Someone asked me this question the other day. Immediately, being a child of the 70′s I began to hum the oh to familiar “Tie a Yellow Ribbon” song popularized by Tony Orlando and Dawn. Of course, the song does tell us in a brief manner, why it is done. But, after thinking harder about it, I began to get curious and whipped out the old IPhone and started my Goggle search. Here is what I found:
Early Puritan history
The song/poem “She wore a yellow ribbon” has appeared in various forms for at least four centuries. It is based upon the same general theme. A woman of destiny is under some sort of test or trial as she waits for her beloved to return. Will she be true to him? This seems to be the lingering question and the basis for a great unfolding drama.
The song appears to have been brought to America from Europe by English settlers. The origin of the yellow ribbons seems likely to have come from out of the Puritan heritage. It was during the English Civil War that the Puritan Army of English Parliament wore yellow ribbons and yellow sashes onto the battlefield.
Yellow is the official color of the armor branch of the U.S. Army, used in insignia, etc., and depicted in Hollywood movies by the yellow neckerchief adorning latter-half 19th century, horse-mounted U.S. Cavalry soldiers. However, a review of the U.S. War Department’s Regulations for the Uniform and Dress of the Army of the United States (1872, 1898) reveals that a neckerchief, of any color, was not an item required by dress code. Despite this, neckerchiefs were a popular accessory employed by cavalrymen to cope with the frequently dusty environs. The specific association of the yellow neckerchief with the U.S. Cavalry may have arisen from a work of popular American West artist Frederic Remington–Lieutenant Powhatan H. Clarke, Tenth Cavalry (1888).
In the United States military, the symbol of the yellow ribbon is used in a popular marching song. The first version copyrighted was the 1917 version by George A. Norton, which he titled ‘Round Her Neck She Wears a Yeller Ribbon (For Her Lover Who Is Far, Far Away). While he tells in the song about the love between Susie Simpkins and her soldier lover Silas Hubbard, his chorus goes:
‘Round her neck she wears a yeller ribbon,
She wears it in winter and the summer so they say,
If you ask her “Why the decoration?”
She’ll say “It’s fur my lover who is fur, fur away.
“Tie a Yellow Ribbon Round the Old Oak Tree”
The symbol became widely known in civilian life in the 1970s. It was the central theme of the popular song “Tie a Yellow Ribbon Round the Old Oak Tree”, Written by Irwin Levine and L. Russell Brown and recorded by Tony Orlando and Dawn (among many others), as the sign a released convict requested from his wife or lover to indicate that she would welcome him home. He would be able to see it from the bus driving by their house, and would stay on the bus in the absence of the ribbon. He turned out to be very welcome: there were a hundred yellow ribbons.
From the Library of Congress:
In October 1971, newspaper columnist Pete Hamill wrote a piece for the New York Post called “Going Home.” In it, college students on a bus trip to the beaches of Fort Lauderdale make friends with an ex-convict who is watching for a yellow handkerchief on a roadside oak. Hamill claimed to have heard this story in oral tradition.
In June 1972, nine months later, Reader’s Digest reprinted “Going Home.” Also in June 1972, ABC-TV aired a dramatized version of it in which James Earl Jones played the role of the returning ex-con. A month-and-a-half after that, Irwin Levine and L. Russell Brown registered for copyright a song they called “Tie a Yellow Ribbon Round the Old Oak Tree.” The authors said they heard the story while serving in the military. Pete Hamill was not convinced and filed suit for infringement.
One factor that may have influenced Hamill’s decision to do so was that, in May 1973, “Tie A Yellow Ribbon” sold 3 million records in three weeks. When the dust settled, BMI calculated that radio stations had played it 3 million times–that’s seventeen continuous years of airplay. Hamill dropped his suit after folklorists working for Levine and Brown turned up archival versions of the story that had been collected before “Going Home” had been written. 
Display of a Yellow Ribbon is a sign of loyalty to family, friends or loved ones who are welcome home. Customarily it is used to welcome home men and women who have been away for a long time under adverse or particularly difficult circumstances such as war or prison.
It seems it has a become a staple in the military world of those families who have soldiers currently deployed. There are circumstances that our military must and agrees to be subjected to.They handle, control and manage the ways of war on a daily basis. For those of you who are not aware, our youngest daughter Chelsea Anne is one of them. She committed to the Air Force 5 months before her graduation from high school. As a mother I was very torn with her decision to do this. But then again, as a mother I was amazed at her courage and the self assurance she had to know she could commit to our armed forces and do exactly what they expect…”Serve and Protect”. My little, delicate, Princess had donned her ABU’s (that’s what they call camouflage now a days) and has began her journey across the ocean to fight terrorism and better yet, fight for our rights and freedom. How could I NOT be stinkin proud of her. I ask that if you took the time to read this, please pray for her and her fellow Airman. Pray for their safety, continued security and that they return to their families upon completion of their deployment orders.
Our little Chelsea will be there for six months. I wont get to see her beautiful smile or hold her in my arms or smell her clean washed hair, until next spring. That is gonna make for one cold and worrisome fall and winter. I tied those ribbons in honor of her and all her fellow Airman. It is a reminder to me that she is coming home, and I pray a gentle reminder to those who live around us that she is deployed. The funny thing is, that I have spent my whole life singing that song, Tie a Yellow Ribbon. I always thought is was such a catchy little tune, it was easy for a young girl to learn and most anybody can sing it. I never, ever, imagined I would be singing about my daughter.
Rambling aside, how many yellow ribbons do pass on a daily basis? I always saw them, knew what they stood for, and could even admit, that I often had the fleeting thought of how brave is that solider, and how trying it must be on the family inside that house. Well, now it’s a whole different ballgame. The shoes on the other foot and it is a snug uncomfortable fit. It is trying, hard and for the mother of a 19 year old princess, it is sad at times. When I see those ribbons now, I consciously stop and pray. I pray for the solider. I pray for their comrades, and I pray especially hard for that family. I pray for our government (to fix this mess and get them out of there) and I pray for knowledge, and peace, worldwide!
Maybe it gets easier as time goes by. I’m a freshman deployed soldier’s mother and my feelings are hurt, I am scared, and proud, and trying desperately to put on my mommy brave face, just so she doesn’t see it or hear it in my voice. The last thing I want to do is make her worry about me! She has a job to do and I do NOT want to distract her. Please pray for her, and me and all the other soldier’s and their families, will you?