Admittedly, patch collecting has only been a dabbling affair for me. While I find this focus area quite intriguing and considerably broad, I still only give it contextual attention. What I mean by that is that I tend to acquire patches that are related or connected to something else I am already collecting. However, there are some exceptions that have lead me to dive a little deeper, assembling a little bit more of a complete collection of certain patches and shoulder sleeve insignia.
Being a veteran of the U.S. Navy, I find that I am more inclined toward navy and Marine Corps patches. Considering that Navy shoulder patches, predominantly seen during WWII, are limited to a handful of varieties, I have been slowly working to expand my collection with at least one example of each. Serious patch collectors know that each of these Navy patch types may have several variations in their design, embroidery, thread colors and backing materials, just to name a few. Rather than commit a lot of time and finances in the pursuit, I chose to simply fill the hole in the collection with one of the variations. My collecting of Marine Corps patches has followed the same path, but with the wider spectrum of patches, but building a complete group will require more time.
Time is something I have plenty of. World War II Marine Corps SSI run the gamut of availability and scarcity and unfortunately, more disposable cash is going to be required for me to fill the gaps in my collection as some USMC patches are downright scarce and highly sought-after. A few months ago, I introduced you to the basics of Devil Dog patches, providing you with a brief history and insight into the more common pieces. However, I didn’t begin to scratch the surface regarding those items that draw the attention of hardcore collectors and fakers alike.
One could essentially group Marine Corps patches into a few levels of availability or scarcity. I am hesitant to apply the term “rare” as sometimes it erroneously conveys to novice collectors a sense of exorbitant monetary value on an item. What this means is that while something might be hard to find, it doesn’t mean that there are lots of collectors are competing for the same item. However, in some instances with the hard-to-find USMC patches, rare and scarce can be interchangeable and the values can be cost-prohibitive for the majority of collectors. In my experience, I’ve categorized USMC patches by their use (i.e. unit type).
These patches cover the WWII USMC divisions ranging from the First (1st) through the Sixth (6th) Marine Divisions (MarDiv). Besides the common patches, there are some hard-to-find examples, especially those created during the very early months of the war. The 1st MarDiv patches that were made in Australia (when the division was relieved and sent to Melbourne for R&R following the Guadalcanal operation of 1942-43). These patches are quite distinct featuring a unique backing material and unique embroidery. Of course there are a vast number of variations for each of the subsequent divisions to be on the lookout for.
Marine Air Wing (MAW)
For the purposes of organizing my collection, I have also grouped in the Marine Aircraft Fuselage patches as the units are connected. The MAW units are organized from the 1st through 4th and also include a headquarters group. Each unit has an associated patch design. The same structure applies to the Fuselage units and their patches (1st-4th and HQ). There are several variants of each patch design which can make a novice get cross-eyed wading through each one.
Perhaps the most widely sought patches originate from the elite Marine Raiders. These legendary units were the original Marine Special Forces units and employed highly skilled grunts who routinely operated behind enemy lines. The unit patch design is simplistic but conveys an ominous symbol superimposed onto a field of blue with five white stars. There are several variations of this patch with correlating price ranges – the upper end of which can break almost any collector’s bank.
These patches employ a similar design to the Marine Raiders patch, borrowing the shape, color, five-star arrangement and the central white-bordered, red diamond field.
Marine Defense Battalions
These battalions were responsible for providing protection of bases throughout the Pacific Theater and consisted of more specialized units including coastal gun and anti-aircraft batteries, a detection battery (searchlights and radar) and machine gun units. These patches would be characterized more as scarce rather than rare. Authentic examples are available but are nowhere near as common as the division patches. Expect to pay a bit of a premium for these patches.
Fleet Marine Forces Pacific (FMFPAC)
Nine patch designs align with the eight units (anti-aircraft artillery, artillery battalions, bomb disposal companies, dog platoons, DUKW companies, engineer battalions, supply and tractor battalions) along with a headquarters unit, and pose an interesting challenge for collectors. Along with the embroidery and backing variations, there are some color alternatives (white emblems instead of gold) which pose some challenges for collectors locating them all.
Among these patches are four examples of the FMF PAC units. The example in the bottom row (with the star) is a more rare white-thread example of the FMF PAC Supply unit. The two patches flanking the FMF PAC Supply SSI are the 5th Amphibious Corps (at left) and Marine Detachment Londonderry patch.
These detachment patches are some of the most desirable USMC patches, the Londonderry and Ship’s Detachment patches being a bit more affordable than the more rare (and unique) Iceland patch.
Perhaps the most widely sought after and diverse patches stem from USMC aviation squadrons. These patch designs could include variations that range from Disney crafted in painted-leather to embroidered fabric. Each squadron could have many renditions dependent upon how long the squadron was active and based upon where they were located. Squadrons could have their patches made in theater by resident artisans (including squadron personnel) or by domestic manufacturers. Specific designs could vary based upon available materials or leadership changes. As the WWII veterans’ personal artifact groups continue to arrive on the market, collectors still discover new variations of squadron insignia that were previously unknown, making authentication a challenge even for the most experienced patch enthusiast.
Education about these patches is key. I cannot emphasize enough that research prior to making any purchases of rare patches is highly recommended. One of the best resources is the U.S. Militaria Forum; specifically, What are the Rarest WWII USMC Patches for detailed insight as shared by the most experienced collectors and militaria historians.
There are times when I find myself with so many topics to write about that my mind wanders so rampantly that I am left with seemingly nothing to cover. It is akin to my wife walking into our closet (that is filled with clothes) and finding nothing to wear.
I look back on all that I have covered during the past 15 months (including my year of writing for CollectorsQuest) in an attempt to avoid repeating myself. I check my collection for items that I haven’t covered yet (there is an abundance at the moment) while looking ahead at some event/calendar-based ideas that I am working on and I realize that I can begin to narrow the field a little. I can focus in on a subject knowing that as this article begins to develop, it may very well transform into something vastly different when I am ready to publish it.
Speaking of closets filled with nothing to wear, there among the garments that I rotate through each week are several garment bags packed full of military uniforms. While some of the uniforms were worn during my naval career and a few others belonged to my grandfather, the lion-share are truly pieces in my modest collection (dominated with U.S. Navy uniforms). Looking at the last few articles that I’ve written for this blog are Navy-focused, I am pushed toward covering one of the two non-Navy uniforms in my possession.
Why collect uniforms someone (new to militaria collecting) might ask? For me at least, the idea of possessing a tangible object that was worn by a service member (especially during a significant period of our nation’s history) provides a sensory connection (sight, scent, touch) that is unattainable with written words or images. In addition, the uniforms themselves possess some elements and characteristics that make them, on their own, aesthetically pleasing.
My uniform collection, when compared with that of other (long-term) collectors, is quite humble and ordinary when it comes to the identities of the veterans who previously owned and wore the items. This is not to suggest that anyone’s service to this country is ordinary, but in comparison to veterans whose careers shaped and impacted history (so much so that their names are legendary because of their battlefield deeds), my uniforms are quite modest.
One colleague owns (or owned) uniforms that would make almost any collector salivate at the mere thought of touching, let alone owning. Imagine having the uniform from the man who, while in command of a diminutive destroyer escort, bore down on Japanese task force that consisted of four battleships (including the Yamato), eight cruisers and several destroyers in order to protect the carriers in his own task force? That commanding officer, Robert Copeland risked himself, his ship and his crew in order to successfully protect the American carriers from certain destruction near Samar in the Battle of Leyte Gulf. Copeland received the Navy Cross for his actions that day in October of 1944.
Not everyone has the finances or the perfect timing to locate items from such legendary people. Some collectors seek uniforms that serve to illustrate a story or, perhaps to demonstrate the progression of uniform changes throughout history. In either case, high-dollar uniforms from well-known figures (of American history) would serve to highlight such a story line but are not necessarily needed pieces. For those who (with limited budgets) want to pursue something from a specific (i.e. monumental) period of military history, “settling” for uniforms from the common soldier, airman, sailor or Marine.
I am particularly interested in the history surrounding the Pacific Theater of Operations (PTO) when discussing or researching World War II. Being a Navy veteran and the grandson of a WWII PTO Navy veteran, my collection tends to be focused in this area. I’ve taken considerable interest specifically in the southern Solomon Islands and the battles (both on land and sea) that took place in the surrounding area. When many people think of this region, immediate thoughts of Guadalcanal and the saga of the First Marine Division’s legendary fight (and “abandonment” by the U.S. Navy following substantial vessel losses on August 8-9, 1942 near Savo Island). When a WWII USMC uniform from a 1st MarDiv veteran became available (at an affordable price), I didn’t hesitate to pull the trigger on a purchase.
As a research project – trying to determine the service and experiences of the original owner – it possesses next-to-nothing that would afford me a path to pursue. The only identifying marks in the uniform jacket were three initials, “G. E. M.” The odds that I could pinpoint a veteran in the 1st Marine Division with those three letters makes the challenge daunting, to say the least. At this point, I haven’t had the time or desire to begin such an endeavor leaving the uniform to simply fill a space within my collection. I am happy just to own this uniform with the idea that this private first class Marine possibly served in one or more of the notable battles alongside the his brothers in The Old Breed.
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All images are the property of their respective owners or M. S. Hennessy unless otherwise noted. Photo source may or may not indicate the original owner / copyright holder of the image.