PALMYRA — A nearly 90-year-old flag honoring World War I veterans is on display again after being hidden away for decades in the courthouse here.
Historian Mary Jo Ragar said employees of the court clerk’s office were doing some spring cleaning recently when they moved an old set of shelves. Along with an old shoe and some crumbling papers, they found the service flag that once hung from a utility pole downtown.
As workers unrolled the flag, Ragar recognized it from an old photograph of the day it was unveiled.
“For a person just looking at it, they wouldn’t have had any idea of what it is,” Ragar said.
The flag, which measures 13 feet across, has a “1000” created out of blue stars running vertically and the words Red Cross and YMCA, along with a shield containing the letters KC. The photograph of the flag’s unveiling bore an inscription: “Dedication of Marion County Service Flag July 4, 1918.”
Service flags, also known as Blue Star Service Banners, were designed in 1917 by Robert L. Queissner, a U.S. Army captain, in honor of his two sons, who were serving in World War I.
The flag features a white field with a red border in the same proportions as a U.S. flag. A blue star denotes a family member in active duty. The blue star would be overlaid with a gold star to denote the death of the serviceman.
The idea caught on during the remainder of World War I and for World War II but faded during later conflicts.
The Marion County flag is in delicate condition after being stored in less than ideal conditions. One side is a little darker than the other and the white is now a gray, but after nearly nine decades, it is still recognizable as the service flag in the picture found years earlier.
“It has deteriorated so badly we don’t know exactly what to do, but we feel so fortunate to have it,” Ragar said.
Many people want to see the banner displayed. The Gardner House Museum will be the permanent home to the banner, but due to the size of the fabric, it can’t be shown in its full glory.
One idea is to display the banner for a special occasion. Ragar said July 4, the anniversary of its dedication, would be an ideal time. The Heritage Seekers will determine how the banner can best be displayed.
“I’m sure it’s some kind of omen,” she said about finding the banner. “I’m hoping it’s going to bring all these boys back from Iraq. ... That’s my wishful thinking.”