News: Colors ceremony more than pomp, circumstance
Story by Lance Cpl. Katalynn M. Rodgers
SAN DIEGO - Every day at sunrise, the American flag is honored and hoisted up flagpoles on U.S. military installations worldwide.
Every Friday that new Marines graduate aboard Marine Corps Recruit Depot San Diego, family members and friends are introduced to this tradition at a special ceremony.
“Every day twice a day it’s been done for as long as the depot has been here,” said Col. Robert W. Gates, Marine Corps Recruit Depot San Diego and the Western Recruiting Region chief of staff. “We do it every day when we raise the flag, the formality that we do [at the Friday morning colors ceremony] is a little bit more pomp and circumstance. It really is a way to showcase the Marine Corps and welcome families.”
Although morning colors is an everyday event, this ceremony is a more formal way of honoring our national colors.
“The purpose of the Morning colors ceremony is to formally raise our nation’s flag in a military ceremony,” said Gates.“It provides us a brief moment to reflect on its meaning and to also reflect on the millions of men and women who have worn the cloth of our nation and protected its shores from our foes since 1776.”
Over 50 depot Marines participate in this ceremony. Marine Band San Diego plays ceremonial music and three formations of Marines stand tall, symbolizing the critical elements needed to transform young men into Marines.
In one formation, Marines from Recruit Training Regiment represent drill instructors and basic combat skills instructors from Weapons Field Training Battalion. These Marines are responsible for training recruits day and night, and teaching them their primary job as Marines – how to be riflemen.
Another formation consists of Marines who represent the Western Recruiting Region. These are recruiters who are charged with finding the best men and women to be U.S. Marines, and in many cases were the new Marines’ first contact with the Marine Corps.
The last is of Headquarters and Service Battalion. They help make sure that the base runs smoothly, from building upkeep to the military police who secure the base.
“It really drives home that no matter what your [military occupational specialty] is, you are the most well-trained fighting force,” said Gunnery Sgt. Rickey Gould, operations chief, Headquarters Company, Headquarters and Service Battalion.
At every Friday colors ceremony the commanding general, or a representative, thanks families for giving up one of their own to the United States Marine Corps.
This ceremony is an opportunity for the commanding general to get up close and personal with the families of new Marines, said Gould. It’s a little more intimate than at graduation.
“It gives the leadership of the depot a chance to address the families and welcome them to the Marine Corps and thank them for their support of their sons to become United States Marines,” said Gates.
Morning and evening colors have been a tradition since 1843 when the U.S. Navy borrowed the tradition of morning and evening colors from the British. According to the Royal Navy National Archives, the present ceremony of hoisting colors each morning was instituted by Lord St. Vincent in 1797.
The first mention of a time regulation for morning colors was in the 1843 Rules and Regulations for the government of the Navy, if sunset was after 6 p.m. morning colors would be at 8 a.m. and if sunset was before six, colors would go at 9 a.m. Since 1876, morning colors was set at 8 a.m. in all cases.
“The ceremony has morphed over the years,” said Gould. “It used to be that the formations were one of officers and one of staff non-commissioned officers. Having three formations of different ranks can give families a broader understanding of what it takes to train these young men in a safe, productive manner.”
Traditions are a large part of the Marine Corps, from the ceremonies performed to the nickname “devil dog.”
“We all come from different walks of life in the Marine Corps,” said Gates. “The one thing that bonds all of us as Marines is our history. Your grandfather is my grandfather, the same goes for everybody in the Marine Corps.”
This ceremony isn’t just about keeping with traditions; it’s about the families of the Marine Corps’ newest Marines.
“The Friday morning colors ceremony conducted aboard MCRD San Diego provides families with a brief history of morning colors and educates them on: the units that constitute the Western Recruiting Region and Marine Corps Recruit Depot; the Depot Color Guard; and the MCRD Band,” said Gates. “It also demonstrates to them one of the many customs the Marine Corps follows that are part of our military traditions and provides a venue for Depot leadership to address the families of the graduating Marines and welcome them to the Marine Corps family.”
Some family members are already familiar with the military culture, having children who have already completed recruit training or being veterans themselves.
“It’s watching the colors march on and listening to the band that really makes you think about the country and these young men who are about to embark on a really amazing journey,” said Michael Hall, Marine veteran and father a newly-graduated Marine Oct. 7. “In 1975, when I was in the Marine Corps, it wasn’t fashionable to be patriotic. It’s great to see that people are enthusiastic about our boys. This ceremony really brings back memories for me.”
Whether it’s during a ceremony on graduation Fridays or every day at sunrise and sunset, Marine Corps Recruit Depot San Diego continues to uphold its traditions to this day.
“Military traditions like morning colors are important to the Marine Corps because they remind us of our past and provide us with a foundation from which we can continue our legacy,” said Gates. “Military traditions also enable us to honor those service members who have gone before us and provide credence to their actions.”