Impact and Influence of the US Marine Corps Use of Symbols

One way to understand the Marine Corps’ culture is by studying their organization through the lens of the symbolic frame which seeks to interpret the basic issues of meaning and faith that make symbols so powerful in the human experience and organizations, (Bolman & Deal, 2008). Symbols reinforce the organizational values and culture through images, something that can be seen.

Marines come from everywhere in the US, from different backgrounds, nevertheless, symbols are the common ground that explain a set of unwritten communication that express their thoughts, actions, and reactions. When facing uncertainty and ambiguity, they have the symbols to resolve confusion, find direction and anchor hope and faith, (Bolman & Deal). By sharing the same patterns of behavior and mental models they can communicate more efficiently and reach higher levels of cooperation. Symbols as culture have a powerful influence throughout their organization and even for outsiders.

Symbols are very important for the Marine Corp’s culture, which remains intact during the course of many generations. Their culture is so unique, driven by symbols, ceremonies, rituals, and heroes, and tells the whole story and indirectly makes us feel like we know their organization. Their symbols applied to the symbolic frame assumption: Most important is not what happens, but what it means, (Bolman & Deal, 2008).

The Emblem


The official emblem of the United States Marine Corps represents the Marine Corps’ rich values. It reminds the Marine Corps the purpose they serve. The emblem consists of a globe that shows the continents of the Western Hemisphere, it represents their worldwide presence, an eagle that represents the nation they defend proudly, It stands at the ready with the US coastlines in sight and the entire world within reach of its outstretched wings, and the anchor points both to the Marine Corps’ naval heritage and its ability to access any coastline in the world. The three symbols which make up the emblem: the eagle, globe and anchor symbolize their commitment to defend our nation, in the air, on land and at sea, (Marines, The few. The proud, n. d.).

The Seal and Motto

New seal

The seal consists of the Marine Corps emblem in bronze, the eagle holding in its beak a scroll inscribed, “Semper Fidelis,” which means “Always Faithful”, against a scarlet and blue background, encircled by the words, “Department of the Navy – Unites States Marine Corps.”. The word “Semper Fidelis” is also the motto of the Marines, to voice loyalty and commitment to their Marine comrades-in-arms, (Heritage Press International, n. d.)

The Sword


The Mameluke Swords are the oldest weapons still in service in the United States Armed Forces. As of today, the swords Marines carry represent the Marine Corps’ rich heritage as America’s original defenders. Officers carry the Mameluke Sword, which was originally given to Lieutenant Presley O’Bannon in 1805 by a Mameluke chieftain in North Africa. Lt O’Bannon and his Marines marched across 600 miles of North African desert to rid the “shores of Tripoli” of pirates and rescue the kidnapped crew of the USS Philadelphia. By 1825, all Marine Officers carried the Mameluke sword in recognition of this historic battle; it is a symbol of the Marine Corps’ first on foreign soil.

Adopted in 1859, the NCO Sword is carried by Marine Noncommissioned Officers (NCOs) and Staff Noncommissioned Officers (SNCOs). Used for ceremonial purposes, the M1859 NCO Sword was bestowed to NCOs and SNCOs by the 6th Commandant, Colonel John Harris, in recognition of their leadership in combat, (Marines, The few. The proud, n. d.).


The Marines’ uniforms serve to distinguish the Marines from other members in The United States Armed Forces. The Marine Dress Blue uniform has been worn since the 19th century. Many details of Marine uniforms reflect the proud legacy of warriors who have served our nation for more than two centuries. The first picture is the Marine Corps Combat Utility Uniform, or cammies, which Marines wear as their standard uniform in garrison, during training and while deployed overseas with personal protective equipment, weaponry and other gear that a Marine may use. The second one shows the Dress Blue uniform for the enlisted, which is worn in more formal situations. The very last is the formal one for Officers, (Marines, The few. The proud, n. d.)



officer pcamine




The Ranks

The Marine Corps ranks represent more than the chain of command. Marines constantly strive to achieve, and every success demonstrates commitment to the mission and to fellow Marines. Each successive Marine Corps rank confirms that the men and women who wear it have earned positions of greater leadership and responsibility, (Marines, The few. The proud,n. d.).


The Mascot

Soon afterward a U.S. Marine recruiting poster depicted a snarling English Bulldog wearing a Marine Corps helmet. Because of the tenacity and demeanor of the breed, the image took root with both the Marines and the public. The English Bulldogs exemplify the fighting spirit of the U.S. Marines. Tough, muscular, aggressive, fearless, and often arrogant, they are the ultimate canine warriors, (The Heritage Press International, n. d.).


The Terms

Leatherneck: The term originated from the wide and stiff leather neck-piece that was part of the Marine Corps uniform from 1798 until 1872. This leather collar, called The Stock, was roughly four inches high and had two purposes. In combat, it protected the neck and jugular vein from cutlasses slashes. On parade, it kept a Marine’s head erect. The term is so widespread that it has become the name of the Marine Corps Association monthly magazine, LEATHERNECK.

Devil Dogs: In the Belleau Wood fighting in 1918, the Germans received a thorough indoctrination in the fighting ability of the Marines. Fighting through supposedly impenetrable woods and capturing supposedly untakeable terrain, the persistent attacks, delivered with unbelievable courage soon had the Germans calling Marines “Teufelhunde,” referring to the fierce fighting dogs of legendary origin.

Gyrene: Around 1900, members of the U.S. Navy began using Gyrene as a jocular derogatory reference to U.S. Marines. Instead of being insulted, the Marines loved it. The term became common by World War I and has been extensively used since that time.

Jarhead: During World War II sailors began referring to Marines as Jarheads. Presumably the high collar on the Marine Dress Blues uniform made a Marine’s head look like it was sticking out of the top of a Mason jar. Marines were not insulted. Instead, they embraced the new moniker as a term of utmost respect.

Soldiers of the Sea: A traditional and functional term for Marines, dating back to the British in the 1600’s

America’s (The World’s) 911 Force: They earned this nickname by being the first forces called in a crisis. During the Cold War, Marines were called upon to protect our nation’s interests on an average of once every 15 weeks. Since 1990, Marines have responded once every 5 weeks, an increase in tasking’s by a factor of three.
(The Heritage Press International, n. d.)

The Slogans

First to Fight: The media in the United States began using this term to describe U.S. Marines during World War I. Marines have served in the vanguard of every American war since the founding of the Corps in 1775. Historically, U.S. Marines are indeed the first to fight.

Once a Marine:  Always a Marine: This saying is now the official motto of the Marine Corps League. The origin of the statement is credited to a gung-ho Marine Corps master sergeant, Paul Woyshner. During a barroom argument he shouted, “Once a Marine, always a Marine!” Once the title “U.S. Marine” has been earned, it is retained. There are no ex-Marines or former-Marines. There are (1) active duty Marines, (2) retired Marines, (3) reserve Marines, and (4) Marine veterans.

Gung-Ho: The Chinese used this term to describe Marines in China around 1900. In the Chinese language, gung-ho means working together. That’s what the “American Marines” were always doing, “working together,” the Chinese explained. The term stuck to Marines like glue. Today it conveys willingness to tackle any task, or total commitment to the Corps.

Good night, Chesty, wherever you are: This is an often-used tribute of supreme respect to the late and legendary LtGen. Lewis B. “Chesty” Puller, USMC. Chesty! Without a doubt he was the most outspoken Marine, the most famous Marine, the Marine who really loved to fight, the most decorated Marine in the history of the Corps. Chesty enlisted as a Private. Through incredible fortitude and tenacity he became a living legend. He shouted battle orders in a bellow and stalked battlefields as though impervious to enemy fire. Chesty rose to the rank of Lieutenant General. He displayed an abiding love for the Magnificent Grunts, especially the junior enlisted men who did the majority of the sacrificing and dying, and utter contempt for all staff pogues of whatever rank. During his four wars, he became the only Marine to be awarded the Navy Cross five times. The Marines’ Marine! “Goodnight, Chesty, wherever you are.”

A Few Good Men: On 20 March 1779 in Boston, Capt. William Jones, USMC, advertised for “a few good men” to enlist in the Corps for naval duty. The term seemed ideally suited for Marines, mainly because of the implication that “a few” good men would be enough. This term has survived for over 200 years and has been synonymous with U.S. Marines ever since.

(The Heritage Press International, n. d.)

The Blood Stripe

Marine Corps tradition maintains that the red stripe worn on the trousers of officers and noncommissioned officers, commonly known as the “blood stripe,” commemorates those Marines killed storming the castle of Chapultepec in 1847. Although this belief is firmly embedded in the traditions of the Corps, it has no basis in fact. The use of stripes clearly predates the Mexican War, (Heritage Press International).

blood stripe 2

The Flag

The flag of the United States Marine Corps is the flag used to represent the Marine Corps, as well as units and formations of the Corps. It is known as the standard or battle color which scarlet standard has been flown since January 1939. The Eagle, Globe and Anchor emblem is rendered in gray and gold over the scarlet background. Scarlet and gold were established as the official colors of the Corps as early as 1925. In addition to being flown at ceremonies and installations and presented by the All-Marine Color Guard, the Marine Corps flag hangs in the offices of the President of the United States, the Secretary of Defense, the Secretary of the Navy, and the Chairman and Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, (Marines, The few. The proud, n. d.).



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