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by Tom Gregg, 4 June 1997
by Tom Gregg, 14 November 1998
Flags and Colors of the U.S. Army
The National Flag and National Color
The U.S. National Flag, when flown outdoors over U.S. Army installations, corresponds to the state and war flags employed by other nations. By regulation, no other flag of any kind may be flown over Army installations in the continental United States. The national flag of the host nation may be flown with the U.S. National Flag over Army installations in other countries.
The National Flag with yellow fringe added is termed the *National Color*, and it is always displayed in the honor position (viewer's left) with other Army flags or colors. When displayed with another flag or color which has cord and tassels (e.g. the Positional Color of
the President of the United States), the National Color bears cord and tassels of red, white and blue.
The Army Flag
This flag is displayed indoors or carried on parade. It is white with yellow fringe, 4' 4" at the hoist by 5' 6" at the fly, with the insignia of the Army (a trophy of armor, weapons and flags adapted from the seal of the Department of the Army) applied in ultramarine blue. The Army motto, "THIS WE'LL DEFEND," appears above the insignia. Below it is a red scroll inscribed with "UNITED STATES ARMY" in white lettering. The year of the Army's official birth,
1775, appears in blue numerals beneath the scroll.
The Army Flag is always displayed or carried with the National Color and with a full set of U.S. Army campaign streamers attached. These streamers commemorate every officially recognized campaign in which the Army has participated from 1775 to date. Campaign streamers for the Army Flag are 2 3/4" at the hoist by 4' at the fly and are made in the colors of the appropriate campaign medal (e.g. the green, yellow and red of the Vietnam Service Medal) with the name of the specific campaign (e.g. "TET COUNTEROFFENSIVE") embroidered in white, yellow, dark blue or scarlet. There are well over a hundred campaign streamers currently authorized; most recently, three were added for the Persian Gulf War.
The Army Field Flag
by Tom Gregg, 9 March 1998
The high cost of the Army Flag (due to the fact that it must be issued with the full set of embroidered campaign streamers) led to the development of the Army Field Flag. It is identical in design to the Army Flag except that the main colors are reversed (ultramarine blue field, white insignia, yellow fringe) and no campaign streamers are authorized. Dimensions are 3' at the hoist by 4' at the fly. Like the Army Flag, this flag is intended to be displayed indoors or carried on parade.
Organizational Flags and Colors
Army organizations and units of battalion size or larger, including groups, brigades, divisions, corps, field armies, commands and agencies, are authorized either an *Organizational Color* or an *Organizational Flag*.
*Separate TO&E (Table of Organization and Equipment) battalions, TO&E battalions affiliated with numbered regiments and TO&E regiments* are termed "color-bearing units" and are authorized an Organizational Color. Its base color is always the first named color of the applicable branch of service, e.g. red for field artillery. Centered on the color is the eagle of the Coat of Arms of the United States in proper colors, but with the usual red, white and blue shield replaced by the shield of the regimental coat of arms. The eagle's beak grasps a scroll inscribed with the regimental motto. The crest of the regimental coat of arms appears above the eagle's head, and the regimental designation is inscribed on a scroll below the eagle. In cases where the battalion is affiliated with a numbered regiment, the battalion number appears in the upper fly. Regiments with numbered battalions have duplicate Organizational Colors: one for the regiment (with no battalion numbers in the upper fly) and one for each battalion (with the battalion number in the upper fly).
Organizational Colors are fringed with the second named color of the applicable branch of service, e.g. dark blue with scarlet fringe for the Adjutant General's Corps, and they are always displayed with war service, campaign and unit citation streamers, if authorized. War service streamers are awarded to units which served during wartime in theaters for which a campaign medal was authorized but received no credit for particular campaigns; they are in the colors of the ribbon of the applicable campaign medal, without inscription. Unit citation streamers are in the color of the award, e.g. blue for the Presidential Unit Citation, with an appropriate inscription, e.g. "Bastonge" in a designated color, e.g. white for the Presidential Unit Citation. The colors of battalions affiliated with numbered regiments carry all streamers authorized for the regiment, with those awarded specifically to the battalion distinguished by an embroidered laurel wreath, called the Earned Honor Device, applied to the free end of the streamer. Streamer dimensions for Organizational Colors are 2 3/4" at the hoist by 3' at the fly.
The U.S. Corps of Cadets (West Point) bears a color of unique design. It is gray with the coat of arms of the Corps centered on the color above a scroll inscribed "U.S. CORPS OF CADETS." The coat of arms consists of a U.S. shield bearing the helmet of Pallus over a Greek sword; above the shield is an eagle with scroll inscribed "DUTY, HONOR, COUNTRY, WEST POINT MDCCII, U.S.M.A," all in proper colors. The fringe, cord and tassels are gray, black and yellow.
Dimensions of organizational colors are 4' 4" at the hoist by 5' 6" at the fly for the U.S. Corps of Cadets and the 1st Battalion, 3rd Infantry Regiment (The Old Guard), and 3' at the hoist by 4' at the fly for all other units.
Organizational Colors are always displayed or carried with the National Color. This two-color system derives from the British practice of providing a Queen's Colour and a Regimental Colour to each regiment.
Units of battalion size or larger that are not color-bearing units are authorized Organizational Flags as follows:
Flags of *separate TO&E brigades* are vertical bicolors with the first-named color of the applicable branch at the hoist and the second-named branch color at the fly, e.g. red at the hoist, yellow at the fly for field artillery, and the brigade's authorized shoulder sleeve insignia, in proper colors, centered on the flag. The fringe is yellow.
Flags of *brigades organic to divisions* are vertical bicolors with red at the hoist and yellow (armor and cavalry) or dark blue (airborne, infantry, training) at the fly, with the shoulder sleeve insignia of the division, in proper colors, above the brigade's numerical designation, both centered. Aviation brigades of divisions use the letters "AVN" instead of a numeral. Letters and numerals are yellow for brigades of cavalry and armored divisions, and white for other divisions. The fringe is yellow.
Flags of *divisions*are horizontal bicolors, red over yellow (armored and cavalry divisions) or dark blue (airborne, infantry and training divisions). The division's shoulder sleeve insignia, in proper colors, is centered on the flag. Flags of *division artillery headquarters* are red, divided by a horizontal yellow stripe 10" wide. The division's shoulder sleeve insignia, in proper colors, is centered on the flag. The fringe for both these flags is yellow.
Flags of *corps* are horizontal bicolors, blue over white. The corps' shoulder sleeve insignia, in proper colors, is centered on the flag. Flags of *corps artillery headquarters* are red, divided by two horizontal yellow stripes, each 5" wide, 5" apart. The corps' shoulder sleeve insignia, in proper colors, is centered on the flag. The fringe for both these flags is yellow.
Flags of *numbered field armies* are horizontal bicolors, white over red. The army's shoulder sleeve insignia, in proper colors, is centered on the flag. The fringe is yellow.
Flags of *major army commands* are dark blue. The Coat of Arms of the United States, in proper colors, is centered on the flag. Above it is the command's shoulder sleeve insignia, in proper colors, and below it is a scroll inscribed with the command's designation,(e.g. "U.S. ARMY FORCES COMMAND." The fringe is yellow.
Other units and organizations have flags of specifically authorized design and colors, usually displaying their shoulder sleeve insignia in full color. Organizational Flags bear war service, campaign and unit citation streamers, if authorized. The streamers have the same dimensions as those used with Organizational Colors.
Dimensions for Organizational Flags are 4' 4" at the hoist by 5' 6" at the fly for major army commands and 3' at the hoist by 4' at the fly for all other organizations. They are always fringed and always displayed or carried with the National Color.
Companies organic to battalions; separate TO&E companies, platoons and detachments; and headquarters companies of brigades, divisions, corps, commands and other organizations are authorized guidons. Guidons are swallow-tailed flags in branch-of-service colors, 20" at the hoist by 27" at the fly with the swallow-tail end forked 10". They are usually carried or displayed on their own.
Companies (batteries and troops in the field artillery and cavalry respectively) organic to battalions (squadrons in the cavalry) have guidons displaying the branch-of-service insignia, the company letter, and the battalion and regimental number. The base color of the guidon is the first named color of the applicable branch, e.g. blue for infantry, with the letters, numerals and insignia applied in the second named color of the branch, e.g. white for infantry.
Separate TO&E companies, platoons and detachments have guidons of a similar design but with their numerical designation under the branch insignia, e.g. the guidon of the 199th Quartermaster Company is buff with the insignia of the Quartermaster Corps and the numerals "199" in ultramarine blue, these being the named colors of the branch. Headquarters
companies of other organizations have guidons of a design similar to that of the applicable Organizational Flag, e.g. the guidon of Headquarters Company, 428th Field Artillery Brigade is vertically divided, red and yellow, with the brigade's shoulder sleeve insignia centered.
Army garrisons, centers, schools, depots and miscellaneous organizations are all authorized guidons of distinctive design and colors. Organizations not oriented to a specific branch, e.g. the 6035th Garrison Support Unit, have a teal blue guidon with "branch immaterial" insignia (the Coat of Arms of the U.S. within a ring) in yellow.
A major exception to the use of branch colors for guidons is found in the cavalry. The first-named branch color for cavalry is yellow, and the Organizational Colors of cavalry regiments do have yellow fields. Cavalry guidons, however, are horizontally divided, white over red, with troop letters, squadron and regimental numbers in white and red, but no branch-of-service insignia.
There are two types of guidons used by the U.S. Corps of Cadets (West Point). "Dress" guidons are horizontally divided, golden yellow over silver gray, with the letters "USCC" centered between the regimental number on the upper stripe and the company letter on the lower stripe. "Field" guidons have the regimental number only. All letters and numerals are black.
War service and campaign streamers are not authorized for attachment to guidons, but unit citation streamers are. Unit citation streamers for guidons are 1 3/8" at the hoist by 2' at the fly. In cases where a campaign credit has been awarded specifically to a company, Campaign Silver Bands, bearing an appropriate inscription, are attached to the pole of the guidon.
Tom Gregg, 11 December 1996
General officers of the Army display personal rank flags. They are red with from one to five white stars, issued in several sizes and two versions: with yellow fringe for indoor display and without fringe for outdoor display, e.g. on vehicles and headquarters buildings when the general is personally present. Personal flags of general officers of the Army Medical Department and the Chaplin's Corps are maroon and purple respectively instead of red.
Tom Gregg, 11 December 1996
*Positional Colors* are authorized to be displayed by persons holding specific appointments or offices. They are not considered individual flags in the U.S. Army because they identify an office. e.g. the Office of the Adjutant General and not the person holding that office at any particular time.
The offices of the Army Chief of Staff, Vice Chief of Staff, Director of the Army Staff, Adjutant General, Chief of Chaplains, Chief of Engineers, Inspector General, Judge Advocate General, Surgeon General, Chief of the Army Reserve, and Chief of the National Guard Bureau have Positional Colors. In most cases, these colors have a field and fringe in branch colors, e.g. dark blue with scarlet fringe for the Office of the Adjutant General, with the applicable
branch insignia, in branch or proper colors, centered on the color.
The Secretary, Under Secretary, and Assistant Secretaries of the Army also have Positional Colors. The Positional Color of the President of the United States (dark blue with the Presidential Coat of Arms in proper colors; yellow and white fringe; red, white and
blue cord and tassels) could also be considered a personal military rank flag, since it belongs to the Commander-in-Chief and is displayed in the Oval Office along with the flags of the armed
Tom Gregg, 11 December 1996
Other Army Flags
The Corps of Engineers, the Signal Corps and the Transportation Corps are authorized distinguishing flags to be flown from Army-operated vessels. The Corps of Engineers flag is red with the corps branch insignia, a twin-towered castle, in white. The Signal Corps
flag is orange with the corps branch insignia, crossed signal flags, in white. The Transportation Corps flag is dark red with the corps branch insignia, a shield within a wheel, in yellow.
The Corps of Engineers flag is also quite frequently flown over the headquarters of the Post Engineer on Army installations. This custom violates Army regulations, but seems to be widely tolerated.
A U.S. Army Recruiting Service Flag (white with yellow fringe and the Recruiting Service insignia in proper colors) is also authorized.
Tom Gregg, 11 December 1996
Flags in the Field
Because of their cost and the fact that they are principally designed for indoor display, the Army Flag, the Army Field Flag, Organizational Colors and Organizational Flags are generally not used in the field. Guidons, however, tend to travel with the troops.
During the Persian Gulf War, the National Flag, various State flags, the Corps of Engineers flag, and unofficial unit flags were flown over base camps and assembly areas. Flagpoles were improvised from whatever was available, such as the pole sections of camouflage netting support kits. Miniature flags stood on field desks and map tables in tactical operations centers. As they have since 1775, today's American soldiers took their flags into battle -- even though this is, on the mechanized battlefield of the 1990s, a violation of the letter of Army regulations.
Tom Gregg, 11 December 1996
The U.S. Presidential Flag (blue with yellow fringe and the Presidential Seal in full color) could also be considered a personal military rank flag, since it belongs to the Commander-in-Chief and is displayed in the Oval Office along with the flags of the armed services."
The President's Color is fringed in gold _and_ silver bullion, or more lately, yellow and white fringe (5 yellow , 5 white, 5 yellow, etc.). In one instance in the 1970's or 80's, the bi-color fringe was not available for the President's automobile flag, so white fringe was used for a period of time. Plain yellow fringe is never used, to my knowledge.
Also, the device on the blue field is the coat-of-arms of the President, not the seal. The coat-of-arms is the eagle/ shield/ arrows/ olive branch/ rays/ clouds/ stars/ epluribusunum-on-ribbon device surrounded by a circle of 50 white stars. The President's seal encloses this device with a buff ring bearing the blue text "The SEAL of the PRESIDENT of the UNITED STATES."
U.S. President (1933-1945) Franklin Delano Roosevelt definitely considered his flag to be a flag of rank. He became really pi--ed off when Congress established the 5-star ranks for general and admiral while the then-current version of the President's flag only had four white stars, with the President's eagle arms in the middle.
Commodore Byron McCandless (author of the 1917 NatGeoMag issue on Flags) was involved in the design of the 1916 -1945 version of the President's flag. His response in 1945 to the assertion that the President's 4 stars indicated an inferior rank to 5-stars was, essentially, "nuts." When he (McCandless) and President Woodrow Wilson designed the 1916-1945 flag, their intent was that the overall design indicated that the President was of "Eagle" rank over and above any 4-star, 5-star, whatever-star Admiral or Army General, General of the Army, General of the Armies, etc.
However, being the Commander-in-chief has its privileges, and the process to redesign the flag had begun. Unfortunately, FDR died almost immediately thereafter. (Remember the Mercury Dime discussion last month?) Harry Truman kept the ball rolling - he even wanted to add lightning bolts to the arrows that the eagle was carrying in order to symbolize his power to use nuclear weapons. This time the response from the designers (basically Arthur DuBois of the Army Institute of Heraldry) was not only "nuts" but "hell no!" and the lightning idea was, thankfully, dropped. DuBois compromised on the number of stars, however, and gave into Truman who insisted on a ring of stars to represent all the states (48 at the time.) The same design, now with 50 stars, is still used today.
Nick Artimovich, 5 December 1996
Date of Origin of U.S. Army
The U.S. Army traces its ancestry back to the Revolutionary War -- the senior campaign streamer borne on the Army Flag is inscribed "LEXINGTON 1775."
My own opinion is that, since the Continental Army was duly authorized and established by the Continental Congress (which was then the government of the United States) today's Army is correct to use 1775 on its flag.
Tom Gregg, 11 December 1996
The Continental Congress established the Continental Army and appointed Washington as CIC in 1775.
The oldest UNIT is currently called the 1st Battalion, 5th Field Artillery* which has an unbroken lineage to Alexander Hamilton's* Battery in the Continental Army in 1775. This is where the date for the birth of the Army derives from.
The U.S. Army is the only branch of the service with UNBROKEN lineage to the Revolutionary War. When the Revolution ended, all services were disbanded EXCEPT for a unit
of Artillery left to guard U.S. and captured British weapons stored at Ft. West Point. These artillerists were still active Army. Later, after the War of 1812, this unit was used as the core of instructors who founded the U.S. Military Academy at the same fort - West Point. This artillery unit, however, has always been a working unit of the Army, participating in every war. They have been moved from command to command and the name has been changed several times, but their lineage is UNBROKEN. In the Civil War, for example, they were Battery A, 4th U.S. Artillery.
Unofficial Army histories (like Russell Weigley's and Gen. David Palmer's) both list the birth of the U.S. Army as being 1789 BUT These are not "official" U.S. Army histories. The only official history is published by the U.S. Army's Center for Military History in a series of volumes. Those volumes also contained "Lineages and Honors" which gave complete details of the above. Some samples of these lineages are posted on the CMH's echo web site attached to the main U.S. Army web site.
Bruce L. Jones, 23 July 1998
Some early U.S. Army colours, such as the National Standard of the 1st
Regiment, dating from the 1790s, show the eagle reversed from that in the Great Seal of the United States, in that the arrows are in the eagle's right talon, and the olive branch in the left talon on the flag. I had heard the speculation that this was because the colour was a war flag, and therefore the emblem of war (arrows) took precedence over the emblem of peace (olive branch). I have never seen any contemporary evidence for this theory. In addition to the flags, a friend has studied U.S. silver coins for this period, and that up to 1807 the eagles were in the same configuration.
Devereaux Cannon, 15 November 1999
Prior to WWII, the eagle looked the other way. The change was made at the same time the Presidential flag switched from 4 stars in the corners to 48 in a circle. The new eagle was also in full color instead of being all white, as
previously. In Gherardi Davis's 1912 limited edition classic work on colors of the U.S. Army, there are some early examples in which the arrows are in the dexter talon, or in which the leaves and the arrows are all held together in both talons. But there seems to have been no significance to this other than the artist's taste--remember that these flags were all hand-painted, not mass-produced. IIRC, all the colors from about the 1820s on have the arrows in the sinister talon and the olive branch in the dexter, with the eagle facing to dexter, as prescribed by the official design of the COA.
Joe McMillan, 15 November 1999