Q. Could you briefly tell me the tradition behind the gifting of a sword to Firsties?
Do parents purchase them? If so where?
First... Swords are entirely OPTIONAL for almost all Mids and Commissioned Officers. While at the Academy, a Mid may only need one when performing duties as a Striper at such events as Formal Parades, etc. Swords are NOT part of the standard Midshipman uniform. For those Mids who need swords and do not supply their own (almost all Mids fall into this category), the Academy supplies generic swords which remain property of the Academy and are used
year after year by succeeding classes.
Commissioned Officers in the Armed Forces may carry swords during Formal Dress occasions such as Change of Command Ceremonies, Admin Inspections and occasions requiring their use, such as Weddings. In most cases where an Officer requires a sword and does not own one of his own, a sword is borrowed from a fellow officer for use. A large number of Naval Officers never own a sword for the entire length of their Military Careers. (A sword is part of the Marine Officer's Uniform and is not optional.)
Having said all that, if you really want to present your graduating Mid with a sword, you need to know a few things first...
1. Most Mids do not want an expensive sword while they are attending the Academy even if its use is necessitated by a position within their Company, Regiment or the Brigade. Swords used at ceremonies and parades while at the Academy suffer from harsh conditions and rough handling that would damage an expensive, heirloom quality sword. So the purchase should almost always wait for graduation.
2. Swords used by Marine Officers and Naval Officers are significantly different so you must be certain of your Mid's Service Selection BEFORE you commit to a style. Heaven forbid that you would select a Marine Sword only to find out that your Mid is not going to be a Marine for whatever reason when Service Selections are finalized in January of their Firstie Year. Marine Swords are curved and Naval Swords are straight bladed among other differences.
Marine Officer Sword
Navy Officer Sword
3. Swords MUST be ordered to a specific length if they are intended to be used. Length is only unimportant if the sword will only be displayed in a wall case and never used by the owner.
| 5' 6" - 5' 7"
| 5' 8" - 5' 9"
| 5' 10" - 5' 11"
| 6' - 6' 1"
| 6' 2" - 6' 3"
| 6' 4" - 6' 5"
| Over 6' 6"
The blade length is a function of the individual's arm length, the individual's neck length, and how the person carries the sword, and even the type of sword. The length of the blade is determined by placing the tip of the blade at approximately ear level when an individual carries the sword at the "Carry Sword" position which is the sword drawn, arm at side, and blade in a vertical position pointing skyward. A 30-inch sword length is the most common length. Naval Officer Swords are commonly available in lengths of 28" to 34". A sword that is too long not only looks out of place and non-uniform, but the user risks knocking off headwear or increasing head movement when the user is going to or from the "Carry Sword" position.
4. Swords come in several Price Ranges from inexpensive to very expensive. We have heard of some costing as little as $200 to those costing over $800 plus the cost of the belt, knot, scabbard and wall case being extra in almost all cases. The inexpensive models are really cheap looking with the blades being chemically etched rather than engraved. They use inferior or even plastic materials in the hilt and will be plated rather than solid metal construction. While the top-of-the-line swords avoid all these pitfalls in construction, we question the need to spend large sums for a sword that may only be used on a few rare occasions, if ever. (A new laptop would be infinitely more useful to a new officer.)
5. If you still feel compelled to buy a sword for your new officer, there are dozens of places to purchase one, both domestically and overseas. We have found a number of web sites which offer Navy and Marine Corps Officer Swords.
Wilkinson ceased new sword production in September 2005.
Remember that your new officer will also need a Belt and Scabard. Most swords come with a Scabard but the Belts are sold separately. Additionally, Navy Swords also require a Sword Knot, also sold separately. The Belt and Knot can add another $100 to the price of the sword. These accessories make great gift ideas for Grandparents or Aunt & Uncles. Your Mid may also want a Leather Travel Case for the sword.
Wall Mounts, Display Boxes, and Floor Stands are also optional, at added expense. A few sources for these accessories are...
www.allamericangifts.com - Wall Cases
www.totalnavy.com - Wall Cases & Racks, Plaques, Floor Stands and Desk Mounts.
www.militarydisplaysonline.com - Cases, Plaques, Wall Cases and Floor Displays
Only one MAJOR word of caution, if buying overseas or on-line, use a credit card with fraud protection to avoid problems. Never send a credit card number via regular email and NEVER supply credit card information on a web site unless it is certified as a SECURE SITE (the little lock in the status bar will be closed) and the web address begins with https:// which indicates a secure site (that's what the "s" means in https.)
In addition to the On-Line sites given above, you may also purchase your Mid's sword in Annapolis at...
USNA Midshipman Store
101 Wilson Road
Annapolis, MD 21402-5081
Toll Free: 1 866 214-8069
Most swords are engraved with only the Mid's Full Name. Optionally, "USNA - Class of 20XX" are added to the engraving. It is not recommended that anything more be added to the engraving since a sentiment from "Mom and Dad" or the Rank at the time of presentation will likely not be appropriate in subsequent years as your Mid advances in rank. These swords are meant to last a lifetime. Think long-term when deciding on what to engrave on your Mid's sword.
A word of Caution... Make sure that you inquire with the firm from which you purchase the sword about engraving at the time of purchase. Many places will not engrave a sword at all or will not engrave a sword except at the time of original purchase or will not engrave a sword not purchased from them. High quality Jewelers may engrave a sword for you but be sure that they will guarantee the work in writing and are willing to replace the sword if they make an error in the engraving. Mistakes in engraving can not easily be corrected, if at all. If your engraver makes a mistake, it is likely that the sword will have to be replaced.
Care must be exercised when attempting to clean Military Swords. Most fingerprints and smudges will clean up quickly and easily with mild soap, warm water and a soft cloth. DO NOT USE any sort of metal cleaner or polishing compound unless specifically approved by the manufacturer and even then, try a very small amount on an area that is least conspicuous. Some of the less expensive swords are made by annodizing the surface and even mild cleaning or polishing chemicals will completely ruin the finish. Other swords are plated with a thin layer of chrome rather than being made of a single forged piece of steel that is polished during manufacture to a bright finish. Polishing compounds could mar or even remove chrome plating, again destroying the sword.
Frequently Asked Questions
Q. Why is the Star of David on the Navy Officer's sword?
That it is not the Star of David. It is the Star of Damascus, the symbol of world renowned steel and sword craftsmen. These craftsmen used two triangles joined together as a sign of their sword making guild which became know as the Star of Damascus. This symbol means the sword was fashioned with Damascus steel and over
1,000 years of craftsmanship.
Q. Where can I get a sword refinished or repaired?
While there are many places where this service may be obtained, a good place to start is at the following site where they answer a number of questions about refurbishing/refinishing swords of all types...
FAQ - How to Repair Military Swords