The swords used by the U.S. Marine Corps Non-Commissioned Officers (NCO) are a distinctive accessory seen on Marines in dress uniform. It is not just an out-dated prop. The sword has been in service for many years and continues to serve as much a purpose now as it did when it was first made.
The Marine NCO sword is a weapon awarded to enlisted Marines who reach the rank of Corporal (E-4). The sword is a symbol of the crucial leadership role the NCOs play in the field. It also serves as a formidable weapon.
The Marine Corps NCO Sword is 34 to 36 inches long. The blade is a saber type, long and thin but slightly curved with a false edge. The hilt (handle) is made of cast-brass with a leather-wrapped grip. The crossbar is the portion of the hilt that separates the handle from the blade; the guard covers the hand. These parts are also cast-brass. The scabbard that holds the sword on the Marine's hip is made of black leather.
U.S. Marine NCOs have carried swords since the Revolutionary War, but the sword's current incarnation dates back to 1859. In this year, the Marine Corp redesigned swords for both the Commissioned and Non-Commissioned officer Corps. Since swords for both groups were based on the Army sword pattern of the time, the 2 look similar. One major difference is in the mounts that connect the scabbard to the belt. NCO mounts are brass; officer mounts are gilt. The Marine NCO sword was carried in the field until the early 20th century when modern weapons like machine guns made it obsolete. It is still a part of the Marine NCO's dress uniform and thus one of the oldest weapons in the U.S. military inventory. The sword still gets its use today. Learning how to handle the NCO sword is a rite of passage for all Marines who attain an NCO rank. The Marine base at Twentynine Palms, California, is the location of the Corporal's Course. Here, newly minted NCOs prepare for their future careers in the Corps. They will be tested in many areas, including sword manual drills. In these drills, corporals have to learn numerous movements with their swords, including standing at attention, parade rest and presenting the sword for inspection.
The Marine Corps NCO Sword has strong symbolic meaning for those who earn it. It represents their achievement so far and ambition for the future, but it also connects them to the Marines of the past. For this reason, it is highly coveted. Sgt. Michael Whitmore, an instructor in the Corporal's Course, described it as "a piece of history in my hands that only a few can carry."
There are numerous websites that claim to sell authentic USMC NCO swords. Unless certified by Marine Systems Command, these swords might be counterfeit.