The United States flag with its fifty stars for fifty states is a major symbol of the celebrations of the 4th of July, but it didn't always have the number fifty. Looked at through the history of conflicts and wars the United States has fought the stars take on a new meaning.
Thirteen stars, of various configurations, and stripes were flown during the Revolutionary War (1775) when there were thirteen colonies in the soon-to-be-independent United States of America.
Fifteen stars and stripes were flown during the War of 1812 when there were fifteen states in the United States, but it became apparent that there wasn't room to keep adding stripes to the flag so the official number reverted to thirteen.
Twenty-seven stars were on the flag that was carried into the Mexican War in the mid-1800's.
Thirty-one stars decorated the flag at the beginning of the Civil War; three were added by the war's end, 1865.
Forty-five stars were on the flag at San Juan Hill where Teddy Roosevelt and the Rough Riders fought during the Spanish-American War in the late 1800's.
Forty-eight stars flew over World War I, World War II, and the Korean conflict.
Fifty stars flew during Vietnam and Desert Storm (1991) and are in Afghanistan today.
In addition to the national stars and stripes that went into every conflict, each service has had its own flags.
The conflicts themselves have also inspired commemorative flags. In 1971, the Prisoner of War Flag originated to recognize prisoners and those missing in action in Vietnam. It soon became a symbol for and continues to represent all POW's and MIA's from any war.
Two excellent and educational displays of historic flags are maintained in Augusta, at the Maine State House Hall of Flags and at the Maine State Museum.