Revised Helmet Patch Immortalizes World War II Troops
By Pfc. Chris Jones, USA
Special to American Forces Press Service
MOSUL, Oct. 6, 2003 Clad in desert camouflage uniforms and modern battle gear, soldiers today look nothing like they did in World War II. But the 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault) is slowly reviving the spirit of its lineage with the reinstatement of unit distinctive helmet emblems similar to those worn 60 years ago in Europe.
The 501st Signal Battalion joined the 101st's three infantry brigades in the resurrection of its World War II unit helmet patch in a late-September ceremony at the division's main command post in Mosul.
From the invasion of Normandy to the end of the war in Europe, soldiers of the 501st wore helmets with a box and a small tick mark on each side. The same emblem will now be worn, but with a lightning bolt in the center of the box, symbolizing the technological advancements that have made the unit more efficient, said 501st commander Lt. Col. Welton Chase Jr.
The designs for the 101st's helmet patches in World War II were based on a deck of cards. The 502nd Airborne Infantry Regiment wore a heart; the 327th Glider Infantry Regiment wore a club, and the 506th Airborne Infantry Regiment wore a spade. After World War II, the three regiments abandoned the patches. However, the 187th Infantry Regiment "Rakkasans," which used the Japanese Torii, continued to use the symbol, and it has since become the defining mark of the Rakkasans. Before leaving Fort Campbell, Ky., the home of the 101st, in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom, the 502nd and the 327th joined the 187th in reinstating their World War II symbols.
To prepare for the invasion of Normandy, soldiers sewed their unit emblems on their helmets so they could find members of their unit after the invasion left them inevitably scattered across the French shoreline and in the woods, Chase said.
"Wherever they went in combat, the helmet was always the defining mark," Chase said. "Normandy left many soldiers scattered, so the symbols on their helmet helped them trace down other guys from their unit. On the battlefield, you can look and see immediately where a soldier is from. The same idea from World War II applies today. Everything that's done in the field goes faster if you can identify a soldier's unit just by looking at their helmet."
Reinstating a unit's helmet patch remains a commander's decision, and Chase said he doesn't feel it's unlikely other units will come around to sewing their legacies on their helmets as well.
"It wouldn't surprise me to see others resurrect their patches, too," he said.
The ceremony marked the first time 501st soldiers have worn the symbol since World War II.
"We use this distinct patch to link our past to our present, and it offers a bridge to the future of the 101st Airborne," Chase said. "Wherever we go in Iraq, our soldiers will remember with honor who fought and died before us."
Maj. Gen. William Lee, the first commander of the 101st, said before the division's entry into World War II, "The 101st has no history, but it does have a rendezvous with destiny."
After World War II, the 101st had rung his words true, becoming the first and only division to be awarded the Presidential Unit Citation. Command Sgt. Maj. Linza Chapman, 501st command sergeant major, said this history should not only be known, but shown.
"We've got a history," Chapman said. "We might as well tell it -- might as well show it."
(Army Pfc. Chris Jones is assigned to the 40th Public Affairs Detachment.)