U.S. Coast Guard Battle Streamers

There is no doubt that the Coast Guard cherishes its many peacetime activities.  But it is also proud of its service in the wars of the United States.  The "system of cutters" was only seven years old when several of its fleet fought in the Quasi-War with France.  In this war and the War of 1812, these small, lightly armed cutters proved their worth against experienced European warships.


The Coast Guard adopted battle streamers in 1968 following the practice established by the U.S. Marine Corps.  The U.S. Army, however, was the first U.S. armed service to begin the practice of awarding and displaying battle streamers, beginning officially in 1920.


Battle honors were first depicted by inscribing the names of battles on the organizational color or guidon.  On August 25, 1861, Major General John C. Fremont, commanding the Western Department, commended troops from Iowa, Kansas, and Missouri for their extraordinary service in the battle of Wilson's Creek, near Springfield, Missouri which had occurred 10 days earlier.  The Union soldiers had fought a Confederate force five times as large and the battle ended in a moral victory for the Union Army. Fremont ordered the word "Springfield" to be emblazoned on the colors of the units involved in the fighting.  General Order 19, War Department, February 22, 1862, prescribed that there should be inscribed upon the color or guidons of all regiments and batteries the names of the battles in which they had borne a meritorious part.


On February 7, 1890, the use of inscribed battle honors upon the national and regimental colors was discontinued and engraved silver rings, now called silver bands, were authorized. This practice continued until 1918 when the silver bands were in short supply and the War Department authorized the Commanding General, American Expeditionary Forces (Gen. John J. Pershing) to locally procure ribbon as a substitute and inscribe on the ribbon strips the name of special battles and major operations that color bearing units of the AEF had been engaged in during World War I. These ribbon strips became the forerunners of our present day campaign streamers.  Hand embroidered silk streamers were introduced on 3 June 1920. The original directive prescribed that there would be a silk streamer for each war in which the organization participated in the theatre of operations and to be the color of the campaign ribbon for the different wars. The name of the battle or campaign of a war was embroidered on the ribbon.  Unit award streamers were also first authorized in 1920 when the War Department authorized a blue silk streamer with the name of the action embroidered thereon. The streamer was adopted to reflect organizations "Mentioned In Orders" by the War Department for meritorious service in action.


Streamers are attached to the Coast Guard standard, replacing cords and tassels.  They are carried in all ceremonies representing heroic actions in all naval encounters from 1798 to the Vietnam War and beyond.  Any Coast Guard unit may display the battle streamers.


The Coast Guard has authorized a total of 43 battle streamers.