U.S. Marines


The wearing of organizational patches in the United States Marine Corps (USMC) dates back to World War I. At the end of the Great War the use of unit shoulder patches was discontinued by ground forces. Aviators, on the other hand, were just getting started, and Marine Corps fliers continued to create and wear distinctive organizational emblems throughout the 1920s and 1930s. Not until the Second World War began in Europe did Marines on the ground once again don unit patches. This was formalized a few years later by the Commandant in his letter of 5 March 1943, in which he wrote: “After careful consideration it has been decided to authorize a distinctive insignia for division and corps units.” On 27 October, he issued Letter of Instruction (LOI) Number 569 that allowed more units to display their own unique insignia and, for the first time, provided specific guidance on style, type, and wear of insignia. By war’s end, at least 33 organizational shoulder patches had been authorized, and many more were “unauthorized.” But it was not to last. The “higher ups” had viewed the wearing of distinctive insignia as a temporary, wartime measure, and LOI No. 1499 of 23 September 1947 prohibited Marines from wearing shoulder patches after 31 December 1947. Generally, ground troops complied and aviators didn’t. As a result, the powers-that-be eventually authorized insignia for Marine aviation units with the publication of OPNAVINST 5030.4B, but even efforts by the Chief of Naval Operations (CNO) in 1963 to allow the wearing of distinctive insignia by Marine ground units proved futile—overruled by the USMC Commandant. Eventually, however, that changed. Today, Marine units are governed by two separate orders pertaining to unit insignia and logos. The aviation side is still regulated by OPNAVINST 5030.4 (now with a “G” suffix), and the other elements of the Corps fall under MCO 5750.1H, which is managed by the Director of Marine Corps History (HDR) on behalf of the Commandant. Aviation units are still required to submit requests pertaining to approval of organization emblems up through their chain of command to the CNO, ensuring HDR is the last addressee prior to the Navy. Marine Corps units that are not affected by the OPNAV Instruction are not required to request approval from HQ USMC or HDR for adoption of a unit emblem. Any such adoption is considered “unofficial” and therefore does not require approval. However, per MCO 5750.1H, units are required to submit to HDR a color image and brief description of the adopted insignia and its symbolism, which are filed for future reference and research. It’s important to note that these units are strongly encouraged to obtain their local commanding general’s approval prior to forwarding the design, description, and significance to HDR. And that’s probably a good thing! Again, welcome to the “Semper Fi” section of the site.