The brief history of each branch's motto

From the historic to the modern, each motto reflects the values of their branch

The brief history of each branch's motto

Photo by Amy Willard/Flickr

By Rachel Engel
M1 Staff

Each branch has its own identity, and their slogan or motto is meant to capture that identity—what it means to be a part of that service. But, where do these mottos come from? What is the history? Some have a history rooted before the country was even independent from Britain, while others are more modern.

U.S. Army – “This We’ll Defend.”
The Continental Army was established in 1775, a full year before the nation exerted its independence from Great Britain, and their goal was not to fight for sovereignty, but to defend liberty. The phrase “This We’ll Defend,” traces back to the founding of the ‘War Office’—an intermediary between the states and the Army. In a 2012 post, former Army Chief of Staff Gen. Ray Odierno said “the pronoun ‘we’ reinforces our collective or team effort, and ‘defend’ remains our Army’s main mission.’” 

U.S. Marine Corps – “Semper Fidelis
Often shortened to “Semper Fi,” the Marine motto is highly recognized, even amongst civilians and foreigners, as belonging to the Corps. The Latin phrase, which means, "always faithful," dates back to the 14th century, and was used as a motto for many early English towns. The Marines adopted it as their motto in 1883, after dropping three previous mottos, including Fortitudine, meaning “with courage,” Per Mare, Per Terram, meaning “by sea, by land,” and the hymn motto, “To the shores of Tripoli.” The Marine motto is associated with the fierce dedication and loyalty to ‘Corps and Country,’ even after leaving the service.  

U.S. Air Force – “Aim High: Fly-Fight-Win”
The Air Force has had several mottos and recruiting slogans, including “No One Comes Close,” Uno Ab Alto (“One From On High”), “Aim High,” Cross into the Blue,” “We’ve Been Waiting For You,” “Do Something Amazing” and “Above All.” In 2010, after nine months of research and surveys with active duty airmen, they landed on their current motto, which is considered a call and response. 

U. S. Navy – "America's Navy," in transition
Currently, with the closing line, “America’s Navy,” in its commercials, the Navy is without an official motto. Its previous motto, “A global force for good,” was dropped in Dec. 2014 during the Army-Navy football game, and a contest was launched this year to find a replacement. However, due to controversy, no slogan was chosen as the winner. The goal is to eventually find a suitable motto for the service, but, for now, they remain branded as “America’s Navy.”