The Second, and Other, Prototype OSS Insignia

by Les Hughes

© 1993 by author









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On 16 June 1943 General Donovan approved the proposal of the Quartermaster Corps for an OSS insigne design and set in motion the process to secure JCS approval.

The design of the proposed OSS insigne was that of a gold spearhead, of the type found on color staffs, on a black oval. The design was to be executed both as a shoulder sleeve insigne (SSI) and as a collar branch of service insigne. Whereas the collar insigne for officers would be as described, those for enlisted personnel would be produced on a disk without enamel. Additionally, Donovan's request raised the possibility of producing, at some time in the future, a black "sleeve" for uniform "shoulder loops," similar to leadership tabs.

General Donovan's request for JCS approval of the spearhead design was rejected, a decision which, judging from OSS documents in the National Archives, Donovan did not anticipate.

The matter of an insigne for OSS was destined not to end with JCS rejection of the spearhead design. In 1944 the question of an insigne was again the subject of discussion and study within OSS. What served to revive the issue? Dr. John Brunner, a veteran of OSS and the author of several books on OSS, including what I consider to be the definitive book on OSS weapons (OSS Weapons, Phillips Publications) speculates it may have been due to the desire of the personnel of SHAEF's Psychological Warfare Division (PWD) to have its own insigne (John Brunner, private communication). When PWD's desire for an insigne was communicated to OSS, it revived the broader issue of an OSS insigne.

The second search for an OSS insigne expanded to include nine new designs in addition to the spearhead design. (Some of the new designs appear better suited to an organizational logo than to a uniform insigne.) The following memorandum dated 28 November 1944, Subject: OSS Insignia, Project 1095, summarizes the situation.

"1. At 2:30, p.m., Thursday, 23 November 1944, I had an appointment with Colonel Doriot, Chief, Military Planning Division, Quartermaster Corps, regarding assistance his office could give us on this project.

2. Col. Doriot, while expressing some surprise that the subject was being revived, appeared to be extremely anxious to give us any and all assistance we desired... If we so desired the Heraldic Section of his Division would attempt to devise an appropriate insignia for us, either by doing all the work themselves or working in cooperation with anyone from our office.

3. Col. Doriot showed me a shoulder patch and collar insignia which had been prepared by the Heraldic Section for use by OSS personnel two years ago. I believe the insignia was made up and that they still have a supply of around 300 on hand. I understand that General Donovan liked and approved the insignia but that the entire idea or plan of an identifying insignia for OSS personnel was disapproved along with the specific design by either JCS or the General Staff on the grounds that the time (2 years ago) was not propitious for such identification of OSS personnel.

4. A rough sketch of the design prepared by the Heraldic Section appears below. [There follows a crude drawing of the spearhead design.]

5. Col. Doriot then introduced me to Mr. Arthur Du Bois, chief of the Heraldic Section. Mr. Du Bois and I spent some time considering possible themes or sources for designs for an OSS insignia. He is inclined to favor a design based on mythology and heraldic symbols rather than any based on American Revolutionary War designs used on flags or other military identification media. He feels that a mythological design can be more truly representative of the purpose and work of this agency than can a Revolutionary War design. Actually there was no unified army during the Revolutionary War and each unit, state or regional, designed its own flag and insignia such as were used...

6. As a result of our talk, Mr. Du Bois offered to go over available material and make several suggestions regarding designs, to be presented to us in rough sketches for our consideration..."

The memorandum concludes with the observation that the procedure for Army approval of an insigne is highly formalized and must be strictly followed.

In spite of Du Bois's views, there emerged from this second study a design based on Revolutionary War symbolism: a snake surrounded by 13 stars. Using this design, three prototype insignia—two SSI and one pin—were made.  Again, OSS's efforts to gain approval for an insigne of its own ended in failure. With the end of the war less than a year away, there would be no further attempt to secure for OSS a unique emblem. OSS as an organization would never have an authorized insigne.

The prototype patches based on the Revolutionary War motif of a snake and 13 stars survive in the National Archives' OSS files. There were two prototype SSI made: one for Army personnel and one for Navy enlisted personnel. Both are the same in design—white embroidered snake and stars—differing only in the background: red felt for the Army version; navy cloth for the Navy. Navy officers and civilian personnel were to wear a pin, of the same design and in the color scheme of the Army SSI, a cardboard 'mock-up' of which is in the Archives' holdings.  

James Sawicki’s Prototype Patches

James A. Sawicki was the author of nine books and a well-known member of the insignia collecting community from the 1950s until his death in 2012. Mr. Sawicki served in the army in Africa and Italy (where he was wounded at Anzio), attaining the rank of first lieutenant. Mr. Sawicki was the source of the patches illustrated here that, apparently, were explored as possible OSS sleeve insignia. When Mr. Sawicki parted with these patches, in 1998, he provided background information on them in a letter to their recipient. He wrote (author’s comment in square brackets): “When I returned to the United States in the fall of 1945 following World War II service in Italy I was detailed to the Quartermaster Corps and assigned to the Office of the Quartermaster General in Washington DC for duty with the Heraldic Branch of the office. Mr. Arthur E. DuBois, the Chief of that Branch, and I became very good friends, and he was aware of my interest in distinctive insignia and shoulder sleeve insignia. One day when I was talking to him, he reached in his desk drawer, pulled out a handful of assorted shoulder sleeve insignia, and handed them to me, saying ‘you might like to have these for your collection.’ I can’t recall all of the patches he gave me but I do recall the Southeast Asia Command with the head of the phoenix facing in the wrong direction, the patch of the Philippine Headquarters, the OSS patch [apparently the spearhead SSI] and three other items I did not recognize. When I asked about them I was told that they were suggested designs furnished by OSS Headquarters. I have never been deeply interested in patches so most of the patches were given away over the years. But I held on to the OSS suggested designs and only recently found them in the back of a drawer where they have been buried for fifty years.” The patches in question are indeed odd ones; it is not surprising that they were consigned to a desk drawer at the Heraldic Branch of the OQMG. (My thanks to Dave Johnson for bringing this information to my attention and for providing images of these patches.)