By Mitch Meador, Fort Sill TribuneSeptember 4, 2019
FORT SILL, Oklahoma (Sept. 4, 2019) -- The Army's nomenclature for them is shoulder sleeve insignia, abbreviated as SSI, but nobody ever calls them by their right name.
To the hoi polloi, they will always be "shoulder patches." And why shouldn't the rank and file have the final say-so, since they were the ones to come up with the idea in the first place?
Their superior officers intended to put a stop to them, but had to rethink that decision because -- well, you'll find out.
And shoulder patches prove useful in one other respect. They make great fodder for museums.
"One of the problems with military museums is most of the artifacts in the museum are green, brown, or black, or some combination thereof. So there's not a lot of color in most military museums," Field Artillery Museum Director Gordon Blaker said.
"One of the ways to add to that is to use flags, which I do, and also use different types of insignia that have some color to them.
"And one of the ways I did that a couple of years ago was, there was a poster produced during World War I of all of the unit shoulder sleeve insignias.
"And I've noticed over the past couple of years that is probably the panel that more people look at in the museum than any other panel. It's amazing. It's just very popular.
"And so the ideas were to get some color into the museum, and also these shoulder sleeve insignias are extremely popular with the visitors. Part of that is all the veterans can point out they were in this unit or that unit. And new Soldiers looking at what unit they're going to, and everything like that.
"And so, as part of the new addition here, we decided to create a panel of the shoulder sleeve insignia of all of the armies, the corps's, and the divisions. And then did a second smaller panel of the other types of units of World War II, like the armored divisions and things like that. And then we did another panel of all of the field artillery brigades and also the school patches.
"And then we did a fourth panel of all of the major units of the Vietnam War. And the first three are all mounted up on the wall as of (Aug. 28, 2019)," Blaker said.
The focus of the Field Artillery Museum's new gallery will be the years 1945 to the present, and so a lot of the shoulder patches that will be on view there are for units that are active today.
"But the vast majority of the patches that we used on the big panel are all World War II or earlier vintage. About 90 percent of them. Because I wanted to go with the earliest patch I could come up with for each one, without a whole lot of undue work. So we've got about probably six of them that are World War I vintage, and most of the rest are World War II. There are maybe five that are more recent than that. But a striving to do World War II patches, because that's when you saw all of them," Blaker said.
Each of the patches has the number, the nickname if applicable, and what era the patch is actually from. The Vietnam panel is the only panel that has yet to be mounted on a wall, and that's because the wall hasn't been built yet.
Which brings us to the team that pulled the shoulder sleeve insignia project together, because this was not the work of any one particular person.
Exhibit Specialist Zane Mohler did all the pre-work and also some of the wrap-up detail once everything was on the panels, like putting Plexiglas over them and mounting them to the walls. He would build a wooden frame, then Yvette Percival would prepare the muslin fabric on which the patches would be mounted. She washed it, ironed it, stretched it over the frame, and put a backing board behind it.
Museum volunteer Steven Burns, a veteran of the Pershing missile era, explained his role in assembling a complete set of Army patches:
"I was given a bunch of patches, and I filled in, numerically, and there were a lot of empty spots. So I have a series of people that I work with, unassociated with the museum, that I trade patches (with) and so on. And so I just put it out there: I need this patch, this patch, this patch. And (included) the timeframe that I would really like, but whatever they had available. If I received multiple patches, then I took the earliest one and arranged these. I placed all of these onto the board."
Then Percival sewed them onto the muslin. Museum volunteer Rod Roadruck did all the labeling that shows the unit numbers, nicknames, and time period. Burns gives Blaker credit for being the quality control throughout, and Blaker also gives credit to the American Society of Military Insignia Collectors, Dave Kaufman, and Johnson for helping bring the shoulder sleeve insignia project to fruition.