Of all the branches of the U.S. Armed Forces, the Navy may be the most diverse. Everyone thinks of the Navy as just sailors, protecting our country from the deck of a ship, but the Navy has a rich intelligence branch, a naval air force and a special operations force, the Navy SEALS.
The brave men and women who serve our country in the Navy are much more than sailors patrolling our waters. With their prestigious history of service, it is fitting that the Navy has a flag as proud as their servicemen.
History of the U.S. Navy Flag
The United States Navy was officially founded in October, 1775, before our country was a country! But as old as the Navy is itself, their flag is a relatively recent development. The official flag of the Navy was created by an executive order by President Eisenhower on April 24, 1959.
The flag is similar to the other flags of the U.S. Armed Forces, in that it showcases the official seal of the Department of the Navy on a dark-blue field, edged by gold fringe. The Navy also has official streamers that can be hung with the flag to represent that ship or unit’s achievements. Interestingly, the flag is never flown on ships at sea, only on those in port or inside buildings.
Before the official U.S. Navy flag was adopted, the Navy flew the infantry battalion flag. This was the unofficial flag of the Navy adopted in 1864. The flag featured a dark-blue fouled anchor, which is an anchor with the cable wound around itself.
The anchor is in the middle of a white diamond on a dark-blue field. The fouled anchor traditionally represented the trials and tribulations that the Navy had to contend with to secure our country. This flag was created during the Civil War to distinguish ships of the Union Navy, and was carried forth after the end of the war.
Significance of the U.S. Navy Flag
The flag bears the official seal of the Department of the Navy, with a couple of small modifications. The official seal shows land beneath the eagle at its base, or the bottom right, whereas the seal on the flag continues the water all the way across.
The official seal also includes the words “Department of the Navy” and “United States of America” within the gold rope border of the circular seal. The flag displays the words “United States Navy” on a gold ribbon below the seal. The seal was officially adopted just a couple of years before the flag in October of 1957, but a similar design was used as early as 1879.
The seal proudly displays an American bald eagle with wings spread, resting on an anchor. This is superimposed on the image of a tri-mast ship, floating on moderate seas under a fair sky. This ship flies three banners atop the three masts.
The first is a commission pennant on the foremast, then the National Ensign, or the American flag, on the main mast. The rear mast, or mizzen, flies the commodore’s flag. The image is surrounded by a gold rope.
The ship appeared on a previous seal of the Navy that was adopted by the Continental Congress in 1780 until about 1850. It then appeared in various iterations on versions of the seal, until it was standardized by executive order in 1957.
In addition to the official flag, the Navy also has a couple of other flags, called jacks, which can be flown on ships in port. First is the Union Jack, a dark-blue flag featuring 50 white stars. As with the National Ensign, the number of stars increased with the number of states.
This jack was flown by naval ships until September 11, 2002, when the Navy began flying the First Naval Jack. The Union Jack is still flown by the Coast Guard and other federal and civilian vessels.
The First Naval Jack features 13 red and white stripes crossed by a rattlesnake with the words “DONT TREAD ON ME.” It was first used during the Revolutionary War and was also used briefly in 1975 and 1976, in honor of the nation’s bicentennial.
Final Thoughts on the U.S. Navy Flag
Flying the flag of the Navy is the perfect way to honor our nation’s servicemen and women. Though the flag does not have a long history behind it, it represents the long and proud history of the naval protection of our country, both here and abroad. Whether you are a veteran, a family member or just a friend of the armed forces, the men and women of the Navy will appreciate the love and support from the citizens they serve.