While the U.S. commemorates the dedication of its flag this week, one program is reusing old American flags to thank those in uniform.
On June 14, the United States celebrates Flag Day, the date in 1777 when the country officially adopted its flag. While you’ll find the stars and stripes atop the White House, the Capitol and state houses, and even along residential streets, at some point they become too tattered to fly.
One project, Stars for Our Troops, Inc., repurposes old American flags by distributing individual embroidered stars to the country’s military and first responders, with a note: “I am part of our American flag that has flown over the USA. I can no longer fly. The sun and winds caused me to become tattered and torn. Please carry me as a reminder that you are not forgotten.”
“By using one aspect of the flag to become a thank you, a welcome home—we’ve got your back—is something so simple, but it’s recycling, it’s repurposing,” President and Founder Susan Wells said. She continued that the responses she gets to the stars demonstrate how important that thank you is to those who receive them.
Wells shared the story of one returning soldier who received a thank you star. On the way home, he was debating what he most looked forward to: a hot shower or a hot meal. But after receiving the star, he told Wells, “That was more important than a shower or a hot meal. That was home. That was something special.”
To create the stars, Stars for Our Troops collects and washes the blue canton from donated flags, then cuts out each individual star. Organizations and groups—from nursing homes to Boy and Girl Scout troops—that volunteer their time to cut and package the stars will receive a star maker kit with two cantons, 100 pouches, and 10 completed stars.
But the stars must have been embroidered, not printed, on the flag. Wells explained that this was so people can feel the shape of the star, even if they can’t see it. For example, she once gave a star to a blind veteran, and he could tell it was from the flag just by touch.
“Because its small and you can feel the star—that’s why we used the embroidered stars—those that are wounded know what it is, and it’s something they can hold in their hand even if there’s wires and everything else going on around them,” she said. “Whatever the medics are doing for them, they still have something from home to hang on to.”
The U.S. Flag Code dictates that flags be retired in a dignified way, such as by being burned or buried. However, Wells said this policy was created when flag materials were biodegradable. Newer flags are made of synthetic materials, which instead melt and produce toxic fumes when burned. Stars for Our Troops provides an alternative use for retiring flags.
While the first stars distributed by Stars for Our Troops in 2010 were cut from only four flags, the program has already distributed 48,000 stars in the first five months of 2017. But the reason the group exists today is the same as when the idea originated with a group of women in Florida, when one sent a star to her son. “The why was she wanted something special to send to her son who was currently serving to let him know that we were watching over him,” Wells said.