U.S. Marines—Flag and Seal, Song, and Motto

Ross Dunfee

Flag and Seal: Marines used the Grand Union flag, and possibly the Gadsden flag (yellow flag with a “Don’t Tread on Me” rattlesnake), during the assault on New Providence Island, The Bahamas, March 3, 1776. During the 1830s and 1840s, the flag consisted of a gold fringed white field centered with an eagle and anchor with “To the Shores of Tripoli” emblazoned across the top. During the Mexican and Civil Wars, the Marines carried a flag similar to the national flag with red and white stripes and a blue union. The union contained an eagle perched on a shield in front of a wreath encircled by 29 stars.

From 1876 to approximately 1914, the Marines carried a U.S. national flag with “U.S. Marines” emblazoned in yellow on the middle (red) stripe. In 1914, the Marine Corps emblem was placed on the blue field and the eagle held a banner in its beak reading “Semper Fidelis.” The official Marine Corps flag, adopted Jan. 18, 1939, has a scarlet field centered with a gold and gray seal (an eagle perched on the world over a fouled anchor) with a “United States Marine Corps” banner at the base.

Song: The source of the lyrics and tune for “The Marines Hymn” has a rich history. The tune was taken from a French opera, Geneviève de Brabant, which debuted in Paris in 1859. Upon hearing the aria sung in Paris, Colonel Albert McLemore and Walter F. Smith, assistant director of the Marine Corps Band during John Phillip Souza’s directorship, adopted the musical score for the Marine Corps song.

While the author is unknown, legend has it that a Marine on duty in Mexico penned the lyrics. The first line, “From the Halls of Montezuma,” refers to the Battle of Chapultepec in Mexico City, Sept. 12 to 13, 1847.  In the second line, reference is made to the 1805 Battle of Derne, Tripoli (now Libya) where Marines were the first to hoist the stars and stripes over territory in the old world. The fourth line, “In the air, on land, and sea,” (the word “air” having been added in 1942) emphasizes the Marines’ mission and readiness to fight with infantry by land, amphibious assault from the sea, and with supporting helicopter, tilt rotor, and fixed wing aviation assets from above.

From the Halls of Montezuma

To the shores of Tripoli;

We fight our country’s battles

In the air, on land, and sea;

First to fight for right and freedom

And to keep our honor clean.

We are proud to claim the title

Of United States Marine.

There are additional verses not printed here. Get a Marine to sing them to you.

Motto: Traditionally “Fortitudine” (with fortitude or with courage) was in use as the Marine Corps Motto during the War of 1812 to 1843. After that “By Sea and by Land” and “To the Shores of Tripoli,” were used until 1883 when “Semper Fidelis” (“Semper Fi”) meaning Always Faithful, was officially adopted by the Marines.

Support Our Troops–Arizona proudly honors U.S. Marines and members of all branches of military service by placing U.S. flags along the principal roadways in Robson Ranch on various holidays throughout the year. Contact Stephen Reeves, president, at 425-330-1181 or [email protected] or visit www.supportourtroopsaz.org to learn more about how Support Our Troops–Arizona honors and serves our veterans.