Insignia Patches, Badges, and Arm Bands

Insignia are patches, badges, pins and arm bands that indicate military designations such as rank, membership in a branch or a particular unit, special authority such as Military Police, duty assignment, or prior service . Throughout military history, uniforms have always carried these insignia so others could tell at a glance the membership and relative authority of another soldier. While the meaning of insignia is usually clear to trained members of the service, they may be complex and obscure to outsiders.

World War II Master Sergeant with hash marks from many years of service overseas and in both World Wars
World War II Master Sergeant with hash marks from many years of service overseas and in both World Wars.

Today in WW II: 17 Oct 1941 USS Kearny [DD-432] torpedoed but not sunk by German submarine U-568, near Iceland, killing 11 sailors, the first American military casualties of WW II.  More 
17 Oct 1943 At Gothenburg, about 10,000 seriously wounded and sick German and British POWs, about half from each side, make up the first British-German prisoner exchange of WW II [17-21 Oct].
Visit the Olive-Drab.com World War II Timeline for day-by-day events 1939-1945! See also WW2 Books.

What are Insignia?

Here is a list of some common types of insignia. Each category may have hundreds of different individual items that have been in use. Some items originated many decades ago and continue in use today. Others were very short lived and may have had limited use even in that short time. These differences create opportunities for collectors to define unique assortments according to their individual interests. The price and availability of insignia are also affected by these factors with wide variations depending on the item history and how it relates to actual military units and operations.

Shoulder Patch:  101st Airborne Division
Shoulder Patch: 101st Airborne Division

101st Airborne Division soldiers on D-Day minus 1, 5 June 1944
101st Airborne Division soldiers on D-Day minus 1, 5 June 1944.

  • Rank Patches and Pins
  • Arm Bands
  • Unit Patches
  • Service Bars
  • MOS Designations
  • Skill Designations

Most insignia are specific to the branch of service (ie, an Army sergeant's stripes are not the same as a Marine sergeant) and may be unique to the branch. All of these change over time as the structure and organization of the military evolves.

Where and How to Find Insignia

The eBay.com on-line auction is by far the largest marketplace for militaria of all kinds, including insignia. Almost anything you might be interested in will sooner or later show up there. On any given day, over 100,000 militaria items will be on auction, including some things you are probably interested in. For other ideas, visit the Olive-Drab.ocm Militaria pages.

Keeping track of all the units that have shipped out or arrived through Hampton Roads Port of Embarkation, 15 April 1944. (Mrs. Filmore Hughes of Baltimore, MD and Lt. Nicholas Van Eck of Stamford, CT.)
Keeping track of all the units that have shipped out or arrived through Hampton Roads Port of Embarkation, 15 April 1944. (Mrs. Filmore Hughes of Baltimore, MD and Lt. Nicholas Van Eck of Stamford, CT.)

Books About Insignia, Medals and Awards

For more comprehensive information on this subject, the following books are recommended:

Find More Information on the Internet

There are many fine websites that have additional information on this topic, too many to list here and too many to keep up with as they come and go. Use this Google web search form to get an up to date report of what's out there.

For good results, try entering this: insignia. Then click the Search button.

Especially recommended:

Military Theme
T-Shirts & Stuff
Visit Olive-Drab.com's sister site for
over 10,000 free military vehicle photos!