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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
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
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
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