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American Military Patches, Other Insignia and Decorations of World War Two by Dr. Howard G. Lanham 1999

Introduction: Origin of Shoulder Sleeve Insignia

81th Division Insignia

The first United States Army shoulder sleeve insignia were worn by members of the 81st Division. This unit trained at Camp Jackson, South Carolina, which was located on Wildcat Creek. In May 1918 the wildcat was chosen as the division symbol and was used to mark division equipment.

In September of 1918 while the division was disembarking in France, a member of the Inspector General's Department questioned the fact that division personnel were wearing an insignia with the likeness of a wildcat on their left sleeve. The commander of the division, General C. J. Bailey, made a case for the insignia contributing to his unit's esprit de corps. This was accepted by General Pershing who directed that other divisions also could wear a shoulder sleeve insignia, subject to approval of headquarters of the American Expeditionary Force. This order was later extended to formations other than divisions. Many units did not adopt their insignia until after the conclusion of hostilities on November 11, 1918. The "patches" also caught the public attention and the insignia were featured in a number of publications, including the December 1919 issue of the National Geographic Magazine. The earliest collections of shoulder sleeve insignia were begun after the war.

The above patch is an original one worn by members of the 161th Infantry Regiment of the 81th Division. The wildcat's color was one of seven different colors used to indicate the division component to which the wearer belonged.

Dating Patches
Introduction to Insignia
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