The “We Support
our Troops” yellow ribbon has made itself a permanent
home on cars all over Hawai‘i, large or small, one or
two, magnet or sticker. The yellow ribbon is everywhere. But
have you ever wondered about the origins of the symbol we use
to support our troops?
The idea came from the song written by Irwin Levine, copyrighted
in 1972, called “Tie a Yellow Ribbon Round the Old Oak
Tree.” The song sold millions of copies. The song was said
to be written about a folktale of a man returning from jail after
three years of being away.
The story was found
in a prisoners reform handbook. The man had written to his
wife telling her that, if she wanted him to come home, she
should tie a yellow ribbon on the oak tree by the bus station,
so he could see it as he passed on the bus. If he saw the yellow
ribbon, he would know she wanted him to come home and he should
get off the bus. As the man neared his town the whole bus held
their breath as they looked for the yellow ribbon. And then
finally a cheer went up on the bus as the yellow ribbon appeared.
The idea behind using ribbons made a comeback during the Iranian
hostage crisis in 1970. In support of the families and hostages,
Americans tied yellow ribbons to anything that stood still. Hostage
Support, Amnesty International, Political Prisoners Support,
The UN’s Amnesty International Support Campaign for Human
Rights, POW/MIA Activism and Troop Support would take on the
yellow ribbon as their symbol.
Penelope Laingen, the wife of a U.S. hostage, was shown on
the news tying a yellow ribbon to a tree. Laingen felt it
something positive to do. “It just came to me,” she
said. “To give people something to do, rather than get
upset at the Iranians, why don’t they ‘tie a yellow
ribbon around an old oak tree.’ That’s how it started,” she
said. And that’s just what the American public did; from
coast to coast yellow ribbons were tied.
It is odd, though, that the color yellow was picked for the
ribbon, because yellow indicates cowardliness in the military,
has prevailed through the Persian
Gulf War, Operation Desert Storm, and Operation Enduring Freedom as a trendy
symbol of support by the public, like ‘leaving a light in the window,’ in
anticipation of the safe arrival home of the troops.
Today the yellow ribbon is used in support of all troops and
not just for POW/MIA or ex-cons. The yellow ribbon is a way
for the everyday citizen to show support
for U.S. troops overseas. If the number of ribbons on Hawai‘i roads is
any indication, that support is widespread.