81st Infantry Division of the United States Army Wore the First Shoulder Sleeve Insignia

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The first United States Army shoulder sleeve insignia was worn by members of the 81st Infantry Division. This is an important aspect from an insignia collectors viewpoint. This unit trained at Camp Jackson, South Carolina. Being that Camp Jackson was located on Wildcat Creek the wildcat was chosen to represent the divisions insignia in May of 1918. In September of 1918 the division was preparing to disembark to France, as a member of the Inspector General’s Department questioned that division. Why were all personnel wearing an insignia with a wildcat on their left sleeve?

The commander of the division explained the meaning of the wildcat insignia and this began the road of approval for shoulder sleeve insignia for the United States Army.

One could say, shoulder sleeve insignia has a 2 fold purpose or meaning. The meaning of shoulder sleeve insignia may be a personal one. To many, it may just be another item of the required uniform, but to some soldiers it is something very different. “A unique insignia embodying a proud, personal sense of participation in his organization, depicting the historic past of which he attaches great pride and honor.” Insignia meant, strength, will, pride, a belonging, and with this it became the norm for Military Uniforms worldwide.

Soon, after approval of the wildcat Insignia, from the headquarters of the American Expeditionary Force, other divisions began wearing shoulder sleeve insignia. The insignia patches or badges also caught the publics eye. The shoulder insignia were featured in a number of magazines, including the December 1919 issue of the National Geographic. To ensure that the unique insignia worn by the Army were manufactured authentically, a distinctive insignia painting, and a manufactured drawing were furnished by the commander on a loan basis. These items were then made available to the Insignia manufacturer. The samples were Inspected by Quality Control to ensure they had the correct color, design, and detail. After the samples were approved the commander of the organization would place the order with the approved manufacturer, only. Orders could be continually placed with the approved manufacturer, but if the manufacturer changed, the entire process would have to be repeated.

The wildcat insignia ended up using 7 different colors. Each color represented seven different divisions. Shoulder sleeve insignia usually serve as unit insignia. Unit insignia generally has a short history. Meaning, the size of the Army expands during war, and gets smaller during peace. This causes the Unit Insignia to be created and then discontinued. Modern shoulder sleeve insignia were used during the first World War, inter-war period, and the Second World War where a large number of new insignia designs were implemented.

U.S. Military insignia collectors in over 30 different countries have come to Saunders Insignia for collecting. We have also supplied museums and American unit enactors in several countries with the items they need to advance their programs. We have supplied veterans families, active military individuals, active military units, and have provisioned several movies with the appropriate U.S. Army insignia.

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Source by Earl Keaton

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