What semper fi means, according to 4 Marines

Marines and semper fi are like peanut butter and jelly.
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Semper Fi
Find out what Semper Fi means to these four Marines. Photos courtesy of Kyle Gunn, Justin Governale, Andy Sorensen, and Jason Wolff. Composite image by Joshua Skovlund/Task & Purpose.

The U.S. Marine Corps is known for instilling high esprit de corps in every devil dog that joins their ranks and is respected for fearless acts in combat. From Iwo Jima to Fallujah, America has trusted Marines to get the job done — no matter what.

Their powerful motto,  Semper Fidelis — or Semper Fi — is Latin for Always Faithful. It may seem simple, but that phrase is the lifeblood of every Marine,  past, present, and future. 

“Semper Fidelis is the motto of every Marine — an eternal and collective commitment to the success of our battles, the progress of our Nation, and the steadfast loyalty to the fellow Marines we fight alongside,” a statement from the Marine Corps says. “Established in 1883, this motto distinguishes the bond developed and shared between Marines. It goes beyond words that are spoken, as it is a warriorhood that is lived.”

We think there’s more to it though. Task & Purpose reached out to four Marines and asked what Semper Fi means to them. 

Jason Wolff

Jason Wolff served in the Marine Corps from 2002 to 2006, deploying to Iraq three times, serving during the push into Iraq in March 2003. Wolff didn’t have much direction growing up, but once in the Marine Corps, his life changed and he found his purpose. 

“I needed something to make me grow up,” Wolff said. “If you’re always faithful to yourself, and you take pride in being part of something that’s world-renowned, then you’ll start becoming a mature man, which I personally think I became through the Marine Corps.”

He said “Semper Fi” is the reason behind the strong esprit de corps in Marine ranks. 

“Marines are huge on their history. When you go through boot camp, they just pound you full of history because that’s part of Semper Fi, knowing where you came from, being faithful to your heritage, and the esprit de corps of the Corps,” Wolff said. “It means always faithful to the Marine Corps and the buddies you fight alongside and to the country.” 

Justin Governale

Justin Governale is a comedian and marketing guru, and you might have even seen him on Discovery Channel’s “Naked and Afraid.” Above all, he’s a Marine who served from 2004 to 2008 and deployed to Iraq multiple times. 

While in, Governale explained how saying semper fi was often used mockingly, sometimes even meaning “Semper fuck you.” He said that typically, higher-ranking people would say it or inexperienced ‘boots.’ But that all changed when he was out of the service, and now, hearing semper fi carries a different meaning. 

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Governale was recently invited to speak to a large group of USAA employees. After his speech concluded and almost everyone filtered out of the room, Governale noticed a group of guys patiently waiting. 

“They were all former Marines. Sure enough, one of them said, ‘Hey, what’s going on Marine? Can we get a photo with you?’ And I was like, okay, that’s fucken awesome,” Governale said. “Then they shook my hand and said ‘semper fi.’ There was no hesitation behind it. There was no sarcasm. There was no like, ‘Ha, you wouldn’t know.’ It was like, semper fi, we’re bonded.” 

Kyle Gunn

Kyle Gunn is one of Task & Purpose’s own — you’ve probably seen him on camera, delivering the news if you follow us on Instagram. Gunn served in the Marine Corps from 2009 to 2017 and deployed to Afghanistan in 2011. He continues to incorporate the semper fi mindset and esprit de corps into his everyday life. 

“It’s just this mindset that you still owe all these guys and girls for what they did for you,” Gunn said. “It’s like this — not vicious circle — but it’s just this never-ending loop of trying just to make things better, leave things better than the way you found them.”

Gunn explained that the English translation of “semper fi” is always faithful, which means always being faithful to yourself, the Marines on your left and right, the Marine Corps, and the country. 

“It’s not even about the institution. It’s about all the other guys and girls that put on that same uniform, do that same bullshit, struggle, and suffer alongside you,” Gunn said. “It’s just doing your absolute best at all times for them because that’s what they deserve.

Andy Sorensen

Andy Sorensen served in the Marine Corps from 2005 to 2010 and deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan numerous times. Like Governale, he didn’t hear ‘semper fi’ said too often while in, but when he did hear it, it was usually in a mocking tone. But, he argued, it didn’t need to be said because it’s innate to every Marine. 

“That ‘always faithful’ thing is more of a statement on loyalty to the mission and to each other while you’re active,” Sorensen said. “And that’s the way I think it was treated.”

He said Marines are self-accountable and keep their personal lives in check so that it doesn’t spill into the ranks. As one Marine becomes more successful, they bring their fellow Marines with them. That still applies today, where Sorensen looks out for his fellow Marines with jobs or networking opportunities. 

“I would say that the esprit de corps that semper fi represents means something different the longer you’re out. So, it’s kind of an evolving concept,” Sorensen said. “It meant something different to me the year I got out versus ten years [out] versus now, 13 and a half years later.” 

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