Our great nation carries the most iconic and recognizable symbol for liberty and freedom. But the flag we proudly wave is only one of many that represents our armed forces. There are many kinds, and they all carry their own weight in history and significance. So, what are the different types, and why do they exist? Lastly, where can someone buy a traditional flag?
The three most common kinds of flags
There are three main types of flags in the military are:
- Maritime Flags
- Service Flags
- Personal Flags
The United States has an important role in global Maritime laws and enforcement. Before the creation of the US Navy in 1798, America largely relied on private naval forces. These were essentially contractors hired to protect our waters from British attack and piracy. But before that, there was the Continental Navy, and it was rumored that their ships displayed a flag with a snake on top of red and white stripes with the words “Don't Tread on Me.” However, this was never historically proven. It’s very likely the Continental Naval flag was just white and red stripes with no other insignia.
Maritime Flags include the National Ensign, ceremonial, and other naval flags that are used for signaling. All United States warships and other vessels are required to display their appropriate flags in foreign and international waters. Some are for traditional events that honor men and women in uniform, and others to signify duties like hospital ships. They are all incredibly important to maintain honor, tradition, and communication.
America’s flag has evolved throughout history due to conflicts and the addition of new states. Many historians consider the Grand Union Flag to be the first international flag of the United States. It featured six white and seven red stripes representing the original 13 colonies and had the British Union flag in the canton. The British Union portion was short-lived and was replaced in 1777 with the familiar stars on blue.
Other Maritime flags included ceremonial ones like the Commissioning Pennant for marking the introduction of a new ship into active service. The white flag featuring a red cross represents hospital ships. There are two hospital ships that belong to the United States Navy; The USNS Comfort and the USNS Mercy. The Church Pennant is flown for funeral services for fallen heroes.
America has many different flags representing the branches of our honorable armed forces. They are used in ceremonies, on bases, and in private homes to honor their loved ones’ service. None of these service flags can fly higher than the United States Ensign, though. Other service flags represent periods of war and service members that gave their lives. These flags are commonly displayed in the windows of military families’ homes.
On the 181st anniversary of the establishment of the United States, the US Army revealed the design for their official flag. The design of the embroidered center was the original War Office seal and had the words “United States Army” with “1775” below it with the whole design on a white background.
The Navy and Marines are siblings in the tree of services of the United States. The Marine Corps split into its own service branch in 1798. As we know it today, the Navy flag is reserved for ceremonial occasions and is handled by an Honor Guard. The Marines’ flag evolved over time, and the modern Marine Corps flag was not created until the mid 20th Century.
The modern United States Air Force flag was officially adopted in 1951. It features a blue field, 13 white stars, the Air Force crest and shield, and the department of the Air Forces coat of arms. In 2019, the Space Force became the newest military branch of the US. The official Space Force flag was not revealed until 2020.
Personal flags represent specific officers in the military and are displayed in their offices and have the appropriate rank on them. The most recognizable Personal flag is the flag of the President of the United States. The colors carry significant meaning. They can tell you what branch the flag represents. If the flag has white stars on a blue background, then we know that the flag is under either the Navy or Air Force, for example.
The Presidential flag has a unique history and meaning. The banner containing the words “E Pluribus Unum” translates to “Out of many, one.” This signifies the uniting of all states under the federal government. The shield in front of the eagle corresponds with the National Ensign with its red and white stripes. The green olive branch represents peace, and the arrows represent war.
Officers have their own specific flags that are simpler in appearance compared to other Personal flags. Personal Army flags for Generals, Lieutenants, etc., are a vibrant red. The highest-ranking flag with five stars is for Generals. The Navy Personal flags are a deep blue, and the highest-ranked flag is for five-star Fleet Admirals. The Air Force flags are also blue but are a bit more vibrant, and the highest rank is for five-star generals.
The Marine Corps Personal flags are a slightly darker red, and the highest rank is for four-star Marine Generals. The color of the Coast Guard flags is very similar to that of the Navy’s but can be differentiated by the Coast Guard crests on them. All of the other flags have nothing but white stars and their corresponding colors. The Space Force flag is jet black, and the highest rank is reserved for four-star Generals.
American Families Honor Them
It has been a proud tradition for American families to own and display flags that represent the branch of service their loved ones served in. They are powerful symbols that are often passed down generations within families, and they serve as reminders of the sacrifices people have made for the greatest country in the world. Each military flag has earned its place in history through blood. We treat each example with respect and dignity because of what they represent: American heroes.
Flags of the Fallen
Burial flags are possibly the most respected and cherished flags of our nation. These flags are given to loved ones of those who made the ultimate sacrifice for freedom and peace. They are sobering reminders of the commonly heard phrase “Freedom is not free.” Generally, the next-of-kin is given the folded American Ensign at the funeral service of a service member.
The Burial Flag is the one kind of American military flag that is not meant to be displayed outside because of the material used and the large size. The cotton made with it is not weather resistant. Sometimes families will donate their burial flags to national cemeteries so that they can be displayed during national holidays like Veterans Day.
American military flags are recognized around the world for their prestige and power. They symbolize the protection of waters foreign and domestic, specific officers and offices, and our branches. Many of us are unaware of the amount of history and meaning behind each design. Every feature has a purpose, and all carry great honor and respect. Our past has shaped these flags into what they are today.
When waving the flag of the United States of America, it’s important to ensure it does not get fettered and tangled. Make sure to get one that will last generations and always fly high. Check out these flags for sale that won’t let you down. No matter which size fits your fancy, your priority should be buying one made in America. Whether you plan on displaying the National Ensign outside of your house, on a vehicle, or on a hat, remember where it came from and what it represents.
When searching for the perfect American flag, it’s shockingly difficult to find one made in the United States. At Allegiance Flag Supply, we look to solve this problem by creating quality goods that represent the best in not only American manufacturing, but America herself. The United States not only protects itself but our allies as well. America maintains the spirit and dedication to the ideals of democracy, not only on our home soil but as an inspiration abroad.
So next time you see an American flag proudly blowing in the wind, take a minute to reflect on what these beautiful flags stand for. We may not all get a chance to see the flags of our great armed forces, but we can all have the ability to fly American-made flags wherever we call home.
Burial Flags | National Cemetery Administration
The complete order of precedence of flags in the US | BNL.gov
Today in History - June 14 | Library of Congress