painted white with a large purple mourning band. Information found through the Merchant Marine website.
Ship Name `Year # Returnees Remarks
USAT George W. G. Royce 1948 aka Waterville
USAT Joseph V. Connolly 1947 LS-3134
USAT CPL Eric C. Gibson 1948 aka Mary
Cullom Kimbro, LS-2349
USAT Sergeant Morris E. Crain 1948 aka Mills
USAT Private Joe R. Hastings 1949
USAT Barney Kirschbaum 1948 LS-2348
USAT Lawrence Victory 1948 VS-185
USAT Robert F. Burns 1948 2671 poss. Sp
USAT John L. McCarley 1948 2671 LS-2342
USAT LT James E. Robinson 1948 2047 aka
Czechoslavakia Victory, VS-86
USAT Greenville Victory 1948 3734 VS-18
USAT Gen G. M. Randell 1951 TS, Korean War
LS - Liberty Ships
VS - Victory Ships
TS - Troop Ships
Note 4. My reference document was War Department Pamphlet 21-38 'Escorting American War Dead', dated 1947. Thanks go the Fort Hood Post Library which coordinated the retrieval of this pamphlet from a national repository at the Connecticut State Library. This pamphlet also carries titles for Navy, Marine Corps, and Coast Guard.
Note 5. Sample of a War Department notification telegram.
USAMHI U.S. Army Disposition of the Dead, WWII, A Working Bibliography of MHI Sources.
Laura Sare, Government Documents Librarian, West Texas A&M University
English article on U.S. War Dead; www.455th.ukpc.net/tomfeise/455th/170000.htm
Tell Me About My Boy War Department Pamphlet www.qmfound.com/about_my_boy.htm
Actually the years were 1946-1951. These flags were part of a repatriation program between 1946-1951 to return servicemen buried in overseas cemeteries. The ships that were used were painted white with a large purple mourning band
around them. There were three types of ships LS=Liberty Ships, VS=Victory Ships and TS=Troop Ships, these ships came into 15 different distribution centers throughout the U.S.
15 Distribution Centers:
New York, Port of Entry
Schenectady, New York
Kansas City, MO
Ft. Worth, TX
San Antonio, TX
Utah, ASF. Depot
San Francisco, CA
Mira Loma, CA
No one so far has any idea of what we are talking about. They have had inquiries but have zero information. We are continuing our research into this issue. Let us know what information you find out.
Veterans Advisory Board
P.O. Box 922
Woodland Hills, CA 91365-0922
LTC John E. McKinney
III Corps CSES Operations Chief
Another explanation is offered at
"It seems in November, 1944, there was a big push going through Germany and thousands of American soldiers were being wounded and killed. It is protocol to have an American Flag on every soldier's casket, and that flag is to remain on the casket until the soldier is buried. The supply of casket flags dropped when casualties rose, and a small French garment factory was requisitioned to make the needed casket flags. The management of the factory had heard somewhere of the Gold Star Mothers and assumed that the stars of the flags were to be gold if the flag was to be used as a casket flag. Approximately 500 of these gold starred flags were manufactured before the error was corrected. But because of the great need for casket flags, the gold starred flags were distributed to the Signal Corps for use."
I don't know if that is actually accurate or just folklore, but according to the site the source given was Dr. Harold Langley of the Smithsonian Institution.
Ned Smith, 30 January 2007
Much discussion has arisen on the possibility of gold-striped flags, See our page on the 48-Star Flag with Gold Stars or Stripes for detailed information.