Curator’s Corner: WWII Army-Navy Insignia Guide

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Have you ever seen someone in their military uniform and wondered what they did for a job or what rank they were? Those not affiliated with the military either by personal service or that of a family member may find it difficult to determine military rank by simply looking at one’s uniform. It may even be more confusing when the ranks of some branches differ from others with regards to titles, for example, Navy to Army.

The United States Navy was born as the Continental Navy during the Revolutionary War. As the colonies fought for independence from the British, it made sense that the Continental Navy and the other military branches formed at the time mirrored British forces with regard to rank, customs, and traditions with minor changes. Most of those organizational structures still exist today.

Officers in the Army, Air force, and the Marine Corps all share the same ranks as you move up the chain of command. A Captain in the Army is equivalent to a Captain in the Marine Corps; a Colonel in the Air Force is equivalent to a Colonel in the Army and so on. Where as a Captain in the Navy or Coast Guard is higher in rank than a Captain in the Army, and is actually equivalent to an Army Colonel in rank.

This may sound confusing and it was just as confusing during WWII when numerous men walked around town in their uniforms while on liberty or leave. Seeing the different ranks on the men’s caps, sleeves, or patches on the arm may have been perplexing to people who hadn’t previously known anyone in the military.

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A nifty little guide was created to visually differentiate between Army and Navy Insignias and their corresponding ranks. In 1943, an advertisement for War Bonds created an Army Navy Insignia Guide. This small cardboard guide pictures a Soldier and a Sailor on the front. The center piece rotates to change the insignia on the Sailors arm and wrist and the Soldiers arm and shoulder. The Army title changes at the top and the Navy at the bottom. There are 18 different titles and insignias for the Army and Navy on the rotating wheel. Along the sides are other insignias such as parachutist, chaplain, dental, etc. with 30 in total.

The top of the reverse side lists cap devices of the Army, Navy, Coast Guard, and Marine with 15 insignias and titles. The middle of the guide says, “Keep ‘Em Flying-Fighting-Sailing Buy War Bonds & Stamps”. The bottom of guide lists 7 Insignias for Navy, Marine, and Coast Guard Decorations and 7 Insignias for Army Decorations.

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This was an incredibly handy and helpful guide. The guide currently in the U.S Navy Seabee Museum collection is in excellent condition and a personal favorite among the objects in the collection to show.

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150225-N-JU810-010Meet the Curator: Robyn King
Robyn King earned her Bachelors in History and Anthropology from the State University of New York at Oneonta. She has experience working at State Museums, Historic Sites, the National Parks Service, and most recently the Navy. She’s an expert in collection management, and has worked closely with both natural and cultural collections. Robyn loves all museums and sharing her love of history. When’s she not working, she’s volunteering her time with the National Peace Corps Association, as a Returned Peace Corps Volunteer from West Africa.

2 comments on “Curator’s Corner: WWII Army-Navy Insignia Guide

  1. Richard Donofrio says:

    I have two Seabee insignia acquired in 1955 from military personnel, probably WW 2 vets. One is similar to Seabee images found on the internet, but the other is not. It shows a bee riding on what appears to be a torpedo over waves. There is no CB lettering on the patch, just the image in white thread on a navy blue background. Is this one of the obsolete designs?

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