I recall vividly a day in 1953 at Tent Camp #3,
at CJHP, when M/Sgt Tony Virginia pointed out to
me that "Semper Fi" did not mean Semper Fidelis;
it was not an abbreviation of Semper Fidelis, nor
did it have anything positive in common with
Semper Fidelis. He then went further into detail
regarding just what Semper Fi was and meant. It
had apparently come into use with the influx of
great numbers of new Marines, during WW II, into
what had been a very small U.S. Marine Corps.
The Top stated that, in many cases, promotions
became much faster than previously experienced
for the peacetime Marines. At one point early in
WW II, Marine enlisted began to wear chevrons
only on the left sleeve, due to a policy of
conservation of supplies. He advised that the term
Semper Fi came into being with a gesture
reminiscent of the old Italian salute, and he
demonstarted this by slapping his right hand over
the left upper arm (over the chevron) while he
spoke the words, Semper Fi! This was obviously intended as an obscene term and gesture. The above noted
conversation with Top Virginia, now more an 50+
years ago made an impression on me.
Though I have sometimes used both the correct
Semper Fidelis as well as, sometimes, using the,
what has become the usual, Semper Fi, I have
always preferred Semper Fidelis, and for obvious
People in general, and Marines too, pretty much
just accept the current customs, explanations, if any, and norms as they
are without question. Sometimes, however,
something occurs which calls attention to certain
things that we all have just accepted as is. I
think this is one of those times, and for myself,
I choose to go with Semper Fidelis, and pass by
the (now traditional, incorrect as it may be)
I have recently noted with interest the following
posted to the Fifth Marine Division website...
"ANOTHER THING: WE ARE TRYING TO GET THE MARINES
TO USE THE PROPER
PHRASE/MOTTO OF THE U.S.M.C. AND THAT IS "SEMPER
FIDELIS" - "ALWAYS
NOT SEMPER FI - WHAT IN HELL IS ALWAYS "FI"..
WHAT DOES "FI' MEAN??
USE SEMPER FIDELIS
DEAL OR NO DEAL
IF YOU DON'T KNOW WHAT SEMPER FI MEANT IN THE
40'S AND 50'S, IT
MEANT THINGS LIKE I GOT MINE, BUDDY BOY, OR GET
F----D, OR GO TO H--L
THATS AN INSULT TO YOUR FELLOW MARINES, AND IT IS
AREN'T WORRIED ABOUT BEING POLITICALY CORRECT,
BUT WE MUST HAVE
FAITH IN THE "BROTHERHOOD."
MARINES CAN'T LIVE ON THAT KIND OF FOOD, NOT IN
TODAYS WORLD.. YOU
CAN'T GIVE A TERRORIST ANY KIND OF OPENING.
DON'T EVER FORGET THAT WE ARE A "BROTHERHOOD",
AND THAT MEANS WE
NEED EACH OTHER, PERIOD.
ARE WE WORRIED, "HELL NO, WE ARE MARINES!."
SO, DEAL OR NO DEAL..
And, too, there is....
"When did the term "Semper Fi," an abbreviation?
of Semper Fidelis, come
Although not exactly recorded in history, one
story stands out.
Sometime shortly after the Beirut bombing in
1983, thenCommandant of
the Marine Corps General Paul X. Kelley was
visiting a wounded Marine
in the hospital. The lad shook the Commandant's
hand and then
scribbled the words "Semper Fi" on a piece of
paper. It was the
Marine's way of saying "Semper Fidelis." Gen
Kelley became emotional
and said, "Lord, where do we get such men?" The
press picked up on it.
After that the term "Semper Fi" was given new
life and a new meaning
among Marines. However, for older Marines, the
term had a slightly
different meaning. Today while one understands
"Semper Fi" to be a
Marine greeting, in the past. "Semper Fi, Mac"
meant "I got mine, how
Leatherneck magazine FAQ
And the following is from one of my own previous
postings on this topic...
"Since then, although I have gone along with the
herd at times and used
the phrase, I have always preferred Semper
Fidelis, Always Faithful,
even though many generations of newer boots have
assumed it to be just
an abbreviation of Semper Fidelis. Sort of like
in the '60s, when
"Sorry 'Bout Dat" (meaning screw you...) also
came into use for the
See the book, Semper Fi, Mac by Henry Berry,
1982, Qill...About The
Title...where Berry says practically the same
thing as I have written
above. There are many more references to this in
many books, etc.
There have been many other bastardizations of
Marine words, words
like, "Gung Ho," EGA for Eagle, Globe and Anchor
(or just Globe and
With the big enlisted rank structure change of
1960 came the problem
of the troops calling one another by the
so-called E-numeric pay
grades V. their actual rank titles, e.g., E-4 for
Corporal, E-5 for
Sergeant, etc. And that problem persists to this
I take heart that you old salts are seeking to
bring this to light on
your 5th Marine Division website, and it is being
R.W. "Dick" Gaines
Gny Sgt USMC (Ret.)
R.W. "Dick" Gaines
GnySgt USMC (Ret.)
1952 (Plt #437)--'72
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