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48 Star Flags with Gold Stars or Stripes (U.S.)

Last modified: 2015-01-10 by rick wyatt
Keywords: forty-eight | united states | gold stripes | gold stars |
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Editor's Note: This page contains information from discussions concerning flags with gold stripes or gold stars that originally were on the UFE pages


At some reasonably uncertain points during World War I, a number of flags were created that sometimes seem to be connected with military funerals. There are several design variants that have been observed:

  1. U.S. Flag (48 stars) with 1 or more gold stars (but never all of them) in place of the correct white stars. I have seen 1, 2, and 4 gold stars, usually the first few in the top row at the hoist. Howie Madaus reported in 2001 that he had heard of a flag where two rows of stars on a 48 star flag were gold and the rest white.
  2. U.S. Flag (48 Stars) with 1 or more gold stripes (but never all of them) in place of the correct red stripes. I have seen gold stripes #3, #5, #9, and #11 (counting from the top).
  3. Jim Ferrigan, Howie Madaus, and I discussed this at some length. We rejected the notion that some kind of substandard fabrics were used which aged to a bright golden color. Although this is possible with certain cotton fabrics, it seems too regular to not have been deliberate. At least one of the flags I have seen is in like new condition, having been carefully stored since 1918. We have not completely ruled out substandard fabrics, however.
  4. There seems to be a European connection on all of these flags that we had such data on. While not all of the flags in this category are identified as to origination, those that were identified this way were all European in manufacture (and all were from France).
  5. Dating has been difficult on these flags because of the similarities of manufacture from World War I to World War II, although all those I have seen with any kind of a story place the flag in World War I. Only one flag I have seen was without question from 1918 and it has 4 gold stripes replacing #3, #5, #9, and #11 (counting from the top). However, it was not a military funeral flag and, in fact, bore markings that indicate U.S. manufacture although the owner who inherited it has documents that clearly state it originated in France. Who knows?
  6. I have searched U.S. sources from 1916-1918 and from 1940-1945 and have turned up nothing about such flags. Maybe someone in France or other parts of Europe may have better luck. The jury is still out on this.
  7. Regarding casket flags, this is a custom whose origin seems to be at least several centuries old. It may have originated in the naval custom of covering a casket with the ship's ensign when conducting a burial at sea prior to sliding the casket overboard (but retaining the flag). The U.S. Military has more or less used this custom since the Civil War (seems to have been just used for officers on occasion at that point) but it wasn't codified into military rules until World War I or thereabouts, as far as I have been able to determine.
  8. Today, such flags are usually 5 by 8 feet in size (1.5 x 2.4 meters) although the official size is supposed to be 5 x 9.5 (1.5 x 2.9 meters). The flag is used during the funeral to cover the casket, then folded into a triangle and presented to the next of kin with appropriate words. NAVA NEWS #190 (April-June 2006) featured a cartoon on the back cover that details the flag ceremony at a military funeral.
Dave Martucci, 27 February 2010

Flags with gold stars

Based on comments received from inquirers to the FOTW website over the past ten years, and confirmation of their existence by Whitney Smith, flags with gold stars were definitely used for caskets of servicemen who died in action in Europe toward the end of World War II or shortly thereafter - it seems to have been a short lived phenomenon, and that only for bodies returned from southern Germany, as I recall (but that was the American zone). As for the reported use of gold stripes on casket flags, this seems to be a recent development.
Rob Raeside, 26 February 2010

My friends at Humphrys Flag Company in Philadelphia directed me to a comment they found on the "" website about the use of gold stars and stripes: "A lady described to me a flag presented to her Mother in honor of her Father's death on the Bataan Death March. The flag has 5 gold stars randomly spread among the other 43 white stars. In researching the meaning of the gold stars for her, I came across a blog that stated that many American flags, used for military funerals during World War II, were made in France. These flags were hand stitched and many included varying numbers of gold stars mixed with the white stars. One man stated that he had a flag with 38 gold stars and 10 white stars. With the situation as it was in the United States and Europe at the time, quality control was not a big issue. One explanation of the gold stars was perhaps the French workers were aware of the Gold Star Mother's flag and added the gold stars as a similar honor. If anyone can verify, add to or deny this explanation, it would be appreciated."
John Udics, 2 March 2010

The Navy Department Library does not have any information on the subject of gold stripes on U.S. casket flags. However, the U.S. Army produced gold-star flags in the 48-star pattern as part of the ´Plan for Repatriation of the Dead of World War II´ (see the bibliography here:, in which survivors of dead servicemen buried overseas could 'opt in' and have their relative's remains returned to the United States for re-interment in a National Cemetery. It is possible that the gold-striped flags could have been part of this program, or a related program.
James Allen Knechtmann, 9 March 2010
Reference Librarian, Navy Department Library, Naval History and Heritage Command

Flags with gold stripes

I received this query about a casket flag. He seems to have ruled out fading as an explanation. Is there another? He said "I have a flag I received at my uncle's funeral in 1955. The 48-star flag that was placed on his casket... has several gold stripes where the white stripes should be. The first, second, fourth, and sixth white stripes are all gold, while the third and fifth are white."
Albert Kirsch, 24 October 2009

Since I'm no good at visualizing, I created this UFE by coloring in a 48-star flag. This only leaves two stripes white, which are not the outer stripes. If this colouring was about those two stripes, those would have been gold instead. Or if specifically about white stripes, then the other stripes would have been grey, rather than gold. So, it must be about the gold stripes. But if it would be about four gold stripes, then the best way to distribute them would be with the white stripes on the outside. In this case, the white stripes divide the gold into three bands with roughly the same amount of gold. If we interpret this as a military custom related to rank; do we have a rank that is symbolised by three gold bands?
Peter Hans van den Muijzenberg, 7 January 2010

"I have a large 48 star flag the size given at funerals when a serviceman dies. The first stripe below the stars is gold rather than white like the rest. What does this signify? Is this a veteran killed in the war? Thanks, Judy."
Yet another inquiry concerning gold stripes on the U.S. flag. Is there really anything to this?
Al Kirsch, 25 February 2010

speculative image
Speculative Image by Peter Hans van den Muijzenberg, 26 February 2010

This would appear to be some sort of tradition. Both flags have 48 Stars (1912-1959) which suggests that the custom might not exist anymore. It also appears that the custom is casket flags related, and that a couple questions need to be asked:

  1. Do the gold or white stripes represent a serviceman's military rank.
  2. Is there an organization that would have been responsible for such flags in the period of 48 stars?
To help with visualization, I made a speculative version of the flag with one with a single gold stripe.
Peter Hans van den Muijzenberg, 26 February 2010

Pete Loeser received this reply about gold stripes from the American Legion:
"As the fifteen-year resident flag 'guru' here at National Headquarters, this is the first time we have ever been asked this question! From time to time we will receive a question about 48-star flags with gold stars. Have you made contact with Dr. Whitney Smith? He is THE FLAG GURU and might be able to offer some insight. If you do come across something would you mind sharing it with us?"
Michael Buss, 26 February 2010
Assistant Director, Americanism and Children & Youth Division.

For a number of years, the U.S. Veterans' Administration, and before that the Defense, and earlier, War and Navy, Departments have more or less supervised the business of casket flags for service personnel and veterans. Today, and for as long as most of us recall, the VA in fact buys, specifies and supplies the 5 x 9.5 foot flags that are used for this purpose. So I should think that a query to the VA, perhaps directed at their archives or historic office, might answer the question of the gold stripes. Including a photo or gif would probably help, if such a thing is available. A 48-star flag would date back 50 years at least, but not more than 98 years; that would mean that the War Department may have been in charge. Those people keep fairly good historical records, so a query there might eventually yield some sort of a reliable reply. Much as I respect and salute the various non-governmental veteran´s organizations -- VFW, American Legion, DAR, etc. - they are not the real arbiters of this question, and I doubt that they have definitive resources to respond. I have a suspicion, as Al Kirsch probably does too, that there is a very interesting story lurking behind this incident someplace, if only we can find it.
Bill Dunning, 27 February 2010

Believe it or not, I got a thank-you note from the second enquirer (Judy) for my (our) efforts, and she said her flag was stamped "Annin." Not French, then! She got the flag at an auction and knows nothing of its provenance, and that her late father (a WWII vet) had a standard casket flag. She's asking around the VFW, but we've been down that road ourselves....
Al Kirsch, 28 February 2010

My last inquiry about an Annin manufactured flag (UFE10-8) resulted in failure because apparently they only keep records for the last five years, but I still feel there is a story behind these gold striped flags, so I plan to ask them if they know anything about gold striped 48-star flags or the traditions behind them.
Pete Loeser, 28 February 2010

Pete Loeser received this reply from The Veterans of Foreign Wars
"This is the first time I have come across any U.S. Flag with anything other than red and white stripes. For that reason, we have no protocols for such a flag and would not consider it a proper burial Flag.
Steve Van Buskirk, Director of Programs, 1 March 2010

My own preference would be to make getting an actual photo of such a flag the top priority. There may be some story behind these reported gold stripe flags, but I think we ought to consider the number of cases. There were approximately 15 million U.S. veterans of World War II, and probably at least 2/3 have died by now... and that's not counting vets of other wars who have also died. How many reports of gold-striped flags are there? Four, five? Is the total less than double figures? Unless we get better information, and evidence that they occur more often than one in one million, I'd say these are just freaks, flukes, or even plain mis-seeings. I once saw a Greek flag with some gray stripes and some white ones. I don't think there was any significance to it beside the fact that the stripes fabric may have come from different lots, and thus aged/weathered at different rates. How "gold" - as opposed to "yellowed" - are the examples reported to us. If there really is some significance to these U.S. flags variants why are they so incredibly rare? [I'm not questioning the Gold stars on pre-20th Century U.S. flags - the story behind them has already been reported.]
Ned Smith, 3 March 2010

Over the past few years I've had a number of flags brought to my attention that have similar characteristics, they appear to be standard 48-star U.S. flags except that there are stripes of yellow that appear on some part of the flag. These presumably were done intentionally, but most of the men involved have died and their relatives now hope to find out what the meaning is - too late. There probably was some kind of symbolism having to do with the individual or military circumstances that is now lost. I wish I could help you on this but military and government authorities I have contacted don't seem to know either. I have some images of actual flags and will eventually pull them together to form an article in The Flag Bulletin which should at least give a better idea of the intentions of the makers.
Whitney Smith, 8 March 2010

UFE Editors Note: The following organizations were contacted and responded, but were unable to help.: Veterans of Foreign Wars, Annin Flag Company, American Legion, and the Veteran's Administration.
Pete Loeser, 9 March 2010

From U.S. Army Quartermaster Museum:
" I believe each stripe represents a particular amount of World War II deceased personnel. I will check, but I think each gold stripe stands for 50000. It was idea that arose from the U.S. Army Quartermaster Depot in Philadelphia where the flags were made to denote with a special gold stripe a fallen hero. It didn't matter what rank and it may have helped keep track of how many flags were being made too. Let me do some more research and I will get back to you."
Luther Hanson, U.S. Army QM Museum, 10 March 2010

More from the QM Museum:
" I was not able to find anything official either heraldic or graves registration wise. I checked all the QM Depot flag photos we have and all the articles on flag manufacturing we have. I do remember an article on the Internet ten years ago that reported seeing at least one gold striped flag on a railroad siding, with many other flagged caskets being transported, and I remember being told the stripe designated the 50000th dead service member. We did locate in the QM Depot records several notes suggesting that it was an idea of either Col. George Christie, Jr., head of manufacturing Division QM Depot, or Mrs. Helen Martin, Chief of the QM Flag Section. During World War II and for 30 years after, Helen was known as the Betsy Ross of the flag Section. So I definitely think it was an internal idea as there are no official plans for these flags with gold stripes to be manufactured. They were a symbolic way to honor the war dead and a way to inventory the flags at the same time. I will keep looking for supporting documentation."
Luther Hanson, U.S. Army QM Museum, 11 March 2010

We are researching the significance of the 48-Star flags with gold stripes and will send a complete response soon.
Kimberley Bernard, 10 March 2010
Memorial Programs Service, VA National Cemetery Administration

Could the gold-stripe idea (and the gold stars in the 48-star canton) have been suggested by the Gold-Star Service Flag which was introduced in World War I?
Bill Dunning, 13 March 2010

Image from Pat, 6 July 2010

New Enquiry forwarded by Rob Raeside: "A friend has a flag that has been in their family that has red and white stripes along with gold stripes and 48 stars. What is the name of this flag and what year did it come out? Here is a picture of the flag. - Pat, 6 July 2010."
Rob Raeside, 7 July 2010

As this case is similar to two other cases, a few questions come to mind. I hope Pat can help us here:

  1. Would this be a coffin flag, like the other two? Either, does the friend's family know that it was used for the funeral of a relative, or is it something like 1.5m x 2.9m (5' x 9.5') in size, as Al Kirsch describes it?
  2. This is the same pattern as the flag the nephew of a service man asked about, mentioned on our page. I hope Pat can determine whether we're really talking about a new case here, or whether by coincidence this is the same specimen, that is being asked about for a second time.
  3. Since it was suggested that the pattern might be rank or service related, I hope with Pat's help we may finally determine whether that might be the case. (It's a pity Al didn't receive information about the uncle's rank, as it could have served for comparison here.)
  4. Judy's flag was stamped "Annin," for Annin flags. I can't quite make out the mark on Pat's photograph. I'd say "Annin" might fit, but hopefully Pat can tell us for sure what is written at the hoist.
  5. Originally, I had understood the explanation from Luther Hanson to refer to different flags honouring each subsequent 50,000th death, as that would explain the patterns. But if two of them are the same, the system, if it existed, must have been different.
Peter Hans van den Muijzenberg, 8 July 2010