Historical Center Web Site Raises History of Navy Flags


Story Number: NNS030814-10Release Date: 8/14/2003 2:04:00 PM
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By Marie Dumontet, Naval Historical Center Public Affairs

WASHINGTON (NNS) -- The Internet has proven to be a powerful tool for the Naval Historical Center (NHC) to address Navy and public interest in current topical subjects in a quick and through manner.

"Basically, there are two reasons why we put information on the Internet: the first one is due to public interest and the second one is an educational reason, because people should know about this particular aspect of the Navy," said Glenn Helm, head of reference, Naval Department Library, and Web Site Committee member.

For example, Navy's flags are symbols of history and tradition, and have always been a permanent subject of query to the NHC.

With current military operations, and the flying of the first Navy Jack from all Navy ships, there has been additional interest in the origins and uses of Navy flags.

Through the efforts of Dr. Michael Crawford, head of the Naval Historical Center's Early History Branch, and the NHC's Web site committee, the site is now offering information on the Navy's use of flags and pennants.

Posted July 28, the new entry covers flag related subjects such as Battle Streamers, Commissioning Pennants, the U.S. Navy's first Jack, the Iwo Jima flags, the U.S. Navy Flag, signal flags, "striking the flag," and submarine battle flags of World War II.

First addressed are Battle Streamers, which in the armed forces are used as reminders for dedicated and heroic service. Adopted by the Navy in 1971, battle streamers represent the services' participation in wars, campaigns, or theaters of operation and certain unit awards.

Next are Commissioning Pennants; they were first used to distinguish merchant ships from naval vessels, and still continue on as a tradition.

Regarding the Jack, it must be hoisted at the bow while a ship is at anchor or in port, and corresponds to the "union" of the National Ensign.

It has been claimed that the U.S. Navy's first Jack consisted of white and red stripes with a rattlesnake and a motto "Don't Tread on Me." However, historians are doubtful concerning the snake and the motto. Paintings and documents don't confirm the early Navy's use of the "Rattlesnake Jack."

The Iwo Jima Memorial is probably one of the most significant and well-known memorials of World War II in the world. An interview with one of the flag raising veterans is also available on NHC's Web site.

The current official U.S. Navy Flag was first authorized by Presidential order in 1959, and replaced the Infantry Battalion flag that had been used for many years as the unofficial Navy flag.

To ease communication during operations, the Navy adopted a phonetic alphabet and a corresponding signal flag system, later complemented by Morse code signals. A short introduction to phonetic alphabet and signal flags can also be found on the Web site.

Continuing on with communications, if a ship's crew is forced to surrender, they "strike the flag." Striking the flag is considered a signal of surrender in international law, and naval tradition, respected all around the globe.

World War II submarines often had unofficial "battle flags" made up with their insignia and individual Japanese flags representing sunken ships.

"The aim of this new posting is to clarify the obscure origins of the Navy's first Jack and consolidate information on flags," said Helm.

"Internet is the perfect media for organizing and presenting our history collection. It is a democratic method of distributing free information that can be constantly used, and doesn't require an expensive visit to Washington D.C.," explained Helm.

The NHC's Web site hosts an average 60,000 users a month, from all ages and social categories.

"It is personally and professionally gratifying to be able to provide information to Navy personnel, veterans and children anywhere in America. That's a high level of access to detailed information," concluded Helm.

So do not hesitate to visit the NHC's Web site for research on the Navy's history. To read more about Navy flags, their stories and anecdotes, please visit www.history.navy.mil/faqs/faq123-1.htm.

For related news, visit the Naval Historical Center Navy NewsStand page at www.news.navy.mil/local/navhist.

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RELATED PHOTOS
 A Navy color guard on parade at the Arlington National Cemetery Amphitheater, Va., during World War II.
030811-N-0000X-001 Arlington, Va. (Naval Historical File Photograph) -- A Navy color guard on parade at the Arlington National Cemetery Amphitheater, Va., during World War II. The blue and white "Navy Battalion" flag being held by the flag bearer on the right was the unofficial Navy flag until the current flag was adopted in 1957. The new Navy's use of flags section of the Naval Historical Center's (NHC) website includes subjects such as Battle Streamers, Commissioning Pennants, the U.S. Navy's first Jack, the Iwo Jima flags, "striking the flag," and submarine battle flags of World War II. U.S. Navy file photo. (RELEASED)
August 13, 2003
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