The Army celebrates 14 June, 1775 as its birthday. On that day, the Continental Congress called for ten companies of expert rifleman to be formed. The day is also in effect, the birth of America’s first Infantry. These men came from Delaware, Maryland, Pennsylvania and Virginia comprising the 1st Continental Regiment. Within two months they were in contact with British troops around Boston harassing the redcoats with long range rifle fire. At first, the 1st Continental Regiment were considered elite troops by George Washington and excused from the ordinary details their militia peers performed. After their first drunken riot the 1st Regiment pulled detail just like the rest of the fledgling Continental Army.
I’ve taken the opportunity on previous Army birthdays to discuss the Army flag’s 188 campaign streamers which make it weigh about 30 pounds. I’ve related that the Army is the nation’s oldest and largest service. I’ve also written about over a million soldiers, over 80% of our nation’s freedom bill, have made the ultimate sacrifice.
This bloody testament to the Army’s role is the cornerstone of the Army mission and self-identity as reflected in its almost unknown motto, “This We’ll Defend!” A motto presented at the top of the almost as poorly recognized Army crest and seal. Seems that many think the Army star recruiting logo is its official emblem. It isn’t.
The Army crest as pictured above was adopted relatively recently in 1974. It’s tardy adoption symptomatic of the Army’s lack of insecurity in its legitimacy or relevancy. The Army is despite the Army’s singular and seminal contribution to the nation, is also the most modest and egalitarian.
The Army crest comes from the Army seal whose greatest difference is that the seal is always represented in black and white.
The Army seal consists of a centered Roman cuirass below a vertical sword which is pointed up. A Phrygian cap rests on the sword point. Above the Phrygian cap is a rattlesnake holding in its mouth a scroll inscribed “This We’ll Defend.” Centered below the cuirass are the Roman numerals “MDCCLXXVIII.” To the right of the sword is an esponton, on the left a musket with fixed bayonet. On the cuirass’ right is a representation of the US flag above a cannon barrel. Between the cannon and flag is a drum with two drumsticks. Below and in front of the cannon barrel is a pile of three cannon balls. To the left of the cuirass and musket is a national color of the Revolutionary War period above a mortar on its mount. Below the mortar are two bomb shells placed side by side.
The Symbolism represented by the items above comes from the US Army Center of Military History’s site:
Symbolism: The central element, the Roman cuirass, is a symbol of strength and defense. The sword, esponton (a type of half-pike formerly used by subordinate officers), musket, bayonet, cannon, cannon balls, mortar, and mortar bombs are representative of Army implements. The drum and drumsticks are symbols of public notification of the Army’s purpose and intent to serve the nation and its people. The Phrygian cap (often called the Cap of Liberty) supported on the point of an unsheathed sword and the motto, “This We’ll Defend,” on a scroll held by the rattlesnake is a symbol depicted on some American colonial flags and signifies the Army’s constant readiness to defend and preserve the United States.
Surprisingly, you likely know more about the Army seal than most soldiers who while assigned to units often memorize the unit’s history, emblems and specific culture are often not formally instructed on their service branch’s history. That’s another symptom of the Army’s lack of insecurity as well as to its sheer size and wealth of history. The Army is a huge tribe with numerous clans often too focused on doing the job than an institutional introverted examination of itself. It is both a strength and a weakness.
So after a brief sojourn into Army history, heraldry and culture I extend on this Army Birthday and Flag Day a “Happy 240th Birthday US Army”.