Flags of the U.S. Marine Corps
The first organizational color known to have been used by the Marine Corps was white with an elaborate painted design depicting an eagle flying with an anchor in its talons, surrounded by an ornate gold framework and bearing the motto, "To the shores of Tripoli." Marines in the Mexican and Civil Wars carried battle flags similar to the national ensign, but with the blue union containing an eagle perched atop the national shield within a ring of stars, and with additional stars in an arc above the ring, the total equalling the number of states in the Union. In 1881, the Corps adopted a color of blue silk, 72 by 78 inches, with the eagle, globe, and anchor embroidered in gold and silver thread, surrounded by a wreath of green oak leaves.
The current design, scarlet with the corps badge in gray and yellow, was adopted in 1939, although Marine Corps Order 4 had established scarlet and gold and the official colors of the Corps as early as 1925. The battle color measures 52 by 66 inches and is trimmed on three sides with 2 1/2 inch golden yellow fringe. The official battle standard of the Corps is maintained by Marine Barracks, Washington, DC, and carried on parade by the color sergeant of the Marine Corps. In addition to the battle streamers affixed to the top of the 9 ft 6 in staff, the staff itself is covered with sterling silver bands engraved with the names of actions in which the Corps has been engaged. The staff is topped with a chrome-plated spearhead finial.
The use of flags in the Marine Corps is governed by Navy Regulations and MCO 10520.3, the United States Marine Corps Flag Manual.
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The organizational battle standard is carried by units of the operating forces and other designated formations. It measures 52 by 66 inches, is made of rayon banner cloth with the Marine Corps badge embroidered on the center, and carries the unit designation on a white scroll. The flag is trimmed on three sides with golden-yellow fringe. The staff is topped by a chrome-plated spearhead and has fastened to it the battle streamers to which the unit is entitled. In garrison, the national and organizational standards are kept by the commanding officer when they are not in use, normally uncased and displayed in his or her office. Colors or standards are never allowed to touch the "deck," i.e., the floor or ground.
Other Marine Corps units are entitled to an organizational standard without the unit designation. Instead, they carry a flag identical to the battle standard of the Corps, with "United States Marine Corps" on the scroll, but with a scarlet and gold cord and tassels attached to the staff instead of battle streamers.
The guidon is the identifying flag of a company or similar size unit, such as an artillery battery or aviation squadron. Marine Corps guidons are rectangular scarlet flags made of wool bunting or similar material, measuring 22 by 28 inches with the Corps badge in silhouette in the center in yellow and the unit designation in block letters in the lower corners. The letters "USMC" appear in an arc above the badge. The guidon is mounted on an eight-foot staff topped with a chrome-plated spearhead. The basic design was adopted by a set of specifications issued on January 25, 1939; up to 2003, units of the Fleet Marine Force used the letters "FMF" above the badge instead of "USMC." Guidons are carried on all occasions of ceremony when a company or equivalent unit is represented by two or more platoons. In garrison, they may be displayed outside the company headquarters between the hours of morning and evening colors except in inclement weather or when the company is using the guidon in formation.
In addition to the unit guidon carried on parade, each company or equivalent unit is issued a "dress guidon" measuring 18 by 19 inches and trimmed with golden-yellow fringe. This scarlet flag with the initials USMC in yellow block letters is used during ceremonies to mark the line of troops, turning points, the saluting base while passing in review, and the like.
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Marine Corps general officers display personal distinguishing flags measuring 36 by 52 inches. These flags, which are made of rayon banner cloth and trimmed with golden yellow fringe, are used for indoor display and carried on staffs on ceremonial occasions. There are also equivalent flags without fringe flown on halyards to indicate the location of a general's headquarters (58 by 72 1/2 inches) and to be "broken" at the top of a pole during parades and when rendering honors (45 by 63 1/2 inches). In addition, there are 12 by 15 inch versions for display on automobiles. Use of these flags is governed by Navy Regulations and the Marine Corps Flag Manual (MCO 10520.3).
The Commandant of the Marine Corps has the only personal flag among the chiefs of the five armed forces that is not divided diagonally into two colors. The basic design of this flag dates back into at least the 1920s, when the Commandant, then the only major general in the Corps, flew a scarlet flag with the eagle, globe, and anchor badge in yellow above two white stars. As the grade of the Commandant was increased in World War II, stars were added to this basic design until that used today was attained.
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