American Gold Star families are immediate relatives of members of the U.S. Armed Forces who have been killed in combat or in support of certain military activities.
The U.S. Department of Defense issues Gold Star Lapel Buttons to immediate family members of a fallen member of the military. The pins, featuring a gold star on a purple circular background, are worn by spouses, parents and children of service members killed in the line of duty.
Some families display flags with a gold star emblem, indicating a family member has been killed in a military operation. A flag with two gold stars, for example, shows two service members from a particular family were killed.
Some families choose to display the banners, also known as service flags, throughout the year as a solemn tribute to their fallen family members. The rectangular flags are white, bordered in red, with a gold star overlapping a larger blue star.
The flags were initially flown by families during World War I between 1914 to 1918.
Just after World War I, the Gold Star Mother's Club was formed to support mothers who lost children in the war.
American Gold Star Mothers, Inc. was founded in 1929 by congressional charter. Twenty-five mothers living in Washington, D.C., were original members of the group, which expanded throughout the country.
In 1936, the United States started annually recognizing mothers of fallen service members by observing Gold Star Mothers Day on the last Sunday of September.
The Gold Star Wives organization was established before World War II ended in 1945. The pin worn by grieving family members, called the Gold Star Lapel Button, was introduced in 1947.
Since 2009, U.S. President Barack Obama has issued annual proclamations designating the last Sunday in September as Gold Star Mothers' and Families' Day.
In a proclamation issued September 24, 2015, Obama said that most Americans can't fully comprehend the price Gold Star family members have paid: "Their sleepless nights allow for our peaceful rest, and the folded flags they hold dear are what enable ours to wave. The depth of their sorrow is immeasurable, and we are forever indebted to them for all they have given us."