Battle Streamers of the United States Marine Corps: Part 5

We have reached the halfway point of our 10 Part Series on the Battle Streamers of the United States Marine Corps and have also reached the midway point of American military history. In this 5th installment, we move forward in time to cover the United States’ intervention in other parts of the world as the country grew towards becoming a world superpower. With independence won and the country finally at peace, the United States turned their attention to global issues and began to expand their influence worldwide. Follow along below to see the military transition from primarily a homeland security focus to an international force worldwide.

Philippine Campaign

Following the Spanish-American War, the United States took control of the Philippines from Spain, and it quickly erupted into chaos with long standing tensions reaching a breaking point in 1899. Filipino revolutionary forces fought for their freedom beginning on February 4th, and this battle led to the Second Battle of Manila. By June, the “First Philippine Republic” had declared war against the United States. However, within 3 short years and lopsided causalities for the Filipinos mounting, the war was officially over on July 4th, 1902. In a cruel twist of fate, the Filipinos failed to gain their independence on the very same date that the United States had declared theirs. Despite the official end of the war, some Filipino groups continued to fight the United States’ soldiers, primarily in remote areas, until 1913 when all rebellions were halted by the overwhelming American victory at the Battle of Bud Bagsak. The Philippine Campaign streamer is awarded to units that served in the Philippine-American War between 1899 and 1913. 

China Relief Expedition

During the Boxer Rebellion, which lasted in China from 1898-1901, the Chinese government demanded that all foreigners leave the country immediately. When some refused, and violence escalated, the United States military intervened and, from 1900-1901, took part in the rescue effort to save the remaining United States citizens, as well as Europeans and other foreigners. Once the rescue was complete, the tail end of the mission saw the United States military working to suppress the rebellion. By the start of 1902, the rebellion had been controlled, and the United States withdrew their troops, ending the China Relief Expedition. In recognition for their service, the China Relief Expedition streamer was awarded to units of “both the United States Navy and the United States Marines for service in the China Relief Expedition between 1900 and 1901 during the Boxer Rebellion.”

 Cuban Pacification

The Cuban Pacification, also known as the Second Occupation of Cuba, began in September of 1906 when American troops invaded Cuba. After the collapse of Cuba’s Presidential regime, it was deemed necessary by President Theodore Roosevelt to invade Cuba in order to prevent further fighting amongst the Cubans. This helped to protect the United States’ economic interests and re-establish free elections. After many years of occupation and the democratic election of a new president, Cuba was determined to be once again stable, and American troops withdrew from Cuba in 1909. In order to receive the Cuban Pacification streamer, a unit “was required to serve in the United States occupation force, garrisoned on the island of Cuba between the dates of October 6, 1906 and April 1, 1909.” 

Nicaraguan Campaign

In the summer of 1912, a group of armed rebels in Nicaragua fortified an area with heavy railroad traffic and began to interrupt trains and pilfer the goods traveling on the railroad. After repeated requests by the President of Nicaragua to surrender and evacuate the area were defied, the United States Navy, supported by the United States Marine Corps launched an attack on October 4, 1912. The Marines participated in the Attack on Coyotype, the Skirmish at Chichigalpa, and the Capture of Leon. By November of 1912, the United States had completed a resounding victory and pulled out, believing the Nicaraguan government to be capable of maintaining the region previously occupied by rebel forces. The Nicaraguan Campaign streamer was awarded to “U.S. Navy personnel and U.S. Marines who had participated in amphibious actions in Nicaragua between 29 July and 14 November 1912.”

Mexican Service

In 1914, tensions between the United States and Mexico had once again reached a breaking point, and a series of engagements were soon to follow. From 1914-1919, a number of operations against Mexican forces took place, and each merited the award of the Mexican Service streamer. The engagements, in chronological order, are as follows: Veracruz Expedition, Punitive Expedition into Mexico, Buena Vista, San Bernadino Canyon, La Grulla Texas, Pilares, Nogales Arizona, El Paso Texas and Ciudad Juarez. The United States Marines worked in conjunction with the Navy to quell hostile Mexicans and establish peace in the region. The Mexican service streamer was awarded to units that participated in any of the aforementioned campaigns.

Haitian Campaign

From 1911-1915, Haiti began a downward spiral into lawlessness and chaos. In that 4 year period, several assassinations and exiles led to six presidential changes and numerous revolutionary coups causing disorder. Rivals to the political group in power would enlist poverty stricken individuals from regions near the border of the Dominican Republic to upstage the current party with the promise of riches if they succeeded. This happened many times and finally the United States decided to step in to protect American interests in the region and avoid foreign powers, specifically Germany, from attaining a stronghold in the region so close to the American border. Marines landed in Haiti on July 28, 1915 and began the process of stabilizing the crumbling political situation in which Haiti was experiencing. With German backing, the rebels initially resisted American control of Haiti. However, with Germany fully engulfed in World War I, the rebellions were quickly quelled, and the United States was able to complete a total overhaul of Haiti. The overhaul saw the United States recompose the Haitian Constitution, establish a National Guard, and revamp the infrastructure to include roads, bridges, irrigation canals, hospitals and schools. The Haitian Campaign streamer was awarded to units of “both the Navy and Marine Corps who had participated in Haitian peacekeeping actions between the years of 1915 and 1920.”

Stay tuned next week as we continue our journey towards present day by covering the: Dominican Campaign, World War I Victory, Army Occupation of Germany, Second Nicaraguan Campaign, Yangtze Service and China Service streamers. Also be sure to check out the previous editions of our 10 Part Series on the Battle Streamers of the United States Marine Corps below!

PART 1  PART 2  PART 3  PART 4

Battle Streamers of the United States Marine Corps: Part 3

In the third installation of our 10 Part Series on the Battle Streamers of the Marine Corps, we begin to look at the early periods of American history and the Marine Corps’ involvement in each campaign. You may wonder how a modern unit may be awarded a streamer for a campaign that happened hundreds of years ago, so it is important to note that each unit is awarded a streamer based on historical involvement and not just modern campaigns. Once again it is also important to note that some of the streamers are Navy or Army specific, however, if a Marine Corps unit operated as part of the Navy or Army unit that is awarded the streamer, they too receive the streamer in recognition of their efforts. 

Meritorious Unit Commendation (Army)

Meritorious Unit Commendation (Army)

Holding the same value as the Legion of Merit individual award, the Meritorious Unit Commendation is awarded to units for “exceptionally meritorious conduct in the performance of outstanding services for at least six continuous months during the period of military operations against an armed enemy occurring on or after 1 January 1944.” While the service does not necessarily have to be in a combat zone, the unit’s service must be directly related to the combat effort to receive the award. Furthermore, the unit must “display such outstanding devotion and superior performance of exceptionally difficult tasks as to set it apart and above other units with similar missions.” In 1961, the Army authorized the Meritorious Unit Commendation to be awarded to detachments serving under the Army to receive the award, opening it up to the US Marine Corps and other branches of the service. 

Revolutionary War Streamer

Revolutionary War

Formed at Tun Tavern in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and authorized by a resolution of the Continental Congress on November 10, 1775, the United States Marine Corps traces its roots to the Continental Marines of the Revolutionary War. These Marines were the first to carry out overseas campaigns. The first campaign was the raid on New Providence in the Bahamas in 1776. The Trenton and Princeton Campaigns under George Washington’s direction came next in December of 1776 and January of 1777 respectively. The Marines also took part in many sea battles throughout the war including John Paul Jones’ descent on Whitehaven, England in 1778. The Marines, being a department of the Navy, operated in marine settings early on, including serving on the Mississippi river during the Revolution.

 Quasi-War with France Streamer

Quasi-War with France

In 1794, Congress established a Navy to protect American commerce as its expanding shipping lanes came under fire by privateers of Revolutionary France. Once an ally, France became an enemy of the United States during their own Revolution. This led to an undeclared war that was fought entirely at sea, mainly in the Mediterranean and West Indian Waters from 1798-1801. The warship Constellation won two victories over the French during this period, and early Marines assisted in the operations under the command of Captain Thomas Truxtun, who was known for his high standards and crew demands. The battles came to an end when France agreed to a peace treaty, having been thoroughly defeated by the US and British ships who worked together.  

Barbary Wars Streamer

Barbary Wars

In 1801 the United States deployed Navy ships to the Mediterranean to patrol the African coast, form blockades, attack pirate fortresses on the shore and work to prevent the overall success of Barbary piracy. The United States had become fed up with the Barbary States of North Africa (what are now Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia and Libya) plundering commerce ships for centuries via piracy. By 1805, the United States gradually pulled out their naval presence and would soon be immersed in the War of 1812. During this period, Barbary Coast piracy began to increase so in 1815 the United States once again sent Navy ships to patrol the waters. After periods of unwavering force, the rulers in Barbary succumbed to US power and came to a diplomatic agreement to stop the piracy. Marines were a constant presence on the Navy ships and were vital in battles such as the destruction of the pirate captured ship Philadelphia and the ship Intrepid’s quest to destroy enemy ships in the Tripoli Harbor. 

War of 1812 Streamer

War of 1812

The Marines played a vital role in all of the Navy’s engagements during the War of 1812. Marines fought in the Battle of Lake Erie and were instrumental in the ship Constitution’s victory over the British ship Guerriere. Aside from assisting the Navy, the Marines also fought extensively on land, engaging in the attack on Fort George, the Defense of Sackett’s Harbor and the capture of Toronto, among other battles.  

African Slave Trade Streamer

African Slave Trade

In 1819, Congress declared that the African Slave Trade was piracy and, therefore, punishable by death. With the new piracy classification, it fell upon the US Navy to patrol the waters of West Africa where the slaves were captured.  Additionally, US Marines operated in South America and Cuba, the primary disembarkation point of slaves. The primary goal was to locate, capture and prosecute people dealing in human trade. The initiative lasted for over 40 years, and the Marines were instrumental in assisting the Navy in their capture of over 100 slave traders.

Stay tuned as we continue our series next week, moving forward in American history to cover the Operations Against West Indian Pirates, Indian Wars, Mexican War, Civil War, Marine Corps Expeditionary, and Spanish Campaign streamers.

View our previous editions in the series:

Part 1

Part 2

Battle Streamers of the United States Marine Corps: Part 2

In the next nine editions of our 10 Part Series on the Battle Streamers of the Marine Corps, we will cover six streamers per week to outline all 54 streamers of the United States Marine Corps. Before outlining each, it is important to note that some of the streamers are for the Navy or Army; however they can be awarded to a Marine Corps unit if they operated as part of the Army or Navy unit receiving the streamer.

Presidential Unit Citation (Navy)

Presidential Unit Citation (Navy)

The Presidential Unit Citation is the highest honor a unit can receive and is awarded to units that “display such gallantry, determination, and espirit de corps in accomplishing its mission under extremely difficult and hazardous conditions so as to set it apart from and above other units participating in the same campaign”. Originally called the Distinguished Unit Citation, the Presidential Unit Citation has been awarded to units for extraordinary heroism dating back to December 7th 1941, which marks the start of the United States’ involvement in WWII.

Presidential Unit Citation (Army)

Presidential Unit Citation (Army)

Much like the Navy’s version of the award, the Army’s Presidential Unit Citation is the highest honor a unit can receive. The criteria for award is exactly the same in that it is awarded to units that “display such gallantry, determination, and espirit de corps in accomplishing its mission under extremely difficult and hazardous conditions so as to set it apart from and above other units participating in the same campaign”. The Army has also been awarding the streamer dating back to the dawn of the US involvement in WWII, beginning with the attack on Pearl Harbor.

Joint Meritorious Unit Award

Joint Meritorious Unit Award

The Joint Meritorious Unit Award is the only streamer awarded by the Department of Defense. Established in 1981 by the Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger, the Joint Meritorious Unit Award is given to “joint units or activities where the joint activity must either report through Unified, Combined, or Specified Command channels or pursue a joint mission under the cognizance of the Secretary of Defense; the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff; the commander of a Unified, Specified or Combined Command that is also a joint command; or the Secretary of a military department that has been designated the Executive Agent for the Secretary of Defense”. The award has been granted retroactively dating back to 1979 and is considered to be a high honor, representing the equivalent of the Defense Superior Service Medal.

Navy Unit Commendation

Navy Unit Commendation

The Navy Unit Commendation, established by Secretary of the Navy James Forrestal in 1944, is the unit equivalent of the Silver Star Medal for individuals. The streamer is awarded by the Navy Secretary to “any ship; aircraft wing, group, squadron, detachment or crew; or other unit of the United States Navy or Marine Corps which has since 6 December 1941 distinguished itself in action against the enemy with outstanding heroism but not sufficient to justify award of the U.S. Presidential Unit Citation”. Furthermore, the streamer can be awarded for combat service that went above and beyond other units performing a similar duty.

Valorous Unit Award (Army)

Valorous Unit Award (Army)

The Valorous Unit Award is an Army streamer that can be presented to a Marine Corps unit if they served alongside an Army unit and demonstrated equal courage in battle. Representing the second highest award a unit can receive, the Valorous Unit Award is equivalent to the individual achievement, the Silver Star. The award is presented to a unit for “extraordinary heroism in action against an armed enemy of the United States while engaged in military operations involving conflict with an opposing foreign force or while serving with friendly foreign forces engaged in an armed conflict against an opposing armed force in which the United States is not a belligerent part for actions occurring on or after 3 August 1963”. Despite the high honor, the streamer is awarded for lesser degrees of “gallantry, determination, and espirit de corps” than the recipients of the Presidential Unit Citation.

Meritorious Unit Commendation (Navy/Marine Corps)

Meritorious Unit Commendation (Navy/Marine Corps)

A mid-level award issued in the name of the Secretary of the Navy, the Meritorious Unit Commendation is given to “any military command which displays exceptionally meritorious conduct in the performance of outstanding service, heroic deeds, or valorous actions”. Units in the Navy, Marine Corps or Coast Guard are eligible to receive the award when operating with the United States Navy.

Stay tuned for our next installation, which covers the Meritorious Unit Commendation (Army), Revolutionary War, Quasi-War with France, Barbary Wars, War of 1812 and African Slave Trade streamers. We will be posting a set of six streamers each week and you won’t want to miss it!

The Marines Have Landed: A 10 Part Series on the Battle Streamers of the Marine Corps

The Marines Have Landed: A 10 Part Series on the Battle Streamers of the Marine Corps

Battle Streamers of the United States Marine Corps

Dating back to the American Revolution, the United States Marine Corps has used the practice of awarding battle streamers to units that participated in certain campaigns. There are a total of 54 authorized battle streamers for the United States Marine Corps and each unit may have a different set depending on their historical campaign deployments. In this 10 part series, we will cover each and every battle streamer and include a synopsis of what took place during each campaign.

Before delving into each individual streamer, it is important to cover the history of battle streamers and the flag to which they are attached, as well as how to they got to the present practice of attaching them to the flag staff. The trend follows a general progression from standardization to differentiation among units.

STANDARDIZATION

Due to conflicting information and unreliable documentation during the early periods of the Marine Corps, very little is certain about the early flags; however it is generally agreed upon among historians that the first flag was the Grand Union Flag, carried by the battalion commanded by Captain Samuel Nicholas in 1776. Although most believe that the first flag was the Grand Union Flag, some admit that it is possible that the Rattlesnake (Gadsen) flag was also carried during this time.

Grand Union Flag & The Rattlesnake Flag

Pictured to the left is the Grand Union Flag, and to the right, the Rattlesnake Flag. One or both were the first flags carried by the United States Marine Corps in 1776.

As time passed and the quest for uniformity was developing, the United States Marine Corps adopted a white flag with gold fringe and an anchor and eagle design in the middle during the 1830’s-40’s. Before the Mexican War, “To the Shores of Tripoli” was emblazoned across the top, however after the war; the phrase was changed to “From Tripoli to the Halls of the Montezumas”. Although the Marine Corps developed an official flag, the troops in the field still carried a flag similar to the United States flag. Historians agree that the flag used in the field was red and white striped with a union in the upper left, however the union had an eagle perched on a shield with half a wreath below. 29 stars encircled the entire design to complete the field use flag.

In an effort to combine the two designs and have one official flag for the Marine Corps, in 1876 the Marines began to use the United States flag, however “U.S. Marine Corps” was written in yellow on the center red stripe. This design lasted less than 40 years and in 1914 the Marine Corps adopted a new flag, this time blue with a laurel wreath encircling the Marine Corps emblem. Two scarlet ribbons, one above and one below read “U.S. Marine Corps” and “Semper Fidelis” respectively. A yellow fringe surrounded the entire flag. Due to a lack of modern technology or photography during this time, very few pictures exist; however modern estimations of what they looked like do exist as you can see below.

USMC 1914 Flag

Pictured above are estimations of what the Marine Corps flag looked like circa 1914.

Between 1921 and 1922, all flags were ordered to remove the yellow exterior fringes as well as any “U.S. Marine Corps” wording on the flag. In April of 1925, gold and scarlet were designated as the official colors of the United States Marine Corps; however it was not until 1939 that the official flag was changed to represent these color choices. The new flag design for 1939 is still in use today has remained essentially unchanged since. The current design is shown below.

Official United States Marine Corps Flag

Pictured above is the official United States Marine Corps flag. It has remained unchanged since 1939.

DIFFERENTIATION

After World War I, the Marine Corps began to differentiate among units and adopted the Army’s practice of attaching band decorations recognizing certain battles that each unit served in to the official flag. These band decorations would later be known as the Battle Streamers of the Marine Corps. Realizing that there were numerous streamers for each unit and limited space to attach them, in 1939 the Marine Corps made the decision to attach the streamers to the top of the flag staff where they still reside today.

United State Marine Corps Battle Streamers On Staff

Pictured above are the battle streamers attached in their current position at the top of the staff.

With standardization fully established, the battle streamers represented a way to differentiate between the units within the Marine Corps. There are a total of 54 battle streamers and 50 of them are authorized for the Marine Corps as a whole. Depending on the campaigns that each unit participated in, each unit has a unique set of battle streamers. Battle streamers have been issued since the American Revolution so it is important to note that the streamers do not represent solely current campaigns, but instead historical campaigns as well. In our next nine installations, we will look at each streamer and discuss in depth each campaign. Stay tuned Patriots!