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1st Battalion - 501st Infantry - 101st Airborne Division

Geronimo patch history

 

Regimental and Battalion sub unit insignia: The above illustration depicts a collection of insignia painted on A-6 parachute drop container ends (plywood), which were rendered by an artist of the 501 Parachute Maintenance Section named Kunkel, in 1945.

Be aware that the above group is incomplete, also that some units had two variations of insignia in use, simultaneously. For example, the 501 Regiment came into existence in November 1942, after the 501st Para Bn had been de activated. When Colonel Johnson requested his new design be approved (Apache war chief holding lightning bolt below a chute canopy), the Heraldry office denied his request. They could not authorize more than one insignia for a unit with the same number and purpose (501st Parachute Infantry). Another design had already been approved for the 501 Battalion. However, despite this denial, Col. Johnson's troops wore their Apache war chief insignia throughout WW2 and ignored the official Thunderbird design, which had been created by LTC William Yarborough.

When the 501st was re activated in 1956, the new 101st division adopted the approved Thunderbird design, which had no actual battle heritage, but was officially sanctioned. The 501st crest shown is Col. Johnson's preferred design and was made of plastic by the Gemsco company because of the wartime metal shortage-these were worn on lapels and caps by EMs, and on the epaulettes by officers. Because Col. J used to Shout:"Who's the BEST?" and the troops screamed "WE are!" in reply, these plastic pins became known as "We are pins", within the 501.
Above, a WW2 era plastic "WE Are" crest, on the Gemsco manufacturer's card. Compliments of Pegg Mero Durnin, whose brother Joe was fatally wounded at Veghel, Holland in late September of 1944.

 
PLEASE READ THE FOLLOWING VERY CAREFULLY-THIS QUESTION OF 501st INSIGNIA IS A COMPLICATED AND FREQUENTLY MISUNDERSTOOD SUBJECT-HOWEVER IF YOU READ THE FOLLOWING CAREFULLY YOU WILL UNDERSTAND WHAT HAPPENED AND WHY

This design depicting an Apache indian chief wearing a war bonnet and clutching a lightning bolt in his fist was designed by Col. H.R. Johnson and a team of artists in the newly-activated 501 PIR in late 1942, to replace the earlier 501st Parachute Inf design of a Thunderbird, which had been used by the 501st Battalion (now defunct) and which had been designed by Colonel Yarborough.

Johnson's new version, with the design shown above, was worn as a pocket patch nearly 6" in diameter, on the jacket, Field, M1941, and the M42 jump jacket. These insignia were worn in the states at formations or when walking out, but not overseas until after VE Day. This was the exclusive insignia used by Johnson's outfit in WW2 and although not approved, this is the 501st insignia with battle heritage. Johnson's Geronimo insignia was designed by Sgts Richard Clarke, Lee Clayman and Eugene Amburgey.
Johnson's 501 PIR was inactivated in July, 1945 and not reactivated until the 101st Airborne Division was brought back into existence in 1956. After the 501 was re-activated in 1956, a much smaller (in diameter) variation of Johnson's design was made, with the word "APACHES" embroidered across the front of the patch. These are strictly from the post war 1950's-60s Ft Campbell era and the WW2 501st patches NEVER had the wording 'Apaches' on them!
HELL-O-O...ARE YOU PAYING ATTENTION?
I continually see the small 501st patches with the word 'Apaches' on them being offered as WW2 vintage patches by dealers at militaria shows and on the Internet.
It is also worth mentioning that in recent years, some fairly decent copies of Johnson's patch (no wording other than GERONIMO at the bottom and correct diameter) have also been manufactured.
 
501st Wing Backgrounds (ovals)
WW2 paratroopers wore a cloth oval behind their parachutist qualification wings. Each regiment within the WW2 Airborne was represented by a different color combination. In the 501 PIR, it was a red oval with a medium to light blue border. Eventually, many dozens of different unit variations were manufactured, and the practice continues to this day.
Because of the proliferation of wing backgrounds, much concern has arisen among collectors as to time period, authenticity, etc. Even during WW2, a number of manufacturers' variations were produced for ovals of the same unit, (more in some units than others), according to demand.
The four background ovals depicted above, were all obtained directly from WW2 vets of the 501 PIR.
The example at top left is the type that was Issued to the troops, and is a thin, cotton-twill material, surrounded by a very narrow blue thread border. These issued types fade drastically with machine washing and take on a salmon pink appearance, with the border fading to a very pale blue.
The example at lower left is the only one of it's type I've seen. At first glance, it looks very much like the specimen at upper right, but it is narrower and made of a textured twill center, surrounded by a blue thread border. This example came from the effects of William Hippler, an Item Co. 501 trooper.
The example at top right seems to be the most numerous, (commonly found), and it features a wool flannel red center with a blue cotton thread border. These were privately purchased, as were the types at lower right, having jump wings embroidered onto the face of the oval. I have seen the last type sewn to a Class 'A' uniform, with metal jump wings pinned-on over the embroidered ones. They also appear on M42 jackets and M41 field jackets, at the wearer's discretion

 

 

Author: Roger Bray
Copyright 2006 [ ]. All rights reserved.
Revised: 2/10/08

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