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How a little curiosity turned into a life-long quest

12/12/2017

IMG_1206When he was in third grade, a janitor at Steve Timmerman’s elementary school gave him a 48-star flag. It was 1959 and Alaska had just become a state, so the school was getting the new 49-star version. When he started looking around at other flags, Timmerman noticed there were several different styles of 48-star flags.

In the years since he was given his first flag, Timmerman, a 45-year Iowa Department of Transportation employee, continued to collect 48-star versions from wherever he could. In doing some research, he found out the 48-star flag was official from 1912 until 1959, but that there were multiple 48-star patterns made. He found some with odd star patterns and then one with gold colored stars, instead of the typical white.The gold star flag intrigued him so he began digging deeper, but could not get any definite answers as to why the stars were a different color.

IMG_2192Timmerman continued to find and collect flags here and there, with more than 120 different banners now in his collection. One day on eBay he came upon a 48-star flag like the gold star version he had researched years before. Wanting to add this rarity to his collection, he purchased it. To his surprise, the seller supplied copies of documents and information on the flag’s connection to a fallen World War I soldier.

IMG_1851From the documentation, Timmerman learned that the fallen soldier was Frederick William Schmelz. At age 18, Schmelz was a cook for an American military unit in France. With his company fully engaged in battle, Schmelz volunteered to take food to his fellow soldiers who had not had hot food in three days. He never returned. After traveling 4 kilometers, he was killed by a bursting shell.

IMG_1860Schmelz was posthumously awarded the Army’s Distinguished Service Cross. After the war when his body was disinterred from the original burial location and moved to a new military cemetery, the flag with gold stars was placed on his casket during the reburial and then sent to his family in New Jersey. In 1933, his sister-in-law made a journey to France to visit his grave as part of the Gold Star Mother’s Pilgrimage.

Timmerman, seeing the history behind the flag, corresponded with the family member who was selling it. The 57-year-old relative of Frederick William Schmelz was hesitant to give up the flag but was thrilled that a flag collector with a passion for history had purchased it. Timmerman promised the seller the flag would be treated with respect and treasured and the information on the soldier would remain with it. “I do intend to keep that promise,” said Timmerman.

IMG_0965Recently, Timmerman allowed the gold star flag, along with 20 others, to be displayed at the Carnegie Museum in New Hampton. He said, “I wanted people to get a sense of what the flag really stands for.”

IMG_1408For the gold star flag, Timmerman displayed it on a casket. He said, “I think that shocked some people, but you have to understand. The flag stands for the sacrifices made by our military service members. It’s not just something that looks nice flying from a pole.”


Hi, I sold you that flag on eBay a few years back when I was living in Newburgh NY. I'm 57 years old, not 80! :-)
This "Gold Star" flag sat in storage for many years, and I wanted it to be preserved and treated with the respect that it deserved.
I was thrilled to see that this piece of history is being recognised and that the story of my Great Uncle's sacrifice is being told to the public, over 100 years after it happened.
Frederick was only 18 years old when he was killed. He had his whole life ahead of him. He sacrificed all of that to help other people survive.
Thank you for honoring him!
Scott Schmelz

Thank you for sharing your story and the story of this soldier.
By sharing it in this venue, there are now people who know of the sacrifice this soldier made, that would have never known otherwise. There are so many other stories like this known and unknown that our Flag can remind us to honor.
Thank you

Good story Steve!

Very interesting thank you for sharing.

A very fascinating adventure, Steve! Thank You!

Is it (was) a breath of fresh air! just reading the article. Thank you.

Very Cool!!

This is very interesting! I too have been intrigued with our US flag and the history in them! Thank you for sharing!

Just one word - Awesome!

Thanks Steve for your service with honoring those who sacrificed their lives for this Country. This is especially needed since the flag and our Country is under attack. It's an honor to have met you.

Good for you Mr. Timmerman, it's good to see there are still people out there like you who still have the utmost respect for our flag. Keep up the good work and Thank You.

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Iowa highway in the evening