Flag Facts Friday

History of the Marine Corps Flag


History of the Marine Corps

Continental Congress passed a resolution on Nov. 10, 1775, calling for “two battalions of Marines”. Early Marines served on land and sea, fighting at home and abroad. They raided the Bahamas in 1776, under the command of Capt. Samuel Nicholas. When the Revolutionary War ended in 1783, all the Navy ships were sold, and the Continental Marines and Navy separated. Five years later the branches were re-established. The Marine Corps has been in the fore front of every American war since its creation, serving around the world. The motto "First to fight," is commonly associated with Marines.

  • The Marine Corps fought in battles with France, landing in Santo Domingo and fighting with the Barbary pirates at Tripoli. The Marines’ Hymn and a later Marine flag would reference the Marines’ service on the “Shores of Tripoli.”
  • Marines fought alongside Andrew Jackson in the defeat of the British in the War of 1812.
  • During the Mexican American War, a battalion of Marines marched and fought through to Mexico City with General Winfield Scott’s army. After this battle the “Halls of Montezuma” was added to The Marines’ Hymn and to a Marine flag.
  • More than 100,000 Marines were killed or wounded in France in World War I.
  • Nearly 87,000 Marines were killed or wounded during World War II. Eighty-two earned the Medal of Honor.
  • During the Korean War, Marines numbered at 192,000 in 1951, and grew to nearly 250,000 two years later.
  • More than 13,000 Marines were killed in the Vietnam War, and 88,000 were wounded.
  • Marines evacuated American citizens and foreign nationals during unrest in Cyprus in 1974.
  • Between 1990 and 1991, more than 92,000 Marines (the largest movement of Marines since WWII) were deployed to the Persian Golf as part of Operation Desert Shield.
  • In 1994 Marines evacuated 142 American citizens from Rwanda, since the country was in civil unrest.
  • More than 9,200 Marines were killed or wounded in Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom as of July 7, 2007.
  • Marine Corps Flag

    Little information is available on the flags carried by early U.S. Marines. Initially Marines may have carried the Continental Colors, also known as the Grand Union Flag. In 1776 it was considered the official flag of the American naval forces by the Maritime Committee of the Continental Congress. Although not officially recognized, this flag is considered to be the first American flag, influencing the design of the 13-star Betsy Ross flag. In the 1830s and 1840s, Marines carried a white flag with gold fringe. It contained a depiction of an anchor and an eagle and the words "To the Shores of Tripoli." After the Mexican-American War, "To the Shores of Tripoli" was expanded to "From the Halls of Montezuma to the Shores of Tripoli." In battles during the Mexican-American War and Civil War, field Marines carried a flag with alternating red and white stripes. An eagle perching on a shield of the United States was superimposed in the canton. A half-wreath was positioned below the shield, and 29 stars encircled the entire design. By 1876 Marines were carrying a version of the American flag, which included the words "U.S. Marine Corps" embroidered in yellow thread through a red stripe in the middle of the field. In 1921 orders issued stopped the manufacture of American flags with the words "United States Marine Corps" or with yellow fringe. The next year all American flags with yellow fringe or wording on them were retired. Since the 1940s the United States Flag Code has prohibited the addition of words, symbols or marks of any kind on the American Flag. In 1914 a blue flag was carried by Marines. The flag featured the Marine Corps emblem (eagle, globe and anchor) encircled by a laurel wreath. A scarlet ribbon above the emblem carries the title "U.S. Marine Corps," and a second scarlet ribbon beneath the emblem included the Marine Corps motto, "Semper Fidelis" (Latin for "Always Faithful"). Four years later scarlet and gold were officially designated as the colors of the U.S. Marine Corps. A flag incorporating the new colors was not adopted until 1939. This flag, which is essentially the same design as our current U.S. Marine flag, includes a scarlet field and gold fringe. The Marine Corps emblem is in the center of the flag with a small banner held in the eagle’s beak that says "Semper Fidelis." A larger banner below the emblem says "United States Marine Corps." A flag similar to the 1914 flag was used by the United States Marine Corps 4th Regiment. This flag, deemed "Old Blue," contained the Marine Corps emblem in the center of the blue field. A scarlet ribbon above the emblems reads "Fourth Regiment," and a scarlet ribbon below the emblem reads "U.S. Marine Corps." As the regiment’s colors were changed to scarlet and gold, Marines were ordered to burn the old flag. One Marine was unable to do so and hid a flag in his sea bag. He died in the line of duty in China, but the flag survived for many years, eventually making its way to the Command Museum, Marine Corps Recruit Depot, San Diego, California in 1991. There it was fully restored. It's the only known flag of its kind to have survived. Marine Corps Emblem

    The Marines’ Hymn states that Marines “fight our country’s battles in air, on land and sea…” The Marine Corps emblem contains a spread eagle, a globe showing the Western Hemisphere, and a fouled anchor, depicting battle in air, on land and sea. This design is rooted in early Marine history. The fouled anchor and eagle trace back to ornaments of the early Continental Marines, and the globe traces back to a symbol of the British Royal Marines. Originally a crested eagle, which is found around the world, was used in the emblem. The eagle and globe signify service all over the world. The first official Marine Corps emblem was approved in 1868. It also included a small ribbon held in the eagle’s beak with the Marine motto "Semper Fidelis." This ribbon is omitted from uniform ornaments depicting the emblem. In 1954, President Eisenhower approved the design for the official seal of the United States Marine Corps. The seal depicted the original emblem but with an American Bald Eagle instead of the crested eagle. A year later the emblem contained in the Marine Corps seal became the official Marine Corps emblem, replacing the very similar 1868 version. The American Bald Eagle is specific to North America, adding a more patriotic meaning to the emblem. This emblem is the one currently shown the Marine Corps Flag.