Military Insignia, Part One: Symbology

Posted by Military Insignia, Part One: Symbology on 11/12/2013 to Military Memorabilia
Every branch of the US military uses distinctive insignia, crests and heraldry to represent each individual unit within a command structure. These symbols are used for several reasons. First, for recognition on the battlefield and to help commanders in the field quickly determine which troops were theirs and which belonged to another commander. The unit crests and insignia also represented some of the core principles of that unit, principles that soldiers within those units would strive to live up to. The unit insignia can be broken down into three artistic elements, with each having its own set of meanings. The three elements contained in every unit insignia are the imagery or symbols, the colors and the shape of the crest itself. With the sheer number of options available when you combine those three elements, it is easy to see why no two unit crests or insignia are exactly the same. 

In the first of our three part series on unit insignia, we'll examine the meaning behind specific symbols and imagery contained on many of the unit insignia that you, or your loved ones who served, wore proudly while on active duty.

Animal symbology

*The Bear: Used in many different stylized forms, the bear represents strength, intelligence and ruthlessness in defense of the unit.

*The Eagle: One of the most popular symbols used across all branches of the US military, the eagle represented the taking of action and the purity of thought and purpose.

*The Dragon: Though its use is not as widespread as some of the other animal symbols, the dragon represented guardianship and bravery without thought of self.

*The Horse: Representative of loyalty, speed and intelligence, many mobile units considered its representation as the ability to move and strike quickly.
The Lion: Courage and valor are the code of the Lion, as well as an unyielding ferocity in battle.

*The Ram: Often adopted by the units at the top of the command structure, the ram symbolizes authority, leadership and commitment to a specific purpose.

*The Wolf: Wolves are considered by most in the world of heraldry to be cruel and merciless, though its adoption as a military symbol was more representative of its adaptability to its surroundings and versatility in military capabilities.

Non-animal symbology

*The Key: Keys have always represented knowledge and the pursuit of truth. Intelligence corps units are fond of using the key symbol to represent their information and intelligence gathering mission.

*The Arrow: Arrows in military crests have many different meanings, with the primary ones being readiness, focused direction and an unwavering pursuit of completing the mission.

*The Hand: Justice, sincerity and trustworthiness. Units involved with garrison support are fond of the hand symbol.

*The 5-point Star: Common throughout the US military, the 5-point star is symbolic of a divine purpose and being watched over by God.

In our next installment, we'll break down the colors, both by meaning and placement within the insignia.