Gold Star license plates to honor fallen heroes

For the first time, the families of military personnel killed while serving on active duty will be able to honor their loved ones with a special Gold Star license plate, Secretary of State Ruth Johnson, Sen. John Pappageorge (R-Troy) and Rep. Robert Genetski (R-Saugatuck) recently announced in a joint press release.

"On Memorial Day, we pay tribute to the brave men and women of America's armed forces who made the ultimate sacrifice defending our country and protecting our freedom," Johnson said. "In honor of veterans and their families across our state, I'm proud to offer them these new plates so they may show their service and sacrifice."

Both Pappageorge and Genetski sponsored legislation supporting the Gold Star license plates, which was signed on Thursday, by Gov. Rick Snyder.

"The Gold Star Family license plate will serve as a 'moving memorial' to our heroes who made the ultimate sacrifice," Snyder said. "It also recognizes the enormous sacrifices of Michigan families who have lost loved ones in America's armed conflicts. This plate is a fitting tribute that families can display on their vehicles with great pride. As we observe Memorial Day 2011, please join me in keeping these heroes and their families in our thoughts and prayers."

Pappageorge, a highly decorated veteran who retired with the rank of colonel, served 30 years active duty in the U.S. Army, including two tours in Vietnam.

"The family and friends of our fallen heroes are the ones who have to face each day without their loved one," said Pappageorge. "This plate serves as a symbol of the sacrifice they have made and reminds us all that freedom is not free."

Genetski said "I am thankful that our Gold Star families, just in time for Memorial Day, will know that Michigan is ready to recognize their great sacrifice."

The use of gold stars to denote families who have lost sons and daughters in military service dates back to World War I. Families hung flags in their windows, with each blue star denoting a family member serving in the military and each gold star denoting a family member who had died.

The Gold Star plates will be available to immediate family members of those who died while serving their country. They will be available just after the Fourth of July holiday, Johnson said.

Johnson also announced another new option for veterans who want to show their service to their country in a more meaningful way. Beginning the Tuesday after Memorial Day, veterans will be able to purchase automobile plates that feature the actual insignia, in color, of their military service branch. Those plates will feature the official seals of the Air Force, Army, Coast Guard, Marine Corps, Navy and National Guard--instead of just the printed name of the military personnel.

"This is one more small thing we can do to honor veterans who have worked so hard, endured so much and sacrificed for their country," Johnson said. "We are very grateful to all our military members."

Legislation that would allow the Secretary of State's Office, for the very first time, to offer service branch motorcycle plates for veterans is being considered in the Legislature and is supported by Johnson. She said she is hopeful that legislation will pass so motorcycle riders will be able to enjoy the plates while riding this summer.

Michigan offers veterans more than 20 distinct plates that highlight their service in the military, and in individual wars and conflicts such as World War II, the Vietnam War and the Somalia conflict. The department also allows people to personalize their veteran plates.

More than 75,000 veteran plates are in circulation.

Honorably discharged veterans are eligible for plates signifying the branch of service, or war or conflict in which the veteran served. Active-duty personnel and spouses are eligible for plates signifying service in a war or conflict. Additional plates that recognize Medal of Honor recipients, disabled veterans, combat-wounded veterans, former prisoners of war, and Pearl Harbor survivors require additional documentation.

The cost for a veteran plate is the annual registration fee for the vehicle plus a one-time $5 service fee for the standard white plate or a one-time $10 fee for the Spectacular Peninsulas graphic plate. Personalizing a license plate costs an additional $30 if bought when the vehicle's existing plate is due to be renewed. If the plate is bought at another time, the cost of the plate is pro-rated. Renewing a personalized plate costs an added $15 each year.

Potential personalized plate buyers can visit the Secretary of State "Plate It Your Way" webpage to check if a plate configuration is available.

For more information about veteran plates, or office locations and services, visit the Secretary of State website (www.Michigan.gov/sos) or sign up for the official Secretary of State Twitter feed (www.twitter.com/Michsos) or Facebook updates (www.facebook.com/Michigansos).

Customers also may call the Department of State Information Center to speak to a customer-service representative at (888) SOS-MICH (767-6424).

Published: Fri, May 27, 2011