Military patches are worn to denote a variety of things including rank, division and skill set. The Army, Navy, Marines, Air Force and Coast Guard uniforms have various embroidered patches, also known as shoulder sleeve insignias (SSI). The patches are usually sewn or attached with Velcro on the shoulder sleeves of military uniforms. Although commonplace in modern military history, military patches
are a relatively new addition to military attire.
Embroidered military patches were first worn in the 1800’s by British soldiers, but were only worn by officers to signify their higher rank. Patches became an effective way to distinguish between divisions in military units, and the idea soon spread to America. Before the Civil War, military uniforms were remarkably unadorned and void of any decoration.
In the Civil War, soldiers from the Union and Confederate armies wore identification on their forage caps, rank strips on their sleeves and informal patches on their shirts. The Union army tended to have more military patches
than the Confederate army, but their wives usually hand sewed patches at home as they were not yet mass-produced. Both Union and Confederate armies had limited patches due to small supplies of cotton and thread, the location of soldiers, and the high cost of materials during the war.
It wasn’t until World War I that a general named John J. Pershing officially authorized the limited use military patches on uniforms. During World War I, most of the patches were variations of the Chevron design. The intricate variations of the Chevron design signified rank, division and the skill sets of soldiers. However, the first formal World War I patches were worn by the Army’s 81st Division “Wildcats” in 1918. They were a dull olive felt patch with the silhouette of a wildcat.
World War II, the military became more organized and produced custom
that clearly defined a soldier's rank, corps, divisions, and
brigades. During WW2 the colors of the patches tended to be much more
bright and had specific significance. For example, if a soldier
belonged to a division where he operated tanks, he would wear
a tank inspired patck. Medics in the Army would wear
bright Red Cross embroidered patches to appear more visible on the
battlefield. High-ranking soldiers could have dozens of patches to
honor their high ranks and achievements. Even the lowest ranking
soldier had at least one patch. Collecting military patches became so
popular during World War II that young children often wrote soldiers
asking for them to send their patches in the mail to add to their
During the Vietnam and Gulf War, the patches became much more subdued and harmonious with the colors of the soldier's uniforms. In July 1970, it became mandatory for soldiers to wear their military patches on their field uniforms. Military Patches
have now become very commonplace inside the branches of the military. The historical symbolism of each patch has created an active collectors market inside and outside the military, especially for rare, limited-edition patches. These different patches have now become an important part of military history.
The Eagle, Globe, and Anchor is the official emblem and insignia of the United States Marine Corps.
The current emblem traces its roots in the designs and ornaments of the early Continental Marines as well as the United Kingdom's Royal Marines.