Marines and Sailors: (and Army too)
One of the questions you may hear during your career as a Marine or Sailor is: If the Navy observes its official birthday on 13 October 1775 and the Marine Corps observes its official birthday on 10 November 1775, and the Marine Corps is officially recognized as part of the Department of the Navy, why do the Marine Corps' colors have precedence over the Navy's colors in official formations? Read on...
The regulation that directs this order of precedence is Department of Defense Directive 1005.8; Order of Precedence of Members of Armed Forces of the United States When in Formations, dated 31 October 1977.
I've attached this directive below for your further reading, but the more interesting part of the story is the history behind why that precedence is observed by the Department of Defense.
Seniority of the Army, Navy and Marine Corps is obscured by the divergent elements of the intentions of the Continental Congress as compared to the realization of those intentions. Although the intention of the Congress to establish an Army is apparent in several resolutions of June 1775, the realization of those intentions was not effected until 01 January 1776 when General Washington stated in his orderly book, "This day giving commencement to the new Army which in every point of view is entirely Continental." Likewise the Navy which the Congress created by resolution in October 1775 was not to be realized until several months later. The process of procuring and outfitting ships as well as enlisting and commissioning personnel was a time consuming one. The commander in chief of the Navy and other officers were not commissioned until 22 December 1775.
The Marine Corps, on the other hand, even though established by resolution on 10 November 1775, was actually a force in readiness before the Army or the Navy. Samuel Nicholas was commissioned a Captain of Marines on 28 November 1775, a month before the first officer of the Continental Navy was commissioned. In fact, the only facts that correspond to the present parade order of Army, Marine Corps, and Navy respectively, are the dates when their first officers were commissioned, in June, November, and December of 1775. Indeed, the Marine Corps' claim to being the oldest integral force in being results primarily from fortunate circumstances. The Corps was much smaller and more closely knit than either of the other services, and its origin was not complicated by the existence of provincial and local forces already in the field.
Thus, the Continental Marine force was all regular Marine from the beginning during the period when the Army was an amorphous mass of mixed Continentals and militia, and the Navy lacked ships. The Marine Corps, therefore, could be considered the first truly "federal" armed services branch of the United States of America. In any case, the present order of parade precedence has become one of our foremost military customs and as the foregoing has indicated, there is little evidence to support any change in that order. The present order of parade precedence is defined in DoD Directive 1005.8 as Army, Marine Corps, Navy, and Air Force.
Therefore, by analogy, the order of display of colors in any fashion, to include service branch seals, should be in the same order.
DoD Dir 1005.8.doc
There are other lines of reasoning for the precedence of Marine Corps colors before Navy colors, but these versions are less popularly accepted as the above: here are two: 1. The foundation of the Continental Navy is recognized as being on 13 October 1775 when Congress authorized the outfitting of two vessels "of ten carriage guns." This is the date we quote as the Navy's birthday. The Marine Corps was established the following month, on 10 November 1775. Jump ahead to 03 June 1785 when Congress authorized the sale of the one remaining Naval vessel, the frigate Alliance. This was the end of the Continental Navy. For the next several years, the nation had no Navy, until 27 March 1794 when Congress authorized the construction and purchase of six frigates.
This is the foundation of the U.S. Navy as we know it today. Now, this begs the question of whether or not you can have a Marine Corps without a Navy, but because of the USMC's order or precedence in relation to the Navy, I suspect the answer is yes. 2. Although the Continental Navy was established by Congress on 13 October, 1775 - it disappeared when Congress had the Continental Navy's ships absorbed into the War Department. The department of the Navy, which today encompasses the Marine Corps, was not established until 30 April 1798 - well after the 10 November 1775 establishment of the Marine Corps.
...and now you know the story behind a little know piece of Naval and Marine history, but which is seen in every proper display of service branch colors in the world.