The Marines Have Landed: A 10 Part Series on the Battle Streamers of the 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.
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.
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.
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.
Pictured above is the official United States Marine Corps flag. It has remained unchanged since 1939.
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.
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!
Tyler has over ten years of experience in the military and tactical industry. The son of company founder Steve Berg, Tyler grew up assisting with the business and absorbing everything about the industry. Having recently graduated from college with a degree in Business and Communications, Tyler has joined our team full time. Follow Tyler as he shares fresh perspectives on everything from military history to cutting edge tactical gear.