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Battle Streamers

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 generations." 

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.