Five branches of the United States Armed Forces are represented by several different symbols, but one of the most well-known is the flag that flies on their bases, at special events and on various ships. The Armed Services flag is flown third on a flagpole it shares with the United States and state flag. There is also an order of precedence when Armed Forces flags are displayed together, with the Army first, the Marine Corps second, the Navy third, the Air Force forth and the Coast Guard last. However, when the Coast Guard is operating as part of the Navy during wartime, the Coast Guard flag precedes the Air Force flag.
United States Army Flag
Established by executive order and unfurled for the first time by Vice-President Richard M. Nixon on June 14, 1956, the flag representing the United States Army has a white background with yellow fringe. In the center, a blue replica of the original War Office seal, which is now the seal of the Army, along with a banner emblazoned with “United States Army.” The year 1775, which is the year the US Army was formed, appears below the banner.
United States Marine Corps
The Marine Corps flag was adopted on January 18, 1939, displaying the established gold and scarlet colors of the Marine Corps. Regulations established by the Marine Corps state that the gold on the flag must be as close as possible to the dress chevrons for enlisted personnel. The flag displays the Marine Corps insignia, which includes a spread eagle, globe and fouled anchor, as well as a flowing banner with the words “Semper Fidelis” in the beak of the eagle.
United States Navy
The flag representing the United States Navy was adopted in 1959, and was known as the Infantry Battallion flag for more than 60 years until its adoption by presidential order. The flag is blue with yellow fringe, and the Department of the Navy Seal appears in the center. The United States Navy flag, unlike the US flag, commission pennant, union jack and admiral’s broad pennant, do not fly from gaff, mast or staff on board Navy vessels. The flag is used for display purposes and is only carried by honor guard or for ceremonial events.
United States Air Force
The flag representing the US Air Force includes a coat of arms, 13 white stars and the seal of the Air Force on a blue background. The stars represent the original colonies, and the three stars grouped at the top represent the three main branches of the military – Army, Navy and Air Force. The crest has a bald eagle in a cloud formation that represents the creation of a new “firmament.”
United States Coast Guard
The history of the United States Coast Guard flag is not well-known. In an 1840 painting, the Revenue cutter Alexander Hamilton displays an early flag that is similar to the one used by the military branch today. In 1917, another illustration shows a white flag with a blue eagle and 13 stars surrounding it in a semi-circle. At some point in history, the words “United States Coast Guard – Semper Paratus” were added. The semi-circle stars were changed to a circle with 13 stars in 1950.
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