Donald Trump's criticism of the bereaved parents of a decorated Muslim Army captain killed in Iraq 12 years ago has drawn attention to Gold Star families. For decades, buttons and flags adorned with Gold Stars have been displayed by American families as symbols of the ultimate sacrifice. Below is a brief description of the program and its history.
HOW LONG HAVE GOLD STARS REPRESENTED TROOPS KILLED IN COMBAT?
Flags or banners with a blue star were first flown by families during World War I, according to information posted on the Army's website. The number of stars represented every immediate family member serving in combat. If one of them died, a gold star replaced the blue star. "This allowed members of the community to know the price that the family had paid in the cause of freedom," according to the Army.
WHO IS ELIGIBLE TO RECEIVE A GOLD STAR?
Congress in 1947 approved use of the Gold Star lapel button to recognize the families of U.S. service members killed in combat, according to the Army's Survivor Outreach Services. The Gold Stars may be worn only by immediate family members, including parents, spouses, siblings and children. The pins are normally presented prior to the service member's funeral.
WHAT DOES THE GOLD STAR BUTTON LOOK LIKE?
The button consists of a gold star on a purple background bordered in gold and surrounded by gold leaves. Surviving families also may display Gold Star service flags and bumper stickers. These emblems consist of white rectangular fields bordered in red, with a gold star in the center.
DO GOLD STAR RECIPIENTS RECEIVE ANY SPECIAL BENEFITS?
The families of soldiers are not granted additional financial benefits beyond what the service member was eligible for prior to being killed in action. But in the Army, Gold Star recipients are represented by a survivors' assistance working group that has access to the service's senior leadership and can raise issues of concern. Military lawyers also are available to assist Gold Star families with preparing tax returns and wills and getting access to the benefits they're entitled to receive.