OSS 3 Detachment Squadron/Detachment 310

by Les Hughes

©2005 by author















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In the fall of 1993, a dealer contacted me, described a patch that had come into his possession, and asked about a possible OSS connection. The patch depicted a lizard of some type, he said, and a CBI patch modified to include the number "3" and the letter "D." The patch had been a "motel buy," a reference to the practice of some militaria dealers traveling from city to city, advertising that they will be paying cash for war souvenirs at a motel where they'd rented a room.  The patch had come from a vet, I was told, but the buyer failed to get, or failed to recall, the identity of the vet's unit. The patch that he described evoked no connection to OSS, and I told him so.

Several months afterwards, the patch in question, or one like it, appeared as item C565 in catalog 127A of Roger S. Steffen's Historical Militaria auction. There was both a black and white and a color photograph of the patch, and it was an eye-catcher.  The description read: "WWII O.S.S. 3 Detachment Squadron Insignia, 150mm diameter, theater made, of sewn composite construction, brown/black leather with yellow lizard and stylized CBI insignia with '3D' designation, rare..."  Minimum bid: $500. Yep, that's rare.

Clearly, at some point the patch had acquired an attribution, and a highly attractive one, at that.  But I cannot buy into the attribution OSS 3 Detachment Squadron, a unit to which I can find no reference and which none of my OSS contacts have heard of.  OSS had a number of Detachments in the CBI that bore 3-digit numerical designations. And there was an OSS amphibious Operational Group in the CBI, the only one of its kind in OSS, but its former commanding officer disavows any knowledge of this patch or of the unit to which it is attributed.  

My suspicion was that Steffen's was simply parroting the claim of the seller in attributing the patch to OSS 3 Detachment Squadron.  But I decided to check, anyway.  So I telephoned Steffen's one Friday afternoon to inquire about the patch's attribution.  The lady with whom I spoke took the catalog number of the patch and told me to call again the following Wednesday, by which time the patch would have been retrieved and she would tell me whatever she could.  I telephoned on the following Wednesday, and again on Thursday, only to find each time that the patch had not been retrieved.  The lady, who was clearly at the mercy of whoever did the retrieving, was quite apologetic, and she asked me to call again on the following Monday, at which time surely the patch would be in her possession.

I called Monday, and the story was the same.  My energy for calling again was waning fast—I send enough money to AT&T each month, as it is—so I asked the lady exactly what I could learn if she had the patch before her.  From her answer I gathered that she could provide little if anything beyond what was in the catalog; that the service she provided was best suited for items that were not illustrated in detail or not illustrated at all.  When I told her it was the patch's attribution in which I was interested; indeed, that I suspected it was incorrect, she assured me, and it was clear she believed, that Steffen's did not err.  Lady, I wanted to say, the desire not to err is the very reason that God does not collect insignia.  I cut my losses and didn't call again.

I sent a photocopy of the patch and its description to Dr. John Brunner, a retired college professor who served with OSS in China, who, in the course of researching his two books on OSS weaponry and one that he co-authored on OSS special operations in China, has spent considerable time sifting through the National Archives' OSS holdings.  Dr. Brunner was unfamiliar with the patch, and he'd never heard of 3 Detachment Squadron.  He did, however, recognize the "lizard", which he pointed out was an anole, a reptile—often sold as a chameleon—that is found only in the Western Hemisphere.  Hearing that, I obtained a photo of an anole and took another look at the patch, and I was struck by the fidelity of the anole on the patch. 

I put myself in the shoes of a GI in the CBI who wanted this patch made.  Now, you could put paper and pen in my hand and put a gun to my head, and my best effort to bring forth a lizard would still appear to most observers to be any one of a number of species of roadkill.  But let's assume that even though my drawing leaves much to be desired, after much gesticulation and heavy reliance on my phrase book, the eyes of the Chinese artisan whose services I have retained grow wide with recognition, and he exclaims, "ahhhhhh!  Rizard!"  Exactly!  But would the fruit of his labors be a beautifully rendered anole, a rizard not found in Asia?

Okay, there's a simple answer to this: I hand the artisan a photo of an anole and I say, "this is what I want."  After all, I'm an American, and any lizard whose photo I might be able to produce would probably be a good ol' American lizard.  Besides, when it came to the photos that GI's packed around the far-flung theaters in which they served, did not anoles run a close third in popularity to sweethearts and Rita Hayworth?

There's a fine line separating being insightful and being too clever by half, and in these observations I may well have crossed that line.  This patch may have an interesting story to tell, but I'd wager the ranch that its story has nothing to do with OSS.  Perhaps someone reading this can enlighten us.   

Postscript: Years later, in 2003, I saw a copy of this patch offered on eBay as a reproduction of the rare OSS Detachment 310 patch—the vertical bar of the CBI patch now being interpreted as a "1" and what was formerly a "D" now seen as a "0". Again, the attribution suffers from the fact that the unit in question, OSS Detachment 310, never existed. (There was an OSS Detachment 303, based in New Delhi.)