VSI was recently contacted by Major David Lessani of the United States Air Force about a new Latin motto for the 700th Airlift Squadron, based in Atlanta, Georgia, with which he serves. The English starting point for this was “Protecting and honoring what is and was.” After 25 centuries of continuous use, Latin has a remarkable ability to say a great deal with a very few historically and culturally weighty words. So, for this motto, our Vice-President, Dr. Nancy Llewellyn, proposed just three words, “Majorum Atque Nostris”, a perfect example of the most classically Roman rhetorical succinctness and simplicity.
Naturally, the major wanted to know more about how so much could be squeezed into so little, and so here is the explanation which we wrote for him.
The word “majorum” literally means “of those who are greater”; in the sense of “greater than us in age”, the Romans commonly used it to mean “ancestors.” Their culture and society had the most profound respect for what they called the “mos majorum – the custom of the ancestors”; merely by saying that a custom, a way of acting and living, belonged to their ancestors, was to say that it was intrinsically worth honoring and protecting. By definition, any such custom comes from the past, so that gives us the sense of “what was.” And because it comes from the ancestors, it is intrinsically worth “protecting” and “honoring”, so that covers the two verbs.
“Nostra” means “for the things that are ours”, which is to say, ours in the present (“what is”). The dative plural form “nostris” harkens back to the old motto “Deo et patriae – for God and country.”
“Atque”, rather than “et” or “-que”, was chosen because it “indicat(es) a close internal connection between single words or whole clauses.” (Lewis and Short) This expressed a close and intrinsic union between the things that are “of our ancestors”, and therefore worth protecting and honoring, with for those things “of our own”, which are likewise worth protecting and honoring, which is, of course, the unit’s mission.
Maj. Lessani also provided us with an explanation of the rest of the squadron’s crest. Originally known as the 700th Bombardment Squadron, its first combat action took place on Dec. 13, 1943, from the RAF station at Tibenham, England; this is represented by the English crown on top. The upper left section of the shield is the state seal of Georgia, where the squadron is now based. The upper right has three B-24 Liberator bombers, the unit’s original plane, with the grey and white stripes used during the Allied invasion of Europe to distinguish friend from foe. The lower left has stripes in the colors of the Atlanta United soccer club, and a propellor from one of the squadron’s legacy planes, the C-130 military transport, known as “Hercules”, from when the squadron was repurposed for tactical airlift operations. The bomb at the lower right is taken from the sign on one of the squadron’s WW2 B-24s, known as “Absestos Alice.”
Pegasus, the flying horse on the right (another classical reference), was helped both gods and heroes in their exploits, while the griffin is half eagle, the king of birds, and half lion, king of beasts. Together, they symbolize the airborne squadron’s mission of protection on both land and air.
The major also wrote us to say that “the squadron was looking for a coat of arms that would symbolize the whole of its history. Since its formation in 1943, we’ve changed names and locations, but the core of what we believe has always remained the same. A Latin motto on our coat of arms will always be the same and mean the same, no matter what other changes the squadron may see in the future.”
VSI thanks Maj. Lessani and his squadron very kindly for permission to share this with our readers!