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A Guide to the U.S. Marine Corps NCO Sword

Written By: Abigail Cambal
Published On: January 2, 2023
Edited by: Juliana Cummings

NO AI USED This Article has been written and edited by our team with no help of the AI

The Marine NCO sword serves as the symbol of authority and leadership of the United States Marine Corps noncommissioned officers. Used for ceremonial purposes, it is the second oldest military sword still in service in the U.S.

Learn more about its characteristics, history, and how it compares to the Mameluke sword of the Marine Officers.

Characteristics of the Marine Corps NCO Sword

The present-day USMC NCO sword was based on the 1850 Foot Officer’s Sword, with minor alterations. When choosing a ceremonial sword, opt for a well-balanced, serviceable weapon.

Here are the characteristics of the Marine NCO sword:

Metal and Construction

The Marine Corps Systems Command approves sword manufacturers that meet the requirements. Some suppliers, such as Atlanta Cutlery etch the certification number on the spine of the blade. As a ceremonial sword, the NCO saber has an unsharpened blade, often a carbon steel or stainless steel blade.

Blade Appearance

The Marine NCO sword has a single-edged blade with a slight curvature and nearly appears straight. However, blade configuration and etching vary slightly in earlier swords.

1850 Foot Officer’s Sword

1850 Foot Officer Saber
Model 1850 foot officer’s sword with scabbard – Credits: National Museum of American History

The 1850 Foot Officer’s Sword which the NCO sword is based on generally has a broader blade with wide and narrow fullers. It also featured the U.S. etching on the reverse part of the blade.

Earlier Marine NCO Swords

W.H. Horstmann Co. Model 1934 Marine Corps NCOs Sword
Horstmann & Sons Model 1859 Marine Corps sword – Credits: National Museum of American History

The earlier NCO swords are identical to the 1850 Foot Officer’s sword, but it features the U.S.M.C etching on the reverse part of the blade.

Later Marine NCO Swords

W.H. Horstmann Co. Model 1934 Marine Corps NCOs Sword
W.H. Horstmann Co. Model 1934 Marine Corps sword – Credits: National Museum of American History

The later NCO swords have slender blades and wide central fuller. They also have decorative etchings with the inscription United States Marines and feature the Marine Corps emblem on both sides of the blade.

Size and Length

The Marine NCO sword has a blade length of about 66 centimeters (26 inches) or longer. However, its appropriate size is determined by the “carry sword” position. The Marine holds the sword upright with its blade leaning against his shoulder while his arm is fully extended downward. As a rule of thumb, the tip of the blade should be about eye level.

Sword Mounting

The present-day Marine NCO sword is identical to the 1850 Foot Officer’s Sword with a cast brass hilt and a half-basket sword guard. It also comes in a black leather scabbard with gilded brass mountings. However, the means of carrying the weapon varied in earlier swords.

Differences1850 Foot Officer’s SwordEarlier Marine NCO SwordsLater Marine NCO Swords
GripFish skin grip coveringBlack leather grip coveringBlack leather grip covering
ScabbardScabbards had a frog stud  Scabbards featured a frog stud and carrying ringsScabbards have a frog stud
Sword FrogWorn suspended from a frog attached to waist beltsLower-ranking NCOs wore the sword in a frog while senior NCOs carried the sword on slings. The NCOs carried their sword on slings until 1948, when regulations provided that all NCOs, regardless of rank adopt the frog.

Today, the noncommissioned officers carry their NCO swords on a frog on the left hip, held in place using a leather belt. Generally, the service belt may be issued to NCOs and SNCOs for ceremonies, honor guards, parades, reviews, and other occasions where the sword is required. 

Who Are Authorized to Use the NCO Sword in Ceremonies?

Authorized to wield NCO swords
Member of the marines holding a sword – Credits: Marines

In the U.S. military, the Marine Corps is the only branch to authorize NCOs to carry a sword. The U.S. Marine Corps noncommissioned officers (NCOs) and staff noncommissioned officers (SNCOs) use their ceremonial swords in parades, reviews, and other ceremonies.

  • Corporal
  • Sergeant
  • Staff Sergeant
  • Gunnery Sergeant
  • Master Sergeant
  • First Sergeant
  • Master Gunnery Sergeant
  • Sergeant Major
  • Sergeant Major of the Marine Corps

The NCO rank consists of corporals and sergeants in charge of lower-ranking marines. The SNCOs run from staff sergeant to sergeant major. These SNCOs want to advance in the ranks but probably do not intend to become commissioned officers.

However, lower-ranking marines such as the lance corporals and privates are forbidden to use the NCO sword in ceremonies. In some cases, they could be trained in using the sword but only for motivational purposes.

In Military Weddings

The arch of swords ceremony in military weddings represents the military’s pledge to honor the newly married couple. However, it is only authorized for SNCOs, warrant, and commissioned officers. Also, only the bride and groom are allowed to pass under the arch. In the cake cutting ceremony, it is traditional to use an NCO sword to cut the wedding cake.

In Military Funerals

The NCOs and Officers incorporate a mourning knot on the sword hilt in military funerals. The mourning knot can be a black silk ribbon or other similar material. For the NCO sword, the sword knot is attached to the knuckle bow.

Marine NCO Sword vs. Officer’s Mameluke Sword

Model 1875 Marine Corps Officers Sword
Model 1875 Marine Corps officer’s sword with scabbard – Credits: National Museum of American History

While the noncommissioned officers use the NCO sword, the commissioned and warrant officers use their Mameluke swords in parades and ceremonies. The commissioned officers consist of lieutenants, captains, colonels, and generals.

Both the NCO and Mameluke swords have a single edged, slightly curved blade. Their differences lie in the hilt design, with the NCO sword having a basket-hilt while the Mameluke sword features a pistol-style hilt. Both blades also have the United States Marines etching.

History of the Marine Corps Swords

Though now designated for ceremonial duty, the USMC swords represent the legacy of the Marine Corps. The two types of swords the Marines use today are the Officer’s Mameluke Sword, similar to the Persian shamshir, and the Marine NCO sword.

The Marine Officer’s Mameluke sword was inspired by the scimitar swords of the Mamluks

A Pair Of Us Marine Corps Officers Swords Of Mameluke Design, 1930s
US Marine Corps Officers Swords with Mameluke Design – Credits: Bonhams

During the First Barbary War, a Mameluke chieftain awarded a Mameluke sword to Lieutenant Presley O’Bannon for leading the attack on Derna, Tripoli. By 1825, the Marine Corps officers carried a replica of this sword in recognition of the historic battle. The Mameluke sword also influenced the ceremonial swords of other military forces.

The Marine NCO Sword was based on the 1850 Foot Officer’s Sword

Model 1850 Foot Officers Sword
Model 1850 Foot Officer’s Sword – Credits: National Museum of American History

In 1859 before the Civil War, the Marine Officers had adopted the Model 1850 Foot Officer’s Sword because it was more functional than their lighter Mameluke saber. By 1875, they returned to their Mameluke sword when its purpose had become symbolic rather than utilitarian. As a result, the Marine NCOs acquired the discarded officer swords and eventually became the NCO sword we know today.

The NCOs adopted the 1850 Foot Officer’s Sword during the “Golden Era.”

During the time, French emperor Napoleon III and his army set the military fashion in Europe. Military uniforms featured gold braids, hat plumes, and elegant ornaments. The 1850 Foot Officer’s Sword was based on French design and suited the preferences of the enlisted personnel and officers, including the Marine NCOs.

The NCO sword serves as one of the Marine Corps symbols

The USMC swords serve as recognition of the Marines’ leadership in combat. The Marines are also most famous for their dress blues during formal occasions, representing their values. On the other hand, the Marine Corps emblem consists of the eagle, globe, and anchor, abbreviated EGA, symbolizing their commitment to the country.


Today, the NCO sword remains one of the symbols that represent the fighting spirit of the US Marine Corps noncommissioned officers. These officers are also the only NCOs in any branch of the U.S. military who still have the privilege of carrying swords. The ceremonial sword is also sought-after by many collectors, historians, and others interested in weaponry.

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