California State Military Department
The California Military Museum
Preserving California's Military Heritage
Heraldry and Insignia of the California State Military Forces
Flags of California's Naval Forces
By Sergeant Mark J. Denger
California Center for Military History
 
Naval Battalion of the National Guard of California
 
One of this state's most distinctive symbols, the grizzly bear, has long been an emblem of the California National Guard. Its very character is not only worn by the men and women of this state's military forces but can be found on the state's ensign as well.
 
Our state ensign, easily distinguishable, truly embodies the history of this state. The "Bear Flag," known from the annals of this state's history, dates from the days of those early California pioneers and commemorates the biggest bear known to science, the California grizzly, now extinct.
 
Adopted in 1911 as the state's official ensign, the state's flag was first flown on the battlefields of Europe during World War I, borne by the citizen soldiers of the National Guard of California, mustered during that war into the Federal service. Since receiving its first baptism by fire, the men of this state who fought under these colors during that war were entrusted with the proud distinction of winning the first silver bands which encircle the staffs of this state's regimental standards, thus perpetuating the story of this state's citizen soldiers' worthy achievements during the Spanish-American War (1898) and Philippine Insurrection (1898-1902).
 
Yet the flag of the Naval Battalion of the National Guard claims no such honor or distinction. No silver band encircles its staffs. Still, much of today's Naval Reserve history is based upon this state's Naval Militia and its humble beginnings under the flag of the Naval Battalion of the National Guard. In the terms of its place in the annuals of military history, the flag of the Naval Battalion bears forth one of this state's most picturesque chapters in American naval history.
 
The Naval Militia of California and its flag's history rightly begins with the act of the Legislature by which the Naval Battalion of the National Guard became a possibility. Approved March 31, 1891, and entitled: "An act to establish a naval battalion, to be attached to the National Guard of California", by the terms of the act, the organization of the battalion was made to conform generally to the provisions of the laws of the United States government militia bodies, and the system of discipline and exercises was made to conform as nearly as might be, to that of the United States Navy. When not otherwise provided for, the organization was placed under the laws of which govern the National Guard of California, and the Governor had the same power over it as he had over the other State military forces.
 
The Naval Battalion, and thereby its flag, occupied a peculiar position in its relation to all other military forces, both regular and militia, and the naval forces of the United States. It partook of the properties of all, and yet the true Naval Militia man was every inch a citizen soldier and sailor of the National Guard of California.
 
The Adjutant General's Report of 1891-1892, under General Order No. 4, page 121, first describes the flag of the Naval Battalion as follows:

"The flag designed for the Naval Battalion is six feet fly, by four feet six inches hoist; a blue field with crossed foul anchors, surrounded by thirteen stars; the stars to be arranged in an oval form; anchors and stars to be of white material."
 
The flag of the Naval Battalion of the National Guard, with its blue field and two crossed anchors, fouled in their cables and surrounded by thirteen white stars, also adorned all battalion stationary and formed the official badge of the battalion. It was to the Naval Militia men the embodiment of the "Bear Flag" itself.
 
Following the theory of the organization to its logical conclusion, the Naval Militia man was a true fighter of the first order. He had to know the duties of that of the sailor on shipboard, first of all; he then was required to know how to land on a beach or rocky shore, and that, too, in the face of an enemy; then, after his landing, become a soldier, and thereby assuming the duties of a soldier making the theory of land warfare a must as well. In addition to the afore mentioned, this citizen soldier had to be a good shot with his rifle, whether on solid ground, on the rolling deck of a ship, or in the swaying "top" at the mast head. He had to have a complete understanding of the machine gun, of torpedoes, and powder in all its forms; he had to be able to use his cutlass and revolver with deadly effect, and above all, those long black, wicked looking naval breech loaders had to be as familiar to his hand and eye, as his vessel itself. He was required to be a sailor at sea, a soldier on land, a sharp-shooter in the top, a gunner on deck, and at home efficient in any or all of his numerous characters.
 
The officers and men of the Naval Battalion of the National Guard were bound together by only two inseparable ties. One was the state flag under which they served, the other was their love for the sea.
 
While the flag of the Naval Battalion soon gave way to that of the Naval Militia, like its counterparts of the National Guard, their standard continues to perpetuate the history of this state's many worthy military achievements. And, like the flags and banners of our other state military forces, the flag of the Naval Battalion of the National Guard, and that of the Naval Militia of California, long ago epitomized for our state's army and navy the high principles for which our state's citizen soldiers strive in battle. Were it not for the ideals which these banners have kept ever before the citizen soldier and sailor of this state he would be bestialized by slaughter.
 
We, the citizen soldiers of this state, therefore, hold to the ideals represented in the history and promise of this Republic's grand "Bear Flag" –wearing its mighty symbol upon our military uniforms today. And though many a Guardsman have fallen in the achievement of those ideals, a noble and imperishable good endures as a monument to their sacrifice.

California Naval Militia
 
Unlike the flag of the state's early Naval Battalion, which was of state design, the flag of the Naval Militia was imposed upon the state by Department of the Navy.
 
The flag of the Naval Militia is described as consisting of a blue field with a yellow diamond imposed thereon. Centered upon the yellow diamond is the (blue) foul anchor of the navy.
 
In addition to the flag of the Naval Militia, ships of the Naval Militia flew the commissioning pennant of the Naval Militia while in the commission of the state. This flag was displayed at the main mast in place of the commissioning pennant of the U.S. Navy, unless the commanding officer had the rank of commodore, in which the commodore's pennant of the Naval Militia was flown in its stead. The commissioning pennant of the Naval Militia is of similar design to the commissioning pennant of the U.S. Navy. However, in place of the stars, a smaller version of the Naval Militia flag is represented; and instead of a red and white stripe, the commissioning pennant of the Naval Militia boar the colors blue and yellow.
 
The commodore's flag is similar to that of the U.S. Navy's commodore's flag except instead of a solid blue field, only the upper half of the flag is blue and the lower half is yellow, and on the blue half of which appears the five pointed star of the commodore.
 
Naval Militia Commissioning Pennant
Naval Militia Commodore's Flag. The flag of a commodore has one star and is a burgee. There are no commodores in active service in the U.S. Navy today. The title of commodore has been abolished from the naval service during peace time but the courtesy title of commodore, however, is still in use.
 
Naval Militia Flag. Vessels of the Naval Militia display this flag at the fore mast as a distinguishing mark.

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