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  • Michael Hinkle, President SkillMil

History of the Yellow Ribbon

Since we talked about the Yellow Ribbon program in our last post, we decided it may be interesting to talk about the history behind the “Yellow Ribbon,” where it started, and some interesting facts.


Now, you may have heard about the song/poem “she wore a yellow ribbon” that speaks about a woman being "taken" while waiting for her beloved to return. This poem is about 4 centuries old, and it was probably brought to America from Europe during the English Civil War when the Puritan Army of English Parliament wore yellow ribbons and yellow sashes onto the battlefield.


Yellow is also the official color of the armor branch of the U.S. Army. Furthermore, In the United States military, the symbol of the yellow ribbon is used in a popular marching song.

During the Iran hostage crisis, the yellow ribbon was used as a symbol of support for the hostages held at the United States embassy in Tehran. In November 1979, a committee headed by Suzan E. Garrett in Leitchfield, Kentucky organized a campaign to "Tie A Yellow Ribbon" around public trees as well as encouraging people to wear tied ribbons on lapels in support of the U.S. hostages being held in Iran.


This symbolism continued and became more popular in December 1979, when Penelope Laingen, wife of Bruce Laingen who was the most senior foreign service officer being held hostage, tied a yellow ribbon around a tree on the lawn of her Maryland home. The ribbon primarily symbolized the resolve of the American people to win the hostages' safe release. Yellow ribbons featured prominently in the celebrations of their return home in January 1981.


Moreover, the symbol became widely known in civilian life in the 1970s. Being the main part of the popular song "Tie a Yellow Ribbon Round the Ole Oak Tree'' and it [the yellow ribbon] was the original symbol for AIDS awareness, before the red ribbon became used for HIV/AIDS from 1991 onwards. Currently, yellow ribbons also represent bladder cancer awareness, endometriosis awareness, microencephaly, and suicide prevention.


In 1991, Thomas S. Monson, former president of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, quoted the story that will serve as a precursor to the tradition of the yellow ribbon for a welcome home and forgiveness:


"A friend of his happened to be sitting in a railroad coach next to a young man who was obviously depressed. Finally, the young man revealed that he was a paroled convict returning from a distant prison. His imprisonment had brought shame to his family, and they had neither visited him nor written often. He hoped, however, that this was only because they were too poor to travel and too uneducated to write. He hoped, despite the evidence, that they had forgiven him.

"To make it easy for them, however, he had written to them asking that they put up a signal for him when the train passed their little farm on the outskirts of town. If his family had forgiven him, they were to put up a white ribbon in the big apple tree which stood near the tracks. If they didn't want him to return, they were to do nothing, and he would remain on the train as it traveled onward.

"As the train neared his hometown, the suspense became so great that he couldn’t bear to look out of his window. He exclaimed, 'In just five minutes the engineer will sound the whistle indicating our approach to the long bend which opens into the valley I know as home. Will you watch for the apple tree at the side of the track?' His companion said he would; they exchanged places. The minutes seemed like hours, but then there came the shrill sound of the train whistle. The young man asked, 'Can you see the tree? Is there a white ribbon?'

"Came the reply, 'I see the tree. I see not one white ribbon, but many. There is a white ribbon on every branch. Son, someone surely does love you.'"

"Tie a Yellow Ribbon Round the Ole Oak Tree"


In the 1990's the yellow ribbon became popular again in the United States during the Gulf War. Associated with the slogan “support our troops” with the image of yellow ribbons tied to trees and was closely related with the idea of the troops coming back home. In 2003, during the invasion of Iraq, the yellow ribbon appeared again bearing similar meanings. The yellow ribbon was printed on magnetized resources and displayed on cars.


The Yellow Ribbon Reintegration Program (YRRP) also utilizes the yellow ribbon. YRRP promotes the well-being of National Guard and Reserve members, their families and communities, by connecting them with resources throughout the deployment cycle.


Finally, and as we covered in our previous post, the yellow ribbon is also the scholastic symbol adopted by universities and institutions which provide student veteran support through the "Yellow Ribbon Program" and represents a matched financial contribution between the school and the U.S. Government to cover tuition costs that the normal Post 9/11 GI Bill would not normally cover


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