“Gold Star family” is a title reserved for the family of a military member who died in the line of duty. The Gold Star is meant to honor the life, service, and sacrifice of the military member as well as acknowledge the family’s loss and sacrifice.

Read on to learn more about the Gold Star family meaning in the military and how you can pay your respects to them.

Gold Star Family Meaning and History

The phrase “Gold Star family” originated in World War I. During this period, military families displayed in the windows of their homes service flags that proudly featured a striking blue star, sometimes multiple blue stars.

Each star represented an immediate family member serving in the United States Armed Forces. If the servicemember lost their life while serving, their family would change their blue star to a gold star to let their community know about their loss.

This is where the term, “Gold Star family” began. “Gold Star wives” and “Gold Star mothers” were other terms that commonly referred to individual military family members who had lost a loved servicemember.

Today, the tradition has evolved into a more formal recognition. The surviving family of the fallen soldier now receives the official Gold Star Lapel Button as a symbol of the country’s appreciation for their servicemember’s sacrifice.

Who Gets a Gold Star Lapel Button?

While the loss of a servicemember can impact far more lives beyond their immediate family, only certain family members will receive a Gold Star Lapel Button. Those who are eligible are related to the servicemember in one of the following ways:

  • The widow or widower
  • Each parent (including step and adoptive parents)
  • Each sibling (including step and half-siblings)
  • Each child (including step and adopted children)

Each of the above family members will receive one star at no cost to them. If a family member meets these qualifications but does not receive their star, or if they lose their star, they may request one. To do so, they’ll need to submit a DD Form 3, “Application for Gold Star Lapel Button,” to the military department of the branch in which their servicemember served.

Do Gold Star Families Receive Financial Benefits?

Planning (and paying for) a funeral and worrying about making ends meet financially while grieving is something no one should have to do on their own. In an effort to support eligible survivors, the Defense Department and the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) offer the following resources:

  • Funeral and burial entitlements and other assistance
  • A tax-exempt $100,000 death gratuity
  • Servicemembers Group Life Insurance (SGLI) payment
  • Financial counseling services
  • Survivor Benefit Plan (SBP) monthly compensation
  • Dependency and Indemnity monthly compensation
  • Monthly Social Security payments
  • A number of education benefits

Survivors can keep up with their benefits via online survivor benefits reports, where they can view current and estimated future benefits. This enables survivors to create savings and spending plans so that their financial future is set up for success. To learn more about what benefits are available to survivors and who qualifies to receive them, visit Defense.gov.

Organizations like AAFMAA also provide support and benefits for the survivors of servicemembers who are also AAFMAA Members, including Survivor Assistance Services.

How Can I Help Gold Star Families?

One way you can help and honor Gold Star families is to stay educated and inform those close to you about this recognition. The more people understand the Gold Star family meaning, the more equipped they are to show their respect.

Another way is to honor Gold Star families on holidays like Memorial Day. Other Gold Star family holidays include Gold Star Spouses Day on April 5 and Gold Star Mother’s and Family’s Day on the last Sunday of September.

It’s not always intuitive to know how to be there for those who lose a loved one, especially when they’re not someone you know very well. However, the military family community is a strong and supportive one, so don’t feel strange about reaching out.

Always lead with compassion and remember that people process things differently. Gold Star families may not want to discuss how they’re feeling. If you’re unsure of how to show you’re here for them, start small with something like a brief but heartfelt card or private social media message.

Navigating the loss of a loved one is never easy. Though Gold Star families have government resources available to them, it’s important that they feel the love and support of their community, too.

More Support and Recognition for Military Families:

Solutions for Your Military Family:

Life Insurance, Wealth Management, Home Mortgages, Survivor Services, and more. Learn more about AAFMAA.

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