The Kunming Parachute School

by Les Hughes

1993 by author


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 I would be hard-pressed to choose a favorite from among the patches in my collection. But among those to which it would come down would be the two patches I acquired from Ray Hartleroad, an instructor at the OSS's Kunming jump school. I found Hartleroad's name on a set of orders sending a group of personnel back to the States from Kunming. When I ran these names by another veteran who'd served at Kunming, he was able to recall the states from which several, including Hartleroad, came. Subsequently, I was able to locate Hartleroad and acquire all of his OSS memorabilia, which included two unusual patches.

In a letter to me, Hartleroad wrote: "There were approximately 32 men in our outfit including mess sgt., motor pool personnel, etc. There were only ten or twelve instructors including officers. We trained the first Chinese Commandos to jump and took them in flight for the attack on Canton, China. The patch with Parachutist at the top (see bottom image at left) was to be worn on our right sleeve or shoulder... on winter and summer dress  uniforms. There was a photographer of the U.S. Air Force attached to our unit to get professional pictures for Army records. He was very talented at drawing, so he was drafted to do the honor.  This patch was approved thru our CO Col. Rucker for our unit but the bombing of Hiroshima put a halt to production. The patches meant combat ready via parachute.  The patch with larger helmet and chute was copied or enlarged from the shoulder patch, it originally had a circle around it. The field was white with a one fourth border of blue. For some reason that was disregarded. This emblem was to be worn above the left pocket of our jump suit.  The red and white Chinese Commando shoulder patch. The officer in charge of the Chinese commandos asked us (OSS) to design a unique shoulder patch just for his unit. With him watching and telling us what he would like to have this original pattern was made [into patches] in the same manner ours were.  The original patches, American and Chinese, were of silk thread and cloth and made by a tailor shop on a foot operated sewing machine in a village, just a few miles from Kunming, China."

The design of the two patches made in 1945 for the Kumning jump school staff employs a design that appears on the cover of a booklet (see image) titled Establishment and Operation of a Parachute School in a Theater of Operations, prepared at the Parachute School, Fort Benning. (The example illustrated here is a revised version prepared in February 1944.) Later (in the '50s?) the design turned up on a patch reportedly worn at a U.S. Army jump school in Mainz, Germany. I've not seen any evidence of the use of this design on insignia prior to its appearance at Kunming.