Shoulder insignia

US Army units are marked by colorful patches

Modern armies are built on each soldier’s pride in his own unit. A soldier with lukewarm feelings toward his country’s armed forces has fierce pride in the outfit to which he himself is attached. In 1918, men of the 81st Division asked permission to wear the figure of a wildcat on their shoulder sleeves to identify their division. The insignia did so much for morale that the Army soon made shoulder insignia mandatory.

Soldiers attached to a division wear divisional insignia. Men working at headquarters of a corps (composed of two or more divisions) wear corps patches. The same system is followed up through headquarters of armies (two or more corps) and army groups (two or more armies).

Army Air Forces have a patch for each air force. Army Service Forces have insignia for each service command, in addition to patches designating specialized functions. Personnel of defense and base commands, departments, theaters of operations and other smaller units have their own patches.

Insignia change as units are activated or inactivated and even as the course of the war itself changes. Their design is based sometimes on fact, sometimes on whimsy. The “A” in the First Army’s insignia, for example, stands for “First Army,” since it is also the first letter in the alphabet. But the constellation of Orion in the 27th Division’s patch is a pun on name of that outfit’s World War I commander, Major General J. F. O’Ryan.

US Army shoulder insignia


Army Ground Forces, Army Service Forces, Departments, Special Insignia

US Army shoulder insignia


Corps, Defense and Base Commands, Theaters

US Army shoulder insignia


Army, Air Forces, Armored Divisions

US Army shoulder insignia


Infantry, airborne & cavalry divisions

US Army shoulder insignia

US Army shoulder insignia Aug 6, 1945 (1)


Military patch collector

Top US patch collector is Richard Marco, 17, of New York City, who has more than 1000 emblems and insignia, including some from allied armies.

Military patch collector


Camel tells you what those ribbons mean

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About this story

Source publication: LIFE

Source publication date: August 6, 1945

Filed under: 1940s, Featured, Mementos & memorabilia, War

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