The Agent ID Badge and 1st War Area Insignia

by Les Hughes

1993  by author



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A document dated 17 July 1945 from Headquarters, OSS-SU Detachment 202, Subject: OSS Agent Identification Badge, reads:

"1. You are advised that this Branch and all its field stations are now issuing to agents in the field an OSS identification badge. This badge is in the form of a Maltese Cross and has been officially recognized by the Chinese Supreme Military Command. All Chinese commands down to company commanders have been directed to recognize and honor this badge should agents be accosted by the Chinese or any other Allied Command.

2. The primary purpose of this badge is to prevent Allied organizations from neutralizing and eliminating overrun agents.

3. Only agents operating in the field, away from the base of the field station, are issued these badges. Each badge is numbered and a roster is kept at this HQ of the holders.

4. The term "agent", as used in this letter, includes American personnel as well as native Chinese who are operating in the field. American personnel, however, will not wear this badge on any outer garment.

5. A small sketch of the badge is attached."

The design of the badge (often referred to as a 'button' in OSS documents) is based on the identification symbol stenciled on cargo containers to identify OSS freight. Precisely how many of the badges were made is unknown. Documents reveal that 100 of the badges were sent to the OSS Hsian Field Command. Based on the serial numbers distributed in Hsian, one source [3] concludes there may have been 350 of the badges made. Examples of the badges are known, however, with serial numbers that depart from the standard numbering scheme; a fact that renders problematic any estimate of their number.

Whether because many badges were not issued and were destroyed at war's end, or whether because many may have been issued to Chinese agents, and thus remained in China, few of these badges survive today. I consider the badges to be among the rarest of OSS insignia. They are certainly among the few to have been officially documented by OSS.

Rarer than the Agent ID Badges, in my opinion, are the Chinese 1st War Area Marauder Corps buttons (see image above). These buttons were issued, usually with the Agent ID Badges, to personnel operating in the Chinese 1st War Area. A memo from Major Wm. J. Morgan of the OSS Hsian Field Command states: "I am enclosing two types of buttons, eight of each. One type of button has a hand grasping a torch, with the letters 1WA on the torch. This is a button identifying the individual as a member of the 1st War Area Marauder Corps, or as we would call the Marauder Corps, Guerrillas. These buttons are worn by the Marauder Corps of the 1st War Area, or so we have been told by the Chinese." There follows a list of personnel receiving both the button and the Agent ID Badge, along with a list of serial numbers.

The Marauder Corps buttons, too, were numbered and their distribution carefully controlled. There appear, however, to be deviations in the numbering scheme. I was able to locate an OSS officer who is listed in one document as having received both the Agent ID Badge and the Marauder Corps button. Subsequently, I acquired both. I found that the number of his Agent ID Badge matched that recorded in the document, but not so that of his Marauder Corps button, the number on which was quite different.

Shoulder insignia were executed bearing the 1st War Area Marauder Corps design of a hand holding a torch. Two from the author's collection are illustrated here, both of which were given to the author by Col. F. B. Mills.  (The shoulder insigne illustrated here can also be found on page 244 of OSS Special Operations in China by Col. F. B. Mills, R. Mills, and J. W. Brunner, Phillips Publications, 2002.)