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Military families bear a tremendous burden when their loved ones die while defending their country’s liberty. Nothing can erase the pain and suffering these families feel, but one way the nation shows its appreciation of a service member’s sacrifice is by honoring eligible survivors with a Gold Star Lapel Button.
On Sept. 25, 2020, the Gold Star Lapel Button Program was officially expanded to include stepsiblings.
Gold star origins and lapel button eligibility
Gold star designation dates to World War I, when families displayed small banners with a blue star for every immediate family member serving in the armed forces. If their service member died or was killed while serving in the military, the family placed a gold star over the blue star to let the community know that their loved one died in service to our nation.
On Oct. 17, 1942, during World War II, Congress formalized the service flag by passing an act that authorized the secretary of war “to approve a design for a service flag, which flag may be displayed in a window of the place of residence of persons who are members of the immediate family of a person serving in the armed forces during the current war.” Following the end of World War II, on Aug. 1, 1947, Congress passed an act establishing the Gold Star Lapel Button “as a means of identification for widows and parents of members of the armed forces of the United States who lost their lives in the armed services of the United States in World War II.”
Laws passed since World War II revised the eligibility for the Gold Star Lapel Button. A course available through MilLife Learning traces the history behind the creation of the service flag and Gold Star Lapel Button. The course states who is eligible to display the service flag and receive and wear the Gold Star Lapel Button or the Next of Kin of Deceased Lapel Button. The Next of Kin of Deceased Lapel Button may be available to survivors when the circumstances surrounding their service member’s death does not qualify them to receive the Gold Star Lapel Button honor. Current Department of Defense policy regarding the service flag and Gold Star Lapel Button is contained in DOD Instruction 1348.36, “Gold Star Lapel Button, Service Flag and Service Lapel Button”.
Video Reflects on Meaning of Gold Star Lapel Button
This article is dedicated to the history of gold star families and includes a tribute video.
The Gold Star Lapel Button consists of a gold star one-quarter inch in diameter on a purple disc three-quarters of an inch in diameter. The star is surrounded by gold laurel leaves in a wreath five-eighths of an inch in diameter. The opposite side bears the inscription, “United States of America, Act of Congress, 1 August 1966.”
Today, Gold Star Lapel Buttons are presented to the eligible next of kin prior to their service member’s funeral or interment service. Eligible survivors may also request a button by completing a DD Form 3, “Application for Gold Star Lapel Button,” and returning it to the address listed on the form. Surviving family members now eligible to receive and wear the button if their service member dies in a qualifying situation are:
- Widows, remarried or not
- Widowers, remarried or not
- Each parent (mother, father, stepmother, stepfather, mother through adoption, father through adoption and foster parents)
- Each child, stepchild and each adopted child
- Each sibling, half sibling and stepsibling
Paragraph 3.2 of the DOD Instruction 1348.36 detailing the Gold Star Lapel Button Program lists the qualifying situations for eligibility.
Resources abound to assist gold star survivors
With the Gold Star Lapel Button now being available to stepsiblings, they can join their family members in displaying this important symbol of sacrifice. But while these families have lost their service member, they can take comfort in knowing that they have not lost the support of their military family, which continues to be there for them during their time of greatest need.
To learn more about the resources and benefits available to gold star survivors, download A Survivor’s Guide to Benefits: Taking Care of Our Families, or see an overview of what’s available at Survivor and Casualty Assistance – Benefits.
A new Survivor Family Member Inquiry Form is also available for survivors to submit their questions and/or concerns.
More comprehensive information about various benefits for gold star survivors can be found in the Survivor and Casualty Assistance section of Military OneSource.