Coast Guard Flags
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SEMPER PARATUS: The Meaning.
William R. Wells, II
Semper Paratus is the well known motto of the U. S. Coast Guard. Although its origin, as
a motto, for the Coast Guard has been elusive, its use has become the focal point of the service
character. Elusive or not, recent research provided a hint from an indirect origin and this
discovery came, in a manner so typical of the Service’s history, while investigating other topics.
On face value, the motto is another Latin laden nineteenth century Victorian era phrase.
Nineteenth century officers familiar with classical literature and language gave Latin terms
automatic elevation above common station conveyed to the phrase a spiritual sincerity with the
perception of inspiration, integrity, and creditability. This was pretty heady stuff. Alternatively,
to the enlisted men of the era, being largely uneducated, the motto meant what the officer corps
told them it did; not unlike the Core Values of the present era. In other words, it made them feel
better, but to the officer corps, at least to those in service during the first half of the next century,
it became to mean responsibility.
Latter day Coastguardsmen have carried Semper Paratus into other forms from “Simply
Forgot Us,” where they perpetuated spirit of the motto by creating a noir pride in their own self
resolve to continue without external support, to the selfless epitome “You have to go out, but you
don’t have to come back.”
The latter transfiguration is not popular with the Coast Guard’s senior leadership;
nevertheless most Coast Guardsmen view this variation with pride because it implies an
acceptance for whatever may transpire during an operation.