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American Military Patches, Other Insignia and Decorations of World War Two by Dr. Howard G. Lanham c.2001

Insignia of Airborne Units

U.S. Army

Second World War

Airborne Breast Oval Background Trimmings

Airborne Oval Airborne Oval
Airborne Artillery Background Trimming
with Parachutist Badge
Embroidered Background Trimming (1)
with Glider Badge

AB soldier
Glider Badge and Background Trimmings
325thGlider Inf. Regt.
Most airborne units had a distinct oval cloth insignia worn under the parachutist or glider badge on the left breast. In 1941 when then Captain William P. Yarborough of the 501st Parachute Battalion returned to Fort Benning with the with the first 350 Parachutist's Badges there was a concern that the badges were small and did not stand out when worn on the uniform. To remedy this Captain Yarborough designed an oval background trimming to be worn under the badge and frame it on the uniform. The original trimmings used by the 501st were red with blue borders and were handmade of felt. During the course of the Second World War the original 501st Parachute Infantry Battalion was incorporated into the 503rd Parachute Infantry. Other airborne units were formed that adopted their own oval background trimmings in various color combinations. Army regulations existed that permitted units to adopt trimmings in addition to the familiar enameled crests distinctive insignia. Today the buff strap of the Third Infantry Regiment is the best-known of these regimental trimmings. In the course of the war the War Department suspended adoption of new trimmings and it does not appear that airborne background trimmings were officially approved by the War Department during the Second World War. Nevertheless, they were manufactured using regimental funds and widely worn. Background trimmings found their way into the official uniform regulations during the postwar period and are still proudly worn by airborne units today.

Airborne oval background trimmings existed for most of the parachute infantry regiments. In addition ovals in the colors of branches of service existed for other combat branches (such as the artillery one above) and also support troops within the airborne divisions and for headquarter units. An exacting tally of all of the trimming variations and units of the Second World War has not been published, but a good source of information is Les Hughes' article: "Cloth Airborne Insignia of WWII: A Primer" The Trading Post (LIV Jan-Mar 1995):33-40.

Examples (From the Collection of George Kuchen)

501st Parachute Infantry Battalion

501st PIB
The First Airborne Background Trimming

Parachute Infantry Regiments

501st PIR 502nd PIR 503rd PIR 504th PIR
501st 502nd 503rd 504th
505th PIR 506th PIR 507th PIR 508th PIR 511th PIR
505th 506th 507th 508th 511th
513th PIR 515th PIR 517th PIR 541th PIR
513th 515th 517th(2) 541th

Parachute Infantry Battalions

509th PIB 542nd PIB 555th PIB
509th(3) 542nd 555th

Infantry Airborne Battalions

551th IAB

Glider Infantry Regiment

325th GIR
325th (with Embroidered Glider)

Parachute Field Artillery Battalion

467th PFAB

Airborne Division Headquarters

11th AB Div. HQ 82th AB Div. HQ
11th 82nd

Miscellaneous Units

Medical Engineer Inf. Unassigned 127th Eng. Bn.
Medical (4) Engineer (5) Infantry Unassigned 127th Airborne Engineer Bn.

Airborne oval background trimmings that were worn during the Second World War differ from more modern ones in that they have a more narrow border and that they often are more "football" shaped than "racetrack" shaped. These differences can be subtle and there are exceptions. Some there made with two small holes for the hinge and the clasp of the qualification badge's pin or clutches. Double borders exist on some trimmings and some occasionally have the image of a parachutist's or glider badge embroidered within the oval.

504th PIR

504th Para. Inf. Regt.
Postwar Example
On Olive Drab Shirt

It is possible that many of the ovals appearing above were not adopted by their units until after the close of hostilities and maybe only just prior to their demobilization during the immediate postwar period. Because these insignia were adopted by the units without War Department approval there is very little documentation and they must be considered on a case by case basis. There was no overall coordinating authority supervising the adoption of the designs. I have tried to the best of my ability to include World War Two airborne units and early examples of their ovals.


  1. Trimmings of a similar appearance were worn by the 508th and 542nd Parachute Infantry Regiments. One of the continuing problems in researching ovals worn during the Second World War is the lack of any official record of the colors used by the various units. These ovals were adopted and worn by local authority. (Insignia Courtesy: Jay Graybeal)
  2. The center of the badge is wool.
  3. The center of the badge is twill.
  4. Maroon and white are the colors of the medical branch. This oval was worn by the 307th Airborne Medical Company, but might have been generic for other airborne medical units.
  5. White and scarlet are the colors of the corps of engineers. This oval was worn by the 307th Airborne Engineer Battalion, but might have been generic for other airborne engineer units.

Thanks to Kevin Born, George Kuchen and William Yarborough for the information they contributed. I also wish to acknowledge the information in articles by Harris T. Mitchell (The Static Line October 1993 p.6) and Les Hughes.

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