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World War I flag: How the Erie home front honored the front line

March 29, 2016

Filed under Collections, Military History, Pennsylvania Treasures

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This Blue Star Service Flag dates to World War I.

This Blue Star Service Flag was once displayed during World War I in the window of a West Public Dock home by the wife and in-laws of William Henry Stine. At that time, families who displayed such flags to signal to their neighbors that the house was home to a man serving on the front line.

During World War I, families who displayed a Blue Star Service Flag signaled to their neighbors that the house was home to a man serving on the front line. By the end of World War II, the unofficial patriotic symbol benefited from a standard design. Today, displaying such a flag lets others know that those living in the house are related to a member of the Armed Forces who is serving during a time of war or hostility.

The Erie Maritime Museum collection holds one of the earliest Blue Star Service Flags, displayed during World War I in the window of a West Public Dock home by the wife and in-laws of William Henry Stine.

We don’t know much about William Stine’s early life, except that he was born in 1887 and that he became an orphan in Albany, N.Y., sometime before he turned 12 years old. By the time that he had registered for the draft on June 5, 1917, Stine had already served 12 years in the U.S. Navy. During those years, he served, initially, on board the USS Maine and the USS Washington. Later, Stine served in the Pennsylvania Naval Militia on Lake Erie on board the USS Wolverine under Capt. William L. Morrison. Stine appears in a 1913 crew photo, an image that is part of the museum’s USS Michigan/Wolverine exhibit. During his time in Erie, Stine met and fell in love with Leila, daughter of Harbormaster Henry Seidel. They married on June 18, 1917, and were briefly “at home” with Leila’s parents on the West Public Dock before Stine was called to serve again.

March 1918 found Stine in Boston, ready to serve as a Coxswain on board the USS Shawmut (CM-4), part of Mine Squadron One on its way to the North Sea. The U.S. Navy had converted 10 merchantmen and passenger steamers, which joined two Spanish-American War cruisers from the 1880’s, to become minelayers. A most hazardous operation, naval staff referred to these men as “living on the edge of eternity”, since they went to sea in ships packed with high explosives. The makeshift minelayers steamed out to position, formed up three-to five-abreast at 500 yard intervals, then dropped mines containing 300 pounds of explosives and returned to base. In five months, the men had planted 56,571 mines in the 250 mile North Sea Strait, between Scotland and Norway.

Stine was released from active duty in January, 1919, and honorably discharged on March 4, 1922. He and Leila raised their family in Erie, living most of their life together in their home in the 500 block of West 2nd Street. This flag was given to Erie Maritime Museum by their granddaughter, Barbara Stoll.

This Pennsylvania Treasure was written by Linda Bolla of the Erie Maritime Museum