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Pride and honor: Snoqualmie Valley's Legion Auxiliary spreading Blue Star flags among service families

Sharing a symbol of pride and honor, Pam Collingwood, left, incoming president of the American Legion Auxiliary at the Valley’s Renton-Pickering Post, gave a Blue Star Banner to North Bend resident Sandi Conway. The banner honors the service of Conway’s son, Andrew, who is serving with the U.S. Army in Iraq.  - Seth Truscott / Snoqualmie Valley Record
Sharing a symbol of pride and honor, Pam Collingwood, left, incoming president of the American Legion Auxiliary at the Valley’s Renton-Pickering Post, gave a Blue Star Banner to North Bend resident Sandi Conway. The banner honors the service of Conway’s son, Andrew, who is serving with the U.S. Army in Iraq.
— image credit: Seth Truscott / Snoqualmie Valley Record

As a mom, Sandi Conway didn’t plan on a soldier’s life for her son. But when Andrew Conway chose a military path to further his education, Sandi gave her blessing.
“Our children need to have our support and our love,” the Riverbend resident said. “He’s a great kid. I said, ‘Andrew, whatever you decide to pick.”

Andrew, who graduated from Mount Si High School in 2004, joined the Reserve Officer Training Corps, or ROTC, in 2006.

He graduated from the University of Washington as a first lieutenant in the U.S. Army, and now works in intelligence. His mother said he’s on his way up to captain.

“He wanted an education,” she said. “It’s very expensive. He said, ‘Mom, they were good to me. I want to give back now.’ So that’s how I feel: he’s giving back.”

The pride in this Valley mother’s voice is echoed visually in the banner that hangs in her front window. Conway received a Blue Star Banner from the Valley’s Renton-Pickering Unit of the American Legion Auxiliary. The banner shows all who pass that she has a family member serving in the armed forces.

“It’s comforting to know that other people are thinking of it,” Conway said. “You just feel real proud.”

Also known as a Service Flag, the Blue Star Banner stands for hope and pride. Each star represents one family member serving, and a banner can have up to five stars. The government has set specific guidelines on the manufacture of the flag, when it can be flown, and by whom.

If that soldier is killed or dies while in service to their country, a golden star is placed over it. A silver star stands for someone who comes home for wounds sustained overseas. Lapel pins also sported the same symbols.

According to the American Legion, service banners were widely used during both world wars, but were not embraced during the Korean or Vietnam wars with the same enthusiasm. The flag made a brief appearance during the Persian Gulf War in 1991, but because of the conflict’s short duration, never really caught on. The Legion sought to rekindle that spirit of pride following the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, providing banners to military families nationwide.

Last month, local members of the American Legion Auxiliary presented two banners to local families. Along with Conway, Barbara Ballard of Carnation received a flag from Legion Auxiliary President Kathy Kerr, honoring her son Marcus Gall, who is in the United States Army Reserves.

“Marcus comes from a military family,” Ballard said. “His natural father served 30 years in the Air Force, his stepfather was a Marine and I served eight years in the Air Force.”

Gall joined the Army Reserves in 2004 and is currently on his second enlistment. He married last June, and has seven siblings and a mother and father who will all miss him very much.

Andrew Conway arrived for duty in Iraq last week. His family includes his father Joe, four brothers and one sister.

As one of Wood River resident Donna Padilla’s ‘Baker Angels,” Sandi Conway always helped support the troops, baking up care-package cookies.

“Now, they support me,” she said.

Pam Collingwood, incoming president of American Legion Auxiliary in Snoqualmie Valley, personally presented Conway with the banner.

The Auxiliary is trying to increase the number of Blue Star Banners in the Valley. She believes there are many locals serving. But it’s hard for organizations like the Auxiliary to learn about them. Collingwood relies on word of mouth and newspaper articles, then tries to contact the families.

“There are a lot more to be given,” she said, adding that the world should know about those who sacrifice so much family time for their nation and its ideals.

“We want to say ‘thank you’ to more people,” Collingwood said. “It’s an honor for us.”

Service Flags are available from Renton-Pickering American Legion Auxiliary Unit #79 in Snoqualmie. Valley residents who have a family member serving in the military can contact either Pam Collingwood at pam.collingwood@centurytel.net or Kathy Kerr at kerrsattic@comcast.net to receive a banner. Or, call Kathy Kerr at (425) 831-5133.

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