GyG's History Of The Marines Enlisted Rank Insignia!

Joined: January 1st, 1970, 12:00 am

December 4th, 2002, 2:53 am #1


Joined: January 1st, 1970, 12:00 am

January 17th, 2003, 3:34 pm #4

Sergeant/SARgent/SARgeant, etc.
by Dick G (Login Dick Gaines)
Forum Owner

WASHINGTON DC 20374-5060
Why is the Colonel Called "Kernal"?
The Origin of the Ranks and Rank Insignia Now Used by the United States Armed Forces
Enlisted Ranks:


The Sergeant started out as a servant, serviens in Latin, to a knight in medieval times. He became a fighting man probably for self preservation because combat in those days often amounted to cutting down everybody in reach, regardless of whether they were armed. He became an experienced warrior who might ride a horse but was not wealthy enough to afford all the equipment and retainers to qualify as a knight. As an experienced soldier he might be called upon to take charge of a group of serfs or other common people forced to serve in an army of feudal levies. The Sergeant would conduct what training he could to teach his charges to fight, lead them into battle and, most important, keep them from running away during a battle. Sergeant was not a rank but an occupation. He might lead others he might fight alone or as a member of a group of sergeants, or he might serve the lord of his village as a policeman or guard. The modern title "sergeant-at-arms" used by many clubs recalls armed Sergeants who kept order at meetings.

The English borrowed the word "sergeant" from the French in about the Thirteenth Century. They spelled it several different ways and pronounced it both as SARgent and SERgeant. The latter was closer to the French pronunciation. The SARgeant pronunciation became the most popular, however, so that when the Nineteenth Century dictionary writers agreed that the word should be spelled "sergeant" they could not change the popular pronunciation. Thus, we say SARgeant while the French and others say SERgeant.

Sergeant became a regular position and then a rank as army organizations evolved. It has been a key rank in British and European armies for several hundred years. When our Army and Marine Corps started in 1775 it was natural that both include Sergeants. The rank's many duties and levels of responsibility have lead to several grades of Sergeant. The Air Force used to have six grades of sergeant, while the Army and the Marines only had five. The sixth grade was a "Buck" Sergeant (E-4). Since the dual (E-4) rank of Senior Airman and Sergeant proved confusing to the other branches of service and did not include more pay and only rarely more responsibility, the Air Force promoted its last Senior Airman to "Buck" Sergeant in May 1990 and phased the rank out over the next six years. At present the Air Force, Army and Marines all have five grades of Sergeant ranging from (E-5) to (E-9).

See Also:
Gunny G's Marines Sites & Forums
for several webpages dedicated exclusively to USMC History of Enlisted Rank, w/photos, text, etc.

1 March 1999


Joined: January 1st, 1970, 12:00 am

February 23rd, 2003, 4:04 pm #5


Veteran Marines have probably seen the picture of
a knight in a suit of armor, sword and shield,
etc., and which is captioned, "If your 782 gear
doesn't look like this, then you are NOT Old

Reminds me of an incident of long ago (1952) involving
an old retired Marine gunnery sergeant and an
active-duty Marine technical sergeant.

I think the setting was a restaurant in
Oceanside, California--I was a boot Pfc not more
than 17, and so it could not have been a bar--but
I know it did occur in Oceanside.

The gist of the conversation between these two
had been generally the war in Korea,the
Old Corps, etc. At one point, the old gunny said to the T/Sgt,
something to the effect that, "if your gunny
chevrons don't look like this (he went on to
describe what his own GySgt insignia/chevrons had
been, with great pride and in detail) then don't speak to me of the Old Corps!" (Or, words to that effect--it has been a long time!)

Whether his chevrons had been the three chevrons
and crossed/rifles w/bursting bomb, or the latter
(same as above) but w/two rockers/arcs added, I
do not know. At that time, I had no idea what the
Gunny was talking about, and I did not develop,
until these many years later, sufficient interest
in the finer points and details of Marine Corps
history, when I finally
researched this topic thoroughly.

One more point--regarding the technical sergeant
above, from 1946 through 1958, the technical
sergeant was referred to as "gunny"--this was
because the rank of gunnery sergeant had been
abolished in 1946 and was not reinstated until
1959. Since the T/Sgt in 1946 then wore the old
insignia/chevrons (three-up/two rockers/arcs, and
formerly worn by the gunnery sergeant) he
sort of inherited the title of Gunny.

In any case, the topic of the history of Marine
Corps enlisted rank and insignia is an
interesting and varied study for those interested
in such things. For most others it would appear
to be of no interest whatever.

A Pictorial History Of The Gunnery Sergent Rank In The U.S. Marine Corps

Semper Fidelis
Dick Gaines
Last edited by Dick Gaines on February 25th, 2003, 6:37 pm, edited 1 time in total.

Joined: January 1st, 1970, 12:00 am

April 13th, 2003, 2:31 am #6

Evolution of Military Rankings
US Military Rank Insignia

Insignia: The Way You Tell Who's Who in the Military

From the DoD "The United States Military Rank Insignia" web site

By Jim Garamone, American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON -- One big problem throughout military history has been identifying who's in charge.

From the earliest days of warfare to the present, special rank badges meant survival. In the heat of battle, knowing who to listen to was as important as the fighting skills soldiers and sailors developed. They had to know at a glance whose shouted orders to obey.

In the earliest times, rank was not an issue. "Do what Grog says" was enough so long as everyone knew Grog. As armies and navies started growing, however, that kind of intimacy wasn't possible. The badge of rank, therefore, became important. Today's Army, Marine Corps, Navy, Air Force and Coast Guard rank insignia are the result of thousands of years of tradition.

Through the ages, the badge of ranks have included such symbols as feathers, sashes, stripes and showy uniforms. Even carrying different weapons has signified rank. The badges of rank have been worn on hats, shoulders and around the waist and chest.

The American military adapted most of its rank insignia from the British. Before the Revolutionary War, Americans drilled with militia outfits based on the British tradition. Sailors followed the example of the most successful navy of the time -- the Royal Navy.

So, the Continental Army had privates, sergeants, lieutenants, captains, colonels, generals, and several now-obsolete ranks like coronet, subaltern and ensign. One thing the Army didn't have was enough money to buy uniforms.

To solve this, Gen. George Washington wrote, "As the Continental Army has unfortunately no uniforms, and consequently many inconveniences must arise from not being able to distinguish the commissioned officers from the privates, it is desired that some badge of distinction be immediately provided; for instance that the field officers may have red or pink colored cockades in their hats, the captains yellow or buff, and the subalterns green."

Even during the war, rank insignia evolved. In 1780, regulations prescribed two stars for major generals and one star for brigadiers worn on shoulder boards, or epaulettes.

The use of most English ranks carried on even after the United States won the war. The Army and Marine Corps used comparable ranks, especially after 1840. The Navy took a different route.

The rank structure and insignia continued to evolve. Second lieutenants replaced the Army's coronets, ensigns and subalterns, but they had no distinctive insignia until Congress gave them "butterbars" in 1917. Colonels received the eagle in 1832. From 1836,majors and lieutenant colonels were denoted by oak leave; captains by double silver bars -- "railroad tracks"; and first lieutenants,single silver bars.

In the Navy, captain was the highest rank until Congress created flag officers in 1857 -- before then, designating someone an admiral in the republic had been deemed too royal for the United States. Until 1857, the Navy had three grades of captain roughly equivalent to the Army's brigadier general, colonel and lieutenant colonel. Adding to the confusion, all Navy ship commanders are called "captain" regardless of rank.

With the onset of the Civil War, the highest grade captains became commodores and rear admirals and wore one-star and two-star epaulettes, respectively. The lowest became commanders with oak leaves while captains in the middle remained equal to Army colonels and wore eagles.

At the same time, the Navy adopted a sleeve-stripe system that became so complex that when David Glasgow Farragut became the service's first full admiral in 1866, the stripes on his sleeves extended from cuff to elbow. The smaller sleeve stripes used today were introduced in 1869.

Chevrons are V-shaped stripes whose use in the military go back to at least the 12th century. It was a badge of honor and used in heraldry. The British and French used chevrons -- from the French word for "roof" -- to signify length of service.

Chevrons officially denoted rank in the U.S. military for the first time in 1817, when cadets at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, N.Y., wore them on their sleeves. From West Point, chevrons spread to the Army and Marine Corps. The difference then was chevrons were worn points down until 1902, when Army and Marine Corps enlisted personnel switched to the present points up configuration.

Navy and Coast Guard petty officers trace their insignia heritage to the British. Petty officers were assistants to the officers aboard ship. The title wasn't a permanent rank and the men served at the captain's pleasure. Petty officers lost their rank when the crew was paid off at the end of a voyage.

In 1841, Navy petty officers received their first rank insignia -- an eagle perched on an anchor. Ratings -- job skills -- were incorporated into the insignia in 1866. In 1885, the Navy designated three classes of petty officers -- first, second and third. They added chevrons to designate the new ranks. The rank of chief petty officer was established in 1894.

During World War II, the Army adopted technician grades. Technicians of a given grade earned the same pay and wore the same insignia as equivalent noncommissioned officers except for a small "T" centered under the chevrons. Technicians, despite the stripes, had no command authority over troops. This evolved into the specialist ranks, pay grades E-4 to E-7. The last vestige today survives plainly as "specialist," pay grade E-4. When there were such people as specialists 7, they wore the current eagle symbol surmounted by three curved gold bars -- often called "bird umbrellas."

When the Air Force became a separate service in 1947, it kept the Army officer insignia and names, but adopted different enlisted ranks and insignia.

Warrant officers went through several iterations before the services arrived at today's configuration. The Navy had warrant officers from the start -- they were specialists who saw to the care and running of the ship. The Army and Marines did not have warrants until the 20th century. Rank insignia for warrants last changed with the addition of chief warrant officer 5. The Air Force stopped appointing warrant officers in the 1950s and has none on active duty today.

Other interesting rank tidbits include:

* Ensigns started with the Army but ended with the Navy. The rank of Army ensign was long gone by the time the rank of Navy ensign was established in 1862. Ensigns received gold bars in 1922, some five years after equivalent Army second lieutenants received theirs.
* "Lieutenant" comes from the French "lieu" meaning "place" and "tenant" meaning "holding." Literally, lieutenants are place holders.
* While majors outrank lieutenants, lieutenant generals outrank major generals. This comes from British tradition: Generals were appointed for campaigns and often called "captain generals." Their assistants were, naturally, "lieutenant generals." At the same time, the chief administrative officer was the "sergeant major general." Somewhere along the way, "sergeant" was dropped.
* Gold is worth more than silver, but silver outranks gold. This is because the Army decreed in 1832 that infantry colonels would wear gold eagles on an epaulette of silver and all other colonels would wear silver eagles on gold. When majors and lieutenant colonels received the leaves, this tradition could not continue. So silver leaves represented lieutenant colonels and gold, majors. The case of lieutenants is different: First lieutenants had been wearing silver bars for 80 years before second lieutenants had any bars at all.
* Colonel is pronounced "kernal" because the British adopted the French spelling "colonel" but Spanish pronuniciation "coronel" and then corrupted the pronunciation.
* While rank insignia are important, sometimes it isn't smart to wear them. When the rifled musket made its appearance in the Civil War, sharpshooters looked for officers. Officers soon learned to take off their rank insignia as they approached the battle line.
* The Air Force actually took a vote on their enlisted stripes. In 1948, then-Air Force Vice Chief of Staff Gen. Hoyt Vandenberg polled NCOs at Bolling Air Force Base in Washington and 55 percent of them chose the basic design still used today.


Officers Insignia:

Enlisted Insignia: Home

R.W. "Dick" Gaines
GySgt USMC (Ret.)
Gunny G's Old Salt Marines Tavern
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R.W. "Dick" Gaines
GySgt USMC (Ret.)
Gunny G's Old Salt Marines Tavern
Sites & Forums!
Last edited by Dick Gaines on April 13th, 2003, 2:32 am, edited 1 time in total.

Dick Gaines
Dick Gaines

May 8th, 2003, 4:10 am #7

Early Marines Enlisted Rank - The First Marine Sergeant Major...


There evolved from the Continental Marines of 1775, the enlisted titles of sergeant, corporal, drummer, fifer, and private. When the U.S. Marine Corps was established in 1798, the old titles were retained; but for some unknown reason both sergeants and corporals were placed in the same pay grade at ten dollars per month. Also, a new law in 1798 provided for staff noncommissioned officers in the event that the Marine Corps or any part of it was called upon to serve on land with the Army.

William Ward Burrows, the Lieutenat Colonel Commandant, lost no time in creating the enlisted ranks authorized by the new law of 1798. By May of 1800, a quartermaster sergeant had been appointed; and on 1 January of the following year William Farr was serving as drum major, while Archibauld Summers held the post of sergeant major.

The problem was that there were no intermediate ranks between sergeant and sergeant major, and only one sergeant major existed at Marine Corps headquarters.

Enlisted Ranks And Grades, U.S. Marine corps, 1775-1958, by Bernard C. Nalty-Historical Branch, G-3, Headquarters, US Marine Corps, Washington, DC, June 1959

Dick Gaines
Dick Gaines

May 8th, 2003, 4:13 am #8


When the Marine Corps was reactivated in 1798, the American Navy consisted of a handful of frigates under orders to patrol the Atlantic seaboard. During the second war with England, Marines served aboard Yankee frigates in both the Atlantic and Pacific. Following the war, the Navy was charged with the protection of American interests througout the world.

Many of these vessels had no Marine officer. Instead, a sergeant was responsible for the conduct of the ship's detachment. Thus, a sergeant serving on a sloop-of-war off Java drew the same pay as a sergeant in the Washington barracks, but his responsibilities were many times greater. To remedy this situation, the Marine Corps in 1833 created the grade of orderly sergeant. Thirty "orderly sergeants and 1st sergeants of guards at sea" were to be paid $16 per month, the same amount as the drum major and fife major. The 41 "other sergeants" received $13 per month.

1834 saw an important step in the evolution of the modern first sergeant when three orderly sergeants were employed as clerks at Headquarters. One noncommissioned officer was employed by the Colonel Commandant, a second by the Adjutant Inspector, and the third by the Quartermaster. Although these men were eventually replaced by civilian clerks, their employment as administrative specialists did set a precedent.

Although the noncommissioned officer in charge of a ship's guard usually was called an orderly sergeant, the term "first sergeant" occasionally was used in official documents, especially in those recording the activities of Marine detachments at shore stations. In brief, the orderly sergeant had become recognized as "first sergeant" in every sense of the word. His greater responsibilities both in leadership and administration was reflected by his higher pay grade. he was a cut above the ordinary sergeant.

By the close of the Civil War, the orderly sergeant had advanced above the quartermaster sergeant into the second pay grade. During 1872, the Marine Corps dropped the title "orderly sergeant" for the more descriptive "first sergeant.

First sergeants remained in the second pay grade until
1893 when, together with the drum major, they received a pay increase of three dollars per month. The sergeant major and quartermaster continued to head the list of noncommissioned officers, but they were drawing only $23, two dollars less than a drum major or first sergeant.

This unusual situation was further complicated by a wartime measure enacted on 5 May 1898 which authorized the grade of gunnery sergeant. A law enacted on 5 May 1899 set forth the enlisted grades and the authorized strength of each, beginning with five sergeants major, one drum major, 20 quartermaster sergeants, and 72 billets for gunnery sergeants on a par with first sergeants in everything but pay. The "gunny" was to receive $35 each month to the latter's $25. Presumeably, the additional ten dollars was in recognition of the gunnery sergeant's skill with naval ordnance.

Enlisted Ranks And Grades, US Marine Corps, 1775-1958, by Bernard C. Nalty, Historical Branch, G-3, HQMC, Wash,DC, June 1959

Joined: January 1st, 1970, 12:00 am

June 10th, 2003, 7:19 pm #9

By July 1899, the Marine Corps enlisted rank structure had definitely been altered. Now there were numerous Marines serving in two grades between sergeant and sergeant major (the first sergeant and gunnery sergeant). And a mighty blow had been struck at tradition by altering the term "fifer" to "trumpeter." Fifers, the partner in melody to the Marine Corps drummer, had been in use since the earliest days of the Continental Marines, and the word "musics" had also been used from 1816 and probably earlier. The Marine Corps had actually abandoned the fife in the 1880s in favor of the trumpet , yet none of this made any difference, for tradition dies hard in the Corps. The man who sounded the trumpet was still regarded as a fifer regardless of the instrument he played.

The sergeant major headed the list of ranking enlisted Marines, next, at the same salary, came the quartermaster sergeant, then the drum major. Ranked with the first sergeant was the gunnery sergeant at a monthy pay fixed by law at $35 per month, to the former's $25 per month--this was the highest of any Marine Corps noncommissioned officer. Next came the sergeants, corporals, and then drummers, trumpeters, and privates.

The first sergeant had assumed a more logical relationship, as far as pay was concerned, to the sergeant major. The gunnery sergeant, however, was being paid more than his rank would indicate; but this perhaps could be justified on the grounds of technical abilities. But then, in the spring of 1908, the base pay of sergeants major, quartermaster sergeants, first sergeants, and drum majors was raised to $45 dollars per month, while gunnery sergeants continued to draw $35.

In creating the rank of gunnery sergeant, the Marine Corps had recognized the fact that tecniques of warfare were changing rapidly. On the eve of world War One, a conflict which would point out the need for enlisted specialists, a candidate for the grade of gunnery sergeant was tested primarily in the mysteries of naval ordnance; but with the development of new signal equipment, some gunnery sergeants were trained in operating and maintaining radios, Still others specialized in telephone communications or in using electrically controlled coast defense mines.

Unfortunately, not every specialist could be a gunnery sergeant. Cooks, gunpointers, and signalmen posed posed a special problem; for, although they had certain valuable skills, they could not be promoted to the higher enlisted grades without working a grave injustice. The Marine Corps, in other words, faced the problem of rewarding skills without giving the specialist more authority than he could handle. The answer was found in 1908, when the Corps was authorized to give additional pay to certain enlisted men.

From 1908 until the armistice of 11 November 1918, there were but two major changes in the Marine Corps enlisted rank structure. By 1 January 1914, the gunnery sergeant had been returned to the top pay grade along with the sergeant major, drum major, quartermaster sergeant, and first sergeant; and, in 1917 the grade of private first class was authorized.

Dick Gaines
GySgt USMC (Ret.)

R.W. "Dick" Gaines
GySgt USMC (Ret.)
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