Definition -Personal Color
For the US government and military, a personal color is a flag that represents an individual’s rank and/or office. This is where the term Flag Officer comes from. General Officers (GOs), Generals and Admirals, are Flag Officers because they have a flag with 1, 2, 3, or 4 stars on it.
The sample GO PCs above are in no particular order. Notice that the Army uses a red background and several branches use different colors. Most Army flags have gold colored fringe, some organizational and personal/positional colors have fringe based on the branch color.
The Marine Corps uses a darker red background and arranges stars differently. The fringe is gold colored.
The Navy arranges stars like the Marine Corps and has Admiral flags with a blue (line officer) and white (restricted officer) backgrounds. The white background is for officers ineligible for command at sea (Medical, JAG, etc.). The fringe is gold colored.
The Air Force follows the Army with star arrangement and uses the USAF blue for the background. The fringe is gold colored. The CAP seal is in the positional color (covered below) with a brighter blue.
The Space Force follows the Army with star arrangement. The flag color is black with silver colored fringe.
The Coast Guard arranges stars like the Marine Corps, has the service seal in the center. The fringe is gold colored.
Definition – Positional Color
Any civilian or member of the military who holds a certain office (position) in the US government or a military service is authorized a PC.
Examples of Positional Colors for civilians are each secretary of a military service (Secretary of the Army, Navy, etc.), Secretary of Defense, the President and Vice President, Senior Executive Service personnel, and more.
Examples of Positional Colors for military personnel are Chiefs of staff for the Army and Air Force, Chiefs of Naval and Space Operations, the Commandant of the Marine Corps, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and there are also several enlisted positional colors holders as well.
There are positional colors for the head of each branch of the Army (Adjutant General, Engineers, IG, JAG, etc.) and many, many more.
Below is the Secretary of the Navy flag. This is a civilian position but rates at the 4-star level. There are Assistant and Under Secretary flags as well.
Several high-ranking enlisted in our military warrant positional colors. They most often have the title of Senior Enlisted Leader. While our enlisted ranks may have stars in the design, it’s the added stars that elevate the individual for a position. Many enlisted leaders receive general officer protocols. As an example, below are the flags of the top enlisted leader of the US military, the Senior Enlisted Advisor to the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (SEAC) and the Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force (CMSAF).
But Wait, There’s More!
The US government has eight uniformed services: The six armed services (Army, Marine Corps, Navy, Air Force, Space Force, and Coast Guard) and the National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and Public Health Service (PHS).
NOAA (under the Department of Commerce), and PHS have small officer corps. These uniformed services have positional and flag officer colors. Here are some examples.
Interestingly, officers do not take part in color guards, carry guidon flags, or personal colors. So, both organizations do not use formations on a regular basis after training.
The first recorded use of a PC was for Julius Caesar, but some speculate the Pharaohs may have had them. Personal colors really got their popularity in medieval times when the knights would have their coat of arms emblazoned on a flag with a servant following behind carrying the flag (and possibly knocking coconut halves together). It follows that when the knight died, his PC bearer would be at the funeral. The thought process for trailing is that, in life, the PC bearer followed Caesar and the knights. It makes sense to continue that practice.
As goofy as this reference may be, it’s accurate, minus the coconut halves being knocked together. The knights here in the movie, Monty Python and the Holy Grail are followed by servants who are carrying their respective personal flags.
The Army, Air Force, Space Force, PC bearers all trail the casket, when it is in motion (caisson, coach, or by the body bearers).
The funeral party travels in the following order (see figure 14-4):TC 3-21.5, Drill and Ceremonies
– Conveyance with casket.
– Active pallbearers.
– Personal flag (if appropriate).
– Family and CAO.
The Marine Corps, Navy, and Coast Guard PC bearers precede the casket. This could come from this idea: depending on the Naval vessel, the PC would be flown from a mast or yardarm, usually at the front of the vessel (but it also depends on the vessel). This might be the difference between land-based and sea-based services, but it’s not a hard-and-fast rule.
d. The bearer of the personal flag of the deceased takes position and marches in front of the hearse or caisson.MCO 5060.20, Drill and Ceremonies
Display of personal flag, command pennant or commission pennant in funerals ashore. If the deceased was a flag or general officer, or at the time of his or her death, a unit commander or commanding officer of a ship, the appropriate personal flag or command pennant, or commission pennant, shall be draped in mourning and carried immediately in advance of the body in the funeral procession to the grave.OPNAVINST 1710.7A, Social Usage and Protocol
14.2.1. General. The USAF Honor Guard or the Base Honor Guard under the provisions of AFI 34-242, Mortuary Affairs Program, typically conducts military funerals. [This means you would use the applicable honor guard manual to obtain placement guidance – DM]188.8.131.52. Personal Colors. For funerals honoring general officers, their personal colors are present. During the ceremony, the honor guard will furl and case the personal colors. This is the only instance when personal colors are furled and cased.AFPAM 34-1202, Guide to Protocol
Order of Precedence of Multiple PCs
It’s quite possible to have more than one personal color at a funeral. For instance, a Medal of Honor recipient might also have been a prisoner of war. That recipient might be the senior leader of their branch of service, which would bring the total to three PCs.
The order in these instances would be MoH, positional, POW/MIA. The POW flag changes places each year on several holidays (read here), this does not apply to PCs as the MoH would always be first, regardless of the PC lineup and the positional would always take precedence over the POW.
Information on the Medal of Honor flag is found in Title 36 USC section 903 and Public Law107-248.
SEC. 8143. (a) Congress finds that— (1) the Medal of Honor is the highest award for valor in action against an enemy force which can be bestowed upon an individual serving in the Armed Forces of the United States [this means that no other personal color would take precedence- DM].Title 36 USC section 903 and Public Law 107-248
After the procession is finished and the escort has arrived at the grave site, each ceremonial element posts along with the PC bearer(s). Regardless of the service, the PC bearer posts near the escort officer at the head.
The First Responder PC
A PC for the Fallen might be something your department honor guard would be interested in. A Thin Line flag (black background with the single colored stripe) or a special flag created by your department could serve as a PC. What might add extra significance is using streamers with the names and dates of the department’s LODDs.
Many thanks to DeVaughn Simper, Vexillologist, of www.colonialflag.com and Michael Kelley, DrillMaster002