What Does Semper Fi Mean? Life Lessons From The United States Marine Corps

Semper Fi.
~ USMC

What does semper fi mean? The words or phrase semper fi have entered our common lexicon and become associated with the United States Marine Corps. But the words are much older than the marines because they are Latin. And the Latin language has been around for more than 2,000 years. The Marine Corps has been around for almost 350 years.

Semper fi has actually been shortened from the Latin Semper Fidelis which means “Always Loyal” or “Always Faithful”.

In fact, semper fidelis has been used by families, cities and many other groups including military groups since at least the 16th century. The USMC has only used the motto since 1883 when they adopted it. The British 1st Exeter and South Devonshire Rifle Corps have been using semper fidelis since 1852. Other military groups that have used the motto semper fidelis before the USMC are the Canadian Armed Forces West Nova Scotia Regiment formed in the 1936 from the Lunenburg Regiment formed in 1870.

Also, the 11th Infantry Regiment of the United States Army has had that motto since they were formed in 1861.

Nevertheless, it is from the marines’ eagle, globe and anchor emblem that we have come to most identify the motto semper fi with the Corps. It is the eagle of said emblem that holds a scroll with the words “Semper Fidelis” inscribed on it.

Interestingly, the Marine Corps had 3 previous mottos before settling on semper fidelis. The first was “Fortitudine” meaning “with courage” then came “Per Mare, Per Terram” meaning “by sea, by land” taken from the British Royal Marines, and until 1843 there was also the motto used “To the Shores of Tripoli”. To the Shores of Tripoli is also known as the Marines’ Hymn and that line is the second line in the lyrics of that song. And this song incidentally is also the oldest official song in the United States Military.

Semper Fidelis means more than just “always faithful or loyal”. It represents loyalty and honour and courage that marines have for their country and corps whether in active duty or retired.

So what are some of the life lessons we can learn from the United States Marines besides the obvious loyalty?

Courage
The marines have earned their reputation as being men and women of courage honestly. The lifting of the flag, that great memorial of the marines lifting the flag on Iwo Jima are testament to that ideal of courage.

Courage as defined by Merriam Webster : mental or moral strength to venture, persevere, and withstand danger, fear, or difficulty.

This is key. It is not the absence of danger or fear but the strength to endure, to carry on in the face of fear and danger and difficulty. Courage is a moral principle that exemplifies the human spirit in its ability to triumph over evil and in protecting the disenfranchised and weak.

Commitment
When the United States Marines decide on a course of action they commit to it. Sadly, this valuable and learnable behaviour is sadly lacking in our common culture. The marines are not only committed to their ideals and values and faithfulness, but also committed to carrying out those very tasks of which they are expected.

Commitment is a breakable, empty shell without the weight of moral courage in protecting it from disintegrating. Commitment and courage fit like a hand in a glove. Those with courage will always be able to commit to a course of action.

Perseverance
The US Marines persevere through the many trials and tribulations that they face in battle. But this is a skill that we should all master. It is only through a long and committed perseverance that any of us attain excellence.

Just like the marines require courage and commitment in seeing a battle through, it is only once mated to perseverance that they eventually succeed.

You can have courage, you can have commitment to your ideal or your cause, but without the ability to persevere through those challenges, success is limited and unlikely to bless you with its many treasures and rewards.

If you’d like to start making use of these life lessons learned from the US Marine Corps, I’d encourage you to take up their physical abilities test. Here is some info for men and the same for women.

You should aim for 100 points in each of the 3 tests. At the very least if you are serious about developing your courage, commitment and perseverance you should attain the level of 1st Class for your age group.

Doing so will not be easy, but it will improve your valour, your loyalty to seeing tough tasks through. You will develop courage because you will hurt and you will steal commitment to work through that hurt with the sheer perseverance to get to the state where even though you might be a civy “civilian” you can proudly say that you finished as 1st Class in the Marine Corps Physical Fitness test.

Semper Fi!

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