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DEPARTMENT OF THE NAVY -- NAVAL HISTORY & HERITAGE COMMAND
United States Navy Battle Streamers
A cluster of 28 multicolored streamers adorned
with silver and bronze stars adds another visual dimension to
the Navy flag. The streamers and stars serve as symbols of the
dedicated and heroic service of Navymen to the nation for more
than 200 years from the Revolutionary War to the campaign in Southwest
Asia. They serve as reminders of the decisive influence of sea
power on the establishment of the nation, and on its security
and welfare through the entire period. For each streamer, brief
mention is made of the services and operations it commemorates,
and the campaigns and battles for which stars are awarded.
In January 1971 the U.S. Navy joined the other military services
in the use of battle streamers. Commenting on the meaning of the
new streamers displayed with the Navy flag, Adm. Elmo R. Zumwalt,
the Chief of Naval Operations, said that "ships and men who
performed so gallantly in the American Revolution, at Tripoli,
Lake Champlain, Manila Bay, on Atlantic convoy, at Midway, Leyte,
in Korea and in Vietnam will be honored and esteemed through succeeding
The use of battle streamers had its beginnings in antiquity
when various emblems were carried into combat. Armies of Egypt
and Assyria, for example, placed sacred objects at the tops of
poles, then adorned them with streamers. The eagle of Imperial
Rome was recognized throughout the known western world. In time,
solid objects gave way to cloth banners. Medieval knights attached
distinctive streamers to their lances. Colors became a rallying
point in battle, an honor to bear and defend. Among the most prized
trophies of war were the tattered standards of a defeated enemy.
The U.S. Army adopted battle streamers in 1920, the first American
military service to initiate their usage. They were introduced
into the Marine Corps in 1939, and in 1956 the Air Force followed.
In 1968 the Coast Guard authorized use of battle streamers.
Many of the practices relative to streamers and their display
are similar among the services. There are, however, differences,
particularly regarding the number of streamers and use of embroidered
devices. The Army carries a separate streamer for each important
action in all wars in which that service has participated. Army
streamers are embroidered with the name of the action commemorated.
Currently, the Army allows more than 150 streamers, and the Air
Force, employing the Army system, carries more than 60. Unlike
the Army-Air Force practice, the Marines use one ribbon for each
war, campaign, or theater of operations. Specific actions or battles
are highlighted by bronze and silver stars embroidered on the
ribbon. The Marine Corps shows more than 40 streamers, and the
Coast Guard uses nearly 30, unadorned by either stars or lettering.
The Navy's battle streamers, spanning the period from the
Revolutionary War to Desert Storm, number 28. Like the Marine
Corps, the Navy flies a single streamer for each campaign, war,
or theater of operations, with embroidered stars used for individual
battles and operations determined to be suitable for special recognition.
Stars on the Navy streamers follow the practice initiated during
the World War II period for ribbons and medals -- that is, a bronze
star for each action, and a silver star in lieu of five bronze
stars. The Navy applies stars to appropriate ribbons throughout
its history, whereas the Marine Corps uses stars to commemorate
service in this century only. The Presidential Unit Citation,
Navy Unit Commendation, and Meritorious Unit Commendation streamers
each carry a number rather than stars. This figure represents
the number of times that the respective award has been conferred
upon Navy units.
Navy streamers are 3 feet long and 2 3/4" wide. Where
a medal has been awarded for a particular war or service, the
coloring and design of the streamer are the same as the ribbon
from which the medal is suspended. Conflicts and operations for
which no medal was issued have ribbons specially designed for
use as streamers. Today's battle streamers affixed to the military
flags of the United States are colorful symbols and reminders
of sacrifice, service and a proud heritage -- a tribute to the
men and women of the armed forces, past and present, who have
responded in America's times of need.
UNITED STATES NAVY BATTLE STREAMERS