Heraldry, Flag and Insignia Work of the Office of The Quartermaster General
By Arthur Du Bois
The Quartermaster Review – May-June 1928
WHETHER 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 king.
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 male.”
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 field flag.
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 the center.
A new venture for the Quartermaster Corps, and gratifying in its results, is the making of models in plaster of Paris and beeswax for medals and of various articles for exhibits. The original models and paintings are now on permanent display in the Exhibit Room, Office of The Quartermaster General.