U.S. Public Health Service

On this page:

Return to Sea Flags home page

Public Health Service Flag


The Public Health Service, one of the seven uniformed services of the United States, dates its history to the establishment of a series of marine hospitals for merchant seamen in 1798.  Although the marine hospitals were closed in the early 1980s, the Public Health Service continues its status as a maritime service, enforcing the nation's quarantine laws, inspecting passenger liners to ensure their compliance with health regulations, and providing doctors and other medical personnel to support the Coast Guard and NOAA Corps.  Since at least 1912, the Public Health Service has used a yellow flag with the service seal--a crossed fouled anchor and winged caduceus--on the center in blue.  The badge was designed by the first supervising surgeon of the Marine Hospital Service.  The caduceus is not, as is commonly believed, the traditional symbol of medicine.  That would be the staff of Aesculapius, with no wings and a single serpent.  The caduceus is rather the attribute of Mercury, the Roman messenger of the gods, and therefore symbolizes the office of the herald, in whose presence a truce was observed.  As Mercury was also the god of commerce, the caduceus also refers to the importance of the Public Health Service's mission to the conduct of maritime trade. As for the anchor, it not only represents the maritime nature of the service's original mission, but also, in being fouled (having the chain wrapped around the stock and flukes), indicates a mariner in distress. This may be the only instance in which the fouled anchor--jokingly called the "seaman's disgrace" as a symbol of maritime services--is actually a fully appropriate emblem and not merely decorative.   The current version of the flag has the emblem surrounded by the name of the service and the date of its founding.  It is made in various proportions depending on where it is to be displayed: Public Health Service flags are regulated by Personnel Instruction 1, "Public Health Service Flags and Automobile Plates," in subchapter CC29.9 of the Commissioned Corps Personnel Manual.
 

Return to top of page


Surgeon General
The Surgeon General is the chief of the Public Health Service.  By law, his rank is the equal to that of the Surgeon General of the Army (currently a lieutenant general), but he is accorded four-star rank when he is concurrently appointed as an assistant secretary of health and human services.  The Surgeon General's flag is blue with the central device of the PHS seal in white.  It comes in the same sizes as the PHS flag and displaces the service flag when the Surgeon General officially visits a PHS installation or vessel.  For indoor and ceremonial use, the Surgeon General's flag has a white fringe, cord, and tassels.
 

 Return to top of page


Deputy Surgeon General and Assistant Surgeon General

The Deputy Surgeon General and Assistant Surgeons General rank with rear admirals and rear admirals (lower half).  They use the same flag as the Surgeon General--and according to the same procedures-- but with the colors reversed.  The only difference between the Deputy SG and Assistant SG flags is that the fringe, cord, and tassels on ceremonial flags is intertwined blue and white cord for the Deputy and solid blue for the Assistants.
Return to top of page

Return to Sea Flags home page


Sea Flags
Copyright 2000, 2001 by Joseph McMillan