By Arthur E. Dubois
The Quartermaster Review — September-October 1954
The heraldic Program of the Department of Defense provides assistance to the Secretaries of Defense, Army, Navy and Air Force, either individually or collectively, in establishing and maintaining a scientific, coordinated plan in the creation and use of symbols to promote morale and esprit de corps in the Armed Forces of the United States.
In the establishment of a new country, one of the first acts of the people is to decide upon a national flag, and a seal which the leaders may use to identify their official acts.
Flags and seals are adopted not only by countries, but also by various subdivisions of government: the executive, judicial and legislative departments, and cities and states.
Under the provisions of international law, an armed belligerent is defined as one who is authorized to carry arms openly, is subject to command by one responsible for his acts, and who is equipped with fixed distinctive insignia recognizable at a distance.
The use of flags, coats of arms, and other markings for the identification of armies and subdivisions, as well as personal flags for the leaders of organizations within an army, dates back to the middle ages.
Distinctive markings of uniforms and flags for the military units were used by the Revolutionary War troops and have continued in use to the present date. Decorations and awards also date back to Revolutionary War days. Therefore, military devices–decorations, medals, badges, insignia, flags and streamers have become an integral part of the military program of the United States. These items are termed heraldic symbols.
Before the unification of the Armed Forces each department was responsible for its own military symbolism program. The symbolic or heraldic phase of the army program was officially transferred to the Office of The Quartermaster General from the General Staff Corps in December 1924.
In 1949, the Department of the Army was assigned responsibility for meeting the heraldic requirements of the Departments of the Army, Navy, and Air Force. Results of this research, design and development program were to be subject to approval by the secretary of the department concerned. The Department of the Army in turn reassigned responsibility for administering and conducting the program to the Office of The Quartermaster General. The Heraldic Branch of the Research & Development Division is the organizational element to which this responsibility has been delegated.
In addition to the services provided the Armed Forces, the Heraldic Branch, on request, assists nonmilitary governmental agencies in the design of seals, flags, trophies, awards, lapel buttons, and other devices.
When called upon, the branch also cooperates on governmental projects other than those of a heraldic nature which employ the special skills of heraldic personnel. Examples of items which were designed modeled, and developed in the branch include: models of caskets used in the repatriation of World War II deceased; the urn for cremated remains; plastic tableware; study models for the tomb of the World War-II Unknown Soldier; and development of a procedure for preparing casts for the Quartermaster Corps’ orthopedic footwear program.
Because of changing world conditions and advanced methods of warfare, new troop units are organized and former units reassigned. To meet these changes, a continuing program of heraldic design is necessary. In its work, the Heraldic Branch reviews International design for authentic material and to avoid duplications.
The Heraldic Branch consists of the Office of the Chief, and the Heraldic Services and Technical Arts Sections.
Functions of the Services Section include, in addition to administrative affairs, the maintenance of catalogs and photographs of United States and foreign heraldic items; securing unit histories from the military services upon which designs for coats of arms may be based; authorizing commercial firms to manufacture insignia; preparing studies pertaining to customs and the background of military clothing and symbolism; compiling records of uniforms, flags, decorations, medals, badges, insignia, and buttons for the Armed Forces; and maintaining records and conducting research on foreign uniforms, flags, decorations, medals, and heraldic materials.
The Technical Arts Section is composed of highly skilled designers, sculptors, military artists, and illustrators. The functions of this section consist of designing and approving coats of arms and distinctive Insignia for the Department of Defense; designing flags, decorations, medals, badges, urns, trophies, awards, special uniforms and ornamentation, and other symbolism. Additional responsibilities include producing models in relief; illustrating regulations and orders pertaining to heraldic items; preparing historical paintings; charting unit histories to design coats of arms and distinctive insignia or the redesignation thereof and preparing and maintaining master manufacturing drawings.
In the development of military symbols, historical facts are painstakingly consulted, variations chartered, and the potential benefits, whether morale or otherwise, are weighed since the symbolic determinations should have a firm reason for their selection. However, the cost, availability of materials, and sources of supply are considered in relation to the potential requirements before a new item is adopted. A new item which may be ideal from the standpoint of design, might be impracticable from the standpoint of manufacture.
Military medals usually consist of a bronze disk suspended from a ribbon. Both disk and ribbon must be representative and symbolic of the purpose for which intended.
Artists may translate several different ideas into drawings which are sent to the military staff and departments concerned. A single composition may have several suggested variations so as to afford as wide a choice of design as possible.
After a particular design has been selected, a plaster cast, four times the size of the proposed medal, is made up in an aluminum form which has a carefully machined rim. Upon this plaster cast the drawing is transferred and a modeling material, plasteline, is applied to produce the required relief. Since a medal has two sides – obverse and reverse – a cast is made of both sides. Retouching is accomplished in the molds.
Photographs of the casts arc then submitted to the Commission of Fine Arts for concurrence. following which they are sent to the secretaries of the services concerned for approval. After final approval, an application for patent is filed.
When the male casts have been completed in plasteline, female casts are produced by coating the male casts with a separator fluid and pouring plaster upon the male casts.
The female plaster cast is now sent to a manufacturer to have a galvano made. A galvano is a copper shell, approximately 1/8 of an inch thick, produced by electroplating. The galvano is filled in with solder.
This galvano serves as a pattern from which a steel hub is cut on a die-cutting machine. The design cut into the steel hub is a male impression, the exact size of the medal. Since a female die is required for stamping out the medals, the female die, made in a block of steel, is produced by the impression of the steel hub.
The dies are carefully inspected before approval. Approved samples are sealed as standards and copies are furnished the Philadelphia Quartermaster Depot for use in procurement. Appropriate offices are then notified and specifications are written and circulated for use in awarding contracts for production.
Text is then prepared for regulations governing the description and issue of the medal and illustrations arc provided for publication with the regulations.
A request to design a coat of arms and distinctive insignia for an Infantry Regiment entails the production of a regimental flag and insignia for the requesting unit.
The request is registered and assigned a project number, after which a check is made to determine whether the files contain a current copy of the regiment’s lineage or history.
If no history is available in the files, a request for this information is made of the Office of Military History. When received, this history is reviewed by a coat of arms designer to determine if the unit can inherit a previously approved coat of arms and distinctive insignia, or whether a new design should be made.
If the regiment is entitled to inherit a coat of arms and distinctive insignia, the coat of arms and insignia are redesignated to this regiment and the commanding officer of the regiment is so notified.
If a new design is needed, a careful study is made of the history and battle honors of the regiment. Thereafter a proposed design is made and blazon and description are written. If approved, the design is transmitted to the commanding officer of the regiment for concurrence, together with an explanation of the symbolism employed.
Upon concurrence of the commanding officer and return of the design to the Heraldic Branch, a letter of approval of the coat of army and distinctive insignia is written to the regiment with copies supplied to the Office of Military History and to the Distribution Division, Office of The Quartermaster General.
A manufacturing drawing of the coat of arms is made and prints of this drawing and the manufacturing painting are forwarded to the Philadelphia Quartermaster Depot for use in manufacturing the flag. An artist’s painting of the coat of arms is also for the regiment.
A manufacturing painting for the distinctive insignia is forwarded to the regiment with instructions for the regiment to have two samples of the insignia made up and transmitted to heraldic Branch for approval prior to completing the order for the unit.
When the samples are received, if they are in conformity with the manufacturing painting, they are approved by letter to the regiment. One sample is placed in an appropriate panel and the other is placed in the regiment’s file along with the copies of approval letters, photostats of manufacturing drawing of coat of arms, and a photostat of the painting of distinctive insignia, and black and white, and color photographs of the flag.