What the Military Community Needs to Know About Gold Star Families

Remembering the Fallen and Supporting their Families

Over the past two semesters, I’ve had the privilege of getting to know and provide support to our Gold Star family members – families of the fallen.

When I made the decision to go back to school for my masters in social work, I never imagined the humility and life lessons this experience would instill. From crying when I first saw the memorial wall, to listening to families share their stories, to facilitating expressive art projects with Gold Star Children, to honoring our fallen heroes, I’ve learned you can never take the time you’re given in life for granted.

One of the things that surprised me the most during this experience is our decreasing lack of awareness as a military community.

The Gold Star movement originates from World War I, when families of deployed service members began the tradition of displaying Service Flags in the windows of their homes. The flags contained either blue stars or gold stars. Each blue star represented a deployed service member and each gold star indicated the family had a service member who was killed in action.

Today this tradition has declined because our nation as a whole does not have the same vested interested since drafts are no longer implemented and partially to ensure operations security.

During World War II, the American Gold Star Mothers, Inc. and the Gold Star Wives of America formed. Famous members include Aletta Sullivan, who lost all five of her sons during the Naval Battle of Guadalcanal, and Eleanor Roosevelt, who became a Gold Star Wife when Franklin D. Roosevelt passed away in office as the Commander in Chief of our nation’s military.

Today, two forms of Gold Star pins are issued to surviving spouses, parents (biological, step, adoptive and foster), children (biological, step and adoptive) and siblings (full or half) of fallen service members. The Gold Star Lapel Pin has a purple background surrounding a gold star. This pin indicates the service member was killed in action. The Next of Kin Lapel Pin has a solid gold background with a gold star. This pin indicates the service member passed away while on active duty status in service to our nation, no matter the cause of their death.


To aid families of the fallen during the Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom campaigns, service branches developed programs that offer case management, advocacy, financial counseling, and supportive activities, to survivors. The Army established Survivor Outreach Services and the Navy recently implemented the Navy Gold Star Program.

Although these campaigns are winding down, these programs are essential to provide ongoing support to the families and, unfortunately, to new gold star families as servicemembers struggle to cope with the trauma they endured during these wars.