A family has donated a rare flag to the Iowa Gold Star Museum at Camp Dodge and museum visitors will get a glimpse of it on this Veteran’s Day.
In 1944, the U.S. military presented the flag to the family of Charles Christianson of West Des Moines for use at his funeral. He’d been killed in combat and the 48 stars on the U.S. flag were gold, not white.
Russell Bierl, the retired colonel who now manages the Iowa Gold Star Military Museum, explains the significance of the gold star. Bierl says when a soldier goes into a combat, a small white flag with a red border and a blue star in the middle is sent to the family. If that soldier is killed in action, the government sends the family a nearly identical flag, but the star in the middle is gold.
Bierl says it was a tradition that President Wilson started in World War I. Bierl says his facility is the only museum in Iowa that’s recognized by the Center of Military History. “We have the largest military fire-arms collection in the state,” Bierl says. “We have just extensive artifacts telling the story of Iowans and their service to our state and nation.” The museum tells the stories of Iowans who served in conflicts dating back to the Civil War.
“If you go through the displays, you’ll notice many, many signs that say ‘This jacket was worn by Sergeant Joe Smith’ or ‘This weapon was carried and donated by Sergeant Jones in World War I,'” Bierl says. “That’s what we’re trying to portray, is the service of our fellow Iowans.” The museum isn’t just for those who want to walk around and look at exhibits. Hundreds of researchers come through the door each year to comb through the records that are housed there.
“We want to be, really, the base of knowledge for researchers to come to Iowa,” Bierl says. “We have an extensive library and we have an extensive tape collection for people to listen to interviews of soldiers and sailors and marines who have served their country.” That rare, 48-gold-star flag is on special display for this Veteran’s Day. It was donated to the museum just yesterday (Thursday) and will soon be folded and placed in a triangular box for permanent display.
The museum sits amidst the barracks and other buildings at Camp Dodge, a 44-hundred acre tract of land in Johnston that is home to the Iowa National Guard. The museum is open Monday through Saturday, from 8:30 a.m. ’til 4:30 p.m.