Two US Marines have been charged with misdemeanor battery after allegedly hitting a gay man they claimed winked at them.

Keil Joseph Cronauer, 22, and Christopher Charles Stanzel, 23, were arrested after being found running away from the scene in Savannah, Georgia, early on Saturday morning.

Kieran Daly, 26, was found unconscious nearby while his friends performed first aid.

Mr Cronauer and Mr Stanzel, both stationed at Beaufort, told police the victim had harassed them, the Savannah Morning News reports.

Witnesses said they saw one of the men getting angry because he thought Mr Daly had winked at him, before punching him in the back of the head.

Mr Daly told the newspaper he was “squinting” not winking, and could only remember walking away as at least one of the men hurled slurs at him.

He said he was diagnosed with bruises to his brain and suffered two seizures immediately after the attack. He is expected to remain in hospital for several days.

Mr Cronauer and Mr Stanzel were booked into jail and released.

Georgia does not have state hate crime laws.