Tuesday, August 17, 2010


Just four months from the date I reported to Marine Corps Recruit Depot, San Diego for Boot Camp, I found myself on a flight (my very first) to Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni, Japan.  The year was 1995 and I can't say I remember where I first heard the term "Top," an epithet used for the rank of Master Sergeant (MSgt), but I have a clear memory of when it was improperly used.  I was a mere Private First Class and was traveling with a group of more seasoned Marines; Corporals and Sergeants (Sgt) and one Master Gunnery Sergeant (MGySgt). 

During our long journey that ultimately planted me there for four years, one of the Sergeants, trying much too hard to be slick, called the Master Gunnery Sergeant, "Top."  I cringed.  Sure, MGySgt's are the senior most enlisted rank, but even I knew the Sgt was wrong in calling him that - the Sgt verbally reduced him in rank.  Nothing was said.  The MGySgt was a Vietnam War vet closing in on thirty years of service and could care less.

So what is the origin of the term "Top" and why is it associated only with MSgt's?  This has, throughout my (almost) sixteen years, been a puzzling question that no one could ever provide a clear answer for.  It wasn't until a couple of months or so while reading "With the Old Breed" that I finally got a glimpse of its origin.  In the book, it was mentioned that the MSgt was the top most Sgt - it finally made sense! The current top/senior rank, MGySgt, was established in 1958. 

But I'm a visual kinda guy and today I found this!  MSgt, the top most rank on this pay scale.  Now that I'm a MSgt, I can finally provide an accurate answer to my junior Marines - too bad no one has posed the question to me yet...

Long story for such a short answer, but I really haven't written much, so was my excuse.  Semper Fi!

1939 Pay Scale

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