it is fancy, vanity, a dream, or conceit, the Army has developed a desire to be
bedecked with symbolic figures representative of ideals, achievements, and
exploits. In 1919 the War
Department authorized the adoption of coats of arms to appear upon the
regimental colors and standards. A short time later distinctive insignia,
trimmings, and badges were authorized to be worn on the uniform by color-bearing
organizations, the designs of the coats of arms and uniform insignia to be based
upon the history of the organizations. Since 1924 the Clothing and Equipage
Division of the office of The Quartermaster General has had charge of the design
of flags, decorations, medals, badges, insignia, and similar devices, besides
the preparation of paintings which are sent to the Philadelphia Quartermaster
Depot to govern the manufacture of the various flags and the paintings of coats
of arms which are sent to the organizations to adorn their headquarters.
Along with this work the division has also been called upon to answer
questions on various historical facts regarding uniforms, flags and their
display, insignia, medals, and other items of this character.
Some degree of flag lore is valuable, not only to the soldier, the
sailor, or traveler, but to every one, and for the want of this knowledge
ludicrous and serious mistakes are often made.
The collector of this type of information has a different situation to
combat than a collector of coins and stamps, for a flag in question may have
been the only one of its kind in existence: then, again, there may have been
several. It sometimes becomes a
difficult task to determine the authentic flags from the spurious. Sometimes the
history is wrapped around a spurious flag, with the result that the study
becomes somewhat involved. Frequently
the office is called upon to determine the authenticity of a flag.
Since the War Department authorized coats of arms for the regiments, the
office of The Quartermaster General has maintained a record of each regimental
color or standard manufactured for the Army, with a view toward compiling an
authentic history of flags. The War Department has furthered this plan for
keeping authentic histories by inserting a paragraph in the flag regulations to
the effect that no color, standard, flag, pennant, streamer, guidon, or similar
device, other than listed in the flag regulations, will be used by the Army or
by any unit thereof, that has not been manufactured by authority of the
Secretary of War.
The statement has frequently been made that it was believed so many
flags; insignia, etc., were not necessary, but if one looks back over history he
will find that, whenever a new country is established, one of the first acts is
to design a flag under whose folds the people of the nation are to seek
protection. A seal is also devised, and it is surprising how often the seal of a
country, state, or city enters into the design of flags. Seals are required even
by a republic to authenticate the nation's documents. Hence every country has
need for a certain amount of heraldry, which is the basis of seal and flag
design. A nation's defense is its military and naval forces, and therefore the
regiments in their smaller way have need for coats of arms on their flags to
indicate the history or ideals of the organizations, and to be an incentive to
their members to be better soldiers.
Heraldry is nothing more nor less than picture-writing, but then
picture-writing should be established with just as much care as one would take
in placing the letters of a word in their proper sequence. Frequently an organization
requests approval of a device to commemorate some historic event, or to
represent some mythological figure, but before these devices are approved all of
the symbols and facts must be verified. History can be read by the symbols used
on insignia and flags and devices pertaining thereto; for instance, the question
being asked, “When was the eagle removed from the staff carrying Army national
colors?" it may surprise many to know that the eagle has never been
prescribed for the staff of our Army flags. In the early days the color-bearers if mounted were known as
lancers, and, if on foot, as pikemen; they had no means of defense other than
the staff which they carried bearing the colors; therefore the head of the staff
had a lance-point or spear-point. This tradition is still followed in the Army
today. The only staff prescribed to
have an eagle, however, is that of the President's color.
France also uses the spearhead, although Napoleon's troops all had an
eagle on the top of the staff. Great Britain uses a crowned lion, the crest of
The American eagle is used a great deal by the government services, but
it took the following question, which the office of The Quartermaster General
was called upon to decide, to place a different light on the necessity for
accuracy in describing seals, flags, medals, and insignia: "Is the American eagle a male or a female bird?"
The question was answered in the following manner:
"An eaglet is a young eagle, an eagless a female, and an eagle a
male. The law of June 20, 1782, prescribing the great seal of the United States
called for an American eagle; therefore the bird was prescribed to be a
The general's flag has often been seen on his automobile, a transport, or
the parade ground, but has it ever occurred to the reader why white stars are
used instead of yellow or some other color? It will be remembered that the general's shoulder straps
carry a silver star or stars to indicate his rank. In heraldry white is used
interchangeably with silver, yellow with gold. The physical law of visibility
stated in heraldic terms is that metal will not be placed on metal nor color on
color, without a fimbriation or narrow border; therefore the white star is the
only logical tincture or hue to use.
For field use the general's flags are threaded on staffs, while for boat
use the flags are equipped with a canvas tabling or heading, and as a result it
required placing in stock two flags for the same rank. A flag combining the two
features was recently designed, and it was designated a combination boat and
When a requisition for a boat flag for the Chief of Staff was received
recently, it was ascertained that it would be approximately three months before
the flag could be "clamp-dyed" by a commercial firm. A flag of bunting
with the device appliquéd in percale was made in the Philadelphia Depot and the
device was then painted in the office of The Quartermaster General. The entire
flag was completed and issued in about ten days.
The individual flags of the President, Secretary of War and Assistant
Secretaries of War have been designed with corner stars to indicate their
civilian rank as chiefs of the military forces, but the rank of the military
personnel is indicated by placing the stars on the horizontal center line.
During the Revolutionary War the troops carried flags of their states or
flags designed for that particular organization.
After the Revolution, when the troops belonged to the United States
instead of the states, the regiments carried flags similar to the present
regimental colors. Apparently the
design was based on the coat of arms of the United States, but it was not a
correct copy thereof.
At the time of the World War all regimental colors and standards were of
the same design. The field of the
flag was made in the color of the arm of service; for example, red for
artillery, blue for infantry, yellow for cavalry, with the coat of arms of the
United States in colors and the name of the regiment on a scroll.
The only difference between one infantry flag and another was the
regimental number on the scroll, which was not always discernible.
At the present time the regimental color or standard has the American
eagle as a supporter, similar to the coat of arms of the United States, but on
the eagle's breast is the regimental coat of arms, above the eagle's head is the
crest of the regiment, if in the Regular Army; the State crest, if in the
National Guard; and the Minute Man, if in the Organized Reserve; on the scroll
in the eagle's beak is the regimental motto and on the scroll below the eagle
the regimental designation.
The oldest regiment in the service today is the 182d Infantry,
Massachusetts National Guard, which was organized in 1636.
Instead of overloading the shield with a charge for each war in which the
organization has served, it was suggested that the shield be left as plain as
possible, for heraldry is always at its best when the shield is not overloaded.
The shield was made white for the old Infantry color and also for the
color of the Massachusetts state flag. A nude Indian holding an arrow in his
right hand and a bow in his left was placed on the shield.
The device appeared on the old Massachusetts Bay Colony seal.
The seal was cut in silver and was reputed to have been sent to this
country about 1628 and used thereafter until 1680.
To indicate that the organization was originally composed of British
troops, a "canton," a small square, with the Saint George's cross, was
added to the upper right-hand corner of the shield.
The motto, "Avitos Juvamus Honores ("We uphold our ancient
honors"), is very significant.
When an organization decides it would like to have a coat of arms and a
distinctive insignia, it compiles its history and prepares a design in
accordance with its ideas. The correspondence, with the necessary supporting
documents, is forwarded through channels to The Adjutant General, who in turn
transmits it to the Historical Section of the Army War College for verification
of the history and preparation of an historical outline. The file is returned to
The Adjutant General, who forwards it to the office of The Quartermaster
General. If the design does not conform to War Department policies or violates
heraldic rules, it is criticized and suggestions offered, the correspondence
being returned through The Adjutant General to the organization for
reconsideration. If the design conforms to War Department policies, it is
returned to The Adjutant General with a recommendation for approval.
The Adjutant General issues the approval and directs that a painting of
the coat of arms be made in the office of The Quartermaster General and
forwarded to the organization for its use.
A manufacturing painting of the coat of arms is also prepared for the
guidance of the embroideresses at the Philadelphia Quartermaster Depot,
Philadelphia, Pa. The time consumed in the preparation of the paintings for one
organization is estimated at seven to eight days, and it takes approximately
thirty days to embroider a regimental color or standard.
A color is carried by an unmounted organization and a standard by a
mounted organization. Approximately
800 approvals have been granted, and for each approval two paintings are required.
The same method of procedure is employed in regard to the distinctive insignia,
The Adjutant General issuing the approval, but the manufacturing details are
handled by the organization directly with the manufacturer.
All the new regimental distinctive insignia are referred to the office of
The Quartermaster General for advice as to the heraldic and manufacturing
details, and before an approval of the finished device is granted a sample must
be filed for historical purposes. Due to the development of this work and the
number of questions asked by manufacturers and organizations, the office
assembled samples of all military insignia which could be located, with the
result that there are approximately 4,000 now in the collection.
The office of The Quartermaster General during this last year was called
upon to produce the Distinguished Flying Cross. Designs were prepared and submitted to the Commission of Fine
Arts, which body approved the design. The first cross was manufactured in the
record time of eight days, which also included the weaving of the ribbon.
This cross was numbered "1" and was awarded to Col. Charles A.
Lindbergh. This decoration was authorized to be awarded by the Army and Navy.
The most recent badges designed were for the Air Corps, the marksmanship
badges for Distinguished Aerial Gunners and Distinguished Aerial Bombers, which
consist of a bar of clouds with the word "Distinguished" thereon and a
medal. The medal for the gunner is
a circular target within a laurel wreath, and superimposed thereon a winged
projectile with point down, and that for the bomber is a similar target and
wreath with a drop bomb superimposed.
The designing of shoulder sleeve insignia is another phase of the work.
When the Ninth Infantry Division desired an insignia, a double
"quatrefoil," an heraldic mark of cadency for the ninth son, was
suggested. The device was made red and blue divided horizontally, which colors
correspond to those prescribed for the headquarters flag of the Infantry
Division. A white disk,
corresponding to the tincture of the numerals on divisional flags, was added to
Return To: US Army Heraldry
since 25 Sep 00