45th Infantry Division Swastika Patches?

by Les Hughes


































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Most collectors are aware of the fact that, from the 1920s to the late 1930s, the shoulder patch of the 45th Infantry Division was a yellow swastika on a red square. Other patches bearing the swastika symbol are to be found in collections, where often they are identified as variants of the sleeve patch of the 45th.  Steve and Dave Johnson, in their article "Rag Clippings" (ASMIC's The Trading Post, October-December 1999), present compelling evidence that many of these "swastika patches" are misidentified. The swastika patches (four of the 15 illustrated in their article) discussed in the following paragraph will alert collectors to the complexity of identifying these patches. But to fully appreciate the range of swastika patches and the units (going back to the First World War) that wore them, you will want to secure a copy of the Johnsonsís article.

The patches illustrated above are often touted as "color variations" of the swastika patch of the 45th Division". Because they are well-made and obviously old, this explanation is often  accepted. The truth is that they are Junior R.O.T.C. patches from high schools in San Antonio, Texas. They have been identified correctly a number of times in The Trading Post, but their association with the 45th is still to be found. They were worn in the 1920s and 1930s until replaced with a design featuring a Lone Star and the Alamo. Each of the four variations illustrated was unique to a different San Antonio high school: Thomas Jefferson H.S., a blue diamond with red swastika; Brackenridge H.S., a purple diamond with white swastika; Main Avenue H.S. (now Fox Tech), a red diamond with white swastika; and Sidney Lanier H.S., a blue diamond with gold swastika. In the early years of their use, these patches were worn on the lower sleeve; later, they were worn on the shoulder. A reversed variation apparently also exists. All of these patches are beautifully embroidered on a heavy brown (OD) wool disc. Sometimes they are found with the wool trimmed down to the square, so that they more closely resemble the 45th Division patch.

I lived for 10 years in Oklahoma, and during that time collected the insignia of the 45th Infantry Division. Naturally, the swastika patches were much sought after, and in time I acquired several, including one featuring a swastika in bullion. I also acquired a yearbook of the Oklahoma National Guard, published in the Ď30s, in which were numerous photographs of personnel wearing the swastika patch. In 1985, I wrote to Brig. Gen. (USA-Ret.) Ross H. Routh, who, I had been told, had been involved in the selection of the thunderbird design, and who thus would be a good source of information on how the thunderbird had replaced the swastika on the sleeve patch of the 45th.  I was not the first person to contact General Routh regarding this: Judge Fred A. Daugherty had contacted him in 1977, on behalf of the 45th Infantry Division Association, I believe, and had asked General Routh to record his recollection of the events surrounding the adoption of the thunderbird, in lieu of the swastika, for posterity. The following is what General Routh sent to Judge Daugherty (comments in brackets are mine, taken from other material General Routh provided).

From Swastika to Thunderbird

by Brig. Gen. (USA-Ret.) Ross H. Routh

For the first 15 years of its existence as a division, members of the 45th Division proudly wore on their left shoulders an ancient "good luck" symbol, the swastika, in yellow on a square red background. But when the swastika was adopted by Adolph Hitler and his Nazi party in Germany during the late 1930s, it became an odious symbol and was abandoned [in the fall of 1938] as the insignia of the 45th Division.

While members of the 45th took off their swastikas and wore no insignia for many months, the adjutants general and commanders of units of the 45th Division in Oklahoma, New Mexico, Colorado and Arizona called on guardsmen and citizens of all four states to suggest designs for a new insignia. Hundreds of designs were submitted, and a board of officers was appointed to consider all of the designs and recommend one for adoption.

Before its first meeting, the board composed of Colonel George Ade Davis, Chief of Staff, 45th Division; Lt. Col. Clyde M. Howell, finance officer, 45th Divisioní Lt. Col. Ellis Stephenson, G-3, 45th Division; Major Bryan W. Nolen, Executive Officer, 90th Brigade; and Captain Ross H. Routh, Headquarters, Oklahoma National Guard, requested information from War Department files on the symbolism of the original insignia. It was learned that the four sides of the red square represented the four states in which units of the 45th were located, the red and yellow colors were indicative of the Spanish heritage of the area, and the swastika had been selected as a typical American Indian symbol.

At the first meeting of the board, held in Oklahoma City [in the Spring of 1939], members went through all of the designs and discarded those that were considered too fanciful, those that were not representative of all four states, and others that were lacking in symbolism. In a discussion following this action, members of the board agreed that the new insignia should retain the original red square background and the red and yellow colors of the original insignia, with a new design replacing the swastika. All suggested designs which did not meet these criteria, or which could not be adapted to meet them, were then eliminated from consideration.

A second meeting of the board concentrated on the remaining suggested designs and selected three which were to be considered to be the best. First choice was a Thunderbird, submitted by Joe Tice of Oklahoma City, former enlisted man in the 45th, by Sgt Raymond S. McLain, Jr., of Oklahoma City, and also by Brig. Gen. Harold H. Richardson, The Adjutant General of Colorado. Second choice was a Colt revolver, caliber 45 of the type worn and used by frontiersmen in "winning the west". Third choice was the figures "45" in various configurations.

Following agreement on designs, recommendations of the board were submitted to Major General Charles F. Barrett, The Adjutant General of Oklahoma, who approved them and forwarded them to the Adjutants General of Colorado, New Mexico and Arizona for concurrence.

The Adjutants General of Colorado and New Mexico readily approved the findings of the board and recommended adoption of the first choice of a yellow Thunderbird on a red square background. The Adjutant General of Arizona, Major General Alexander M. Tuthill, himself a former commander of the 45th Division, returned the file to General Barrett with the comment: "Of the three designs submitted, I dislike the Thunderbird the least!"

After approval of the Commanding General, Eighth Corps Area, and the Chief, National Guard Bureau, the Thunderbird design was officially approved by the War Department [in the Summer of 1939] and authorized for manufacture and wear. The document approving this design, which was to be famous in WWII and Korea, stated that the Thunderbird was an American Indian symbol signifying "sacred bearer of happiness unlimited."  [The the new thunderbird patches first appeared on the sleeves of the men of the 45th in the Fall of 1939.]