The U.S. Navy is a fighting force that honors many traditions. It used to be that approaching ships would discharge their cannons to render themselves helpless as a show of respect and friendship to senior ships and shore batteries. Today, American warships still render gun salutes as a sign of respect. The Navy also connects with its revolutionary roots by flying the First Navy Jack.
A jack is the flag flown from the bow of a naval vessel. For many years, the Jack of the United States was a blue flag with five-pointed white stars, representing each state of the United States.
The First Navy Jack, often called the “Don’t Tread on Me” flag is a flag that has thirteen alternating red and white horizontal stripes, and a fully extended rattlesnake with the words “DON’T TREAD ON ME” displayed bellow the snake. The jack pays homage to the fighting spirit of America’s Navy. The stripes represent the original thirteen colonies, and the rattlesnake, indigenous to the Americas, was a symbol of the American resistance to British rule. The words offer a warning that like the rattlesnake, America’s Navy is not to be trifled with.
While there is little evidence that the snake and the motto flew on Continental Navy ships during the Revolutionary War, they absolutely flew jacks with the thirteen red and white stripes. The First Navy Jack, as it looks today, was most likely not flown officially until 1976, to celebrate America’s bicentennial. Then, the Don’t Tread On Me jacks flew on U.S. Navy ships for one year.
But as a Navy order, all U.S. Navy warships began flying the First Navy Jack both in port and while underway, beginning September 11, 2002. The change in jacks was intended to inspire American sailors, and to remind foreign enemies that they will get bit if they attempt to tread on the American way of life.
As part of the Navy, the U.S. Navy SEALS wear the First Navy Jack as patches on their uniforms. As of September 2013, the Navy expanded the usage of the “Don’t Tread on Me” patch to allow SEALs to wear their patches, now a SEAL tradition, while in the United States, as opposed to just while deployed or in pre-deployment training.
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Military Connection: Don’t Tread on Me, First Navy Jack: By Joe Silva