Pacific’s Service Flag: Missing in Action

Pacific University's Service Flag, 1943. (Courtesy Photo)

In the Spring of 1943, the Associated Women Students at Pacific University created a service flag to honor those serving in the war and those who had been killed. The flag was first hung in the Forest Grove Congregational Church, then Marsh Hall, during the war. Its current whereabouts are unknown.

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During World War I it became customary for American families to display a banner that signified a son, daughter or family member serving in the armed forces. The original banner was a vertical field of white with a red border. A blue star indicated a family member in service; it represented hope and pride.

In 1918 President Woodrow Wilson authorized mothers who had lost a child serving in the war to wear a gold gilt star on the traditional black mourning band. This led to a tradition of covering a blue star on service banners with a gold star denoting that the service member had been killed. The gold star represented sacrifice in the cause of liberty.

Service banners or flags, became much more widespread in World War II, with most homes, schools and businesses prominently displaying them to honor members in service.

In the spring of 1943, after some debate as to the best way to honor students and alumni serving in the war, the Associated Women Students at Pacific made a service banner for the University. It was dedicated in May of that year in the First Congregational Church (now United Church of Christ) in Forest Grove as part of the Junior jubilee. At the time the flag had 336 blue stars, arranged in a “P” pattern. Four gold stars at center honored Pacific students who had died in the war.

The service flag was displayed in the church and later in the lower hall of Marsh for the remainder of the war. By the spring of 1944, more than a year before the end of the war, the flag bore 520 blue stars and 12 gold stars. The last reference to the flag is in the May, 5, 1944 Index. Sometime after that the flag disappeared and has never been found. Older alumni still remember it with reverence as a symbol of Pacific’s contribution to the war and the patriotic spirit of the times.

— Sig Unander '97