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World War I War Service Chevrons

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World War I Sleeve Insignia

Gold, Light Blue & Silver War Service Chevrons

Part 1, U.S. Army


Questions concerning the ‘Overseas Stripes’ as used by the American Expeditionary Forces (AEF) and stateside units during WW I seem to arise on the Forum with some regularity. Therefore I scraped together what little information I could, both textual and visual, in the hopes that it may clarify some of the commonly asked questions regarding the gold, light blue and silver chevrons that appear on the lower left sleeve of so many WW I and AEF service coats.


Anyone with the fortitude to read this rather lengthy post in its entirety will notice that I’ve gone “off topic” in respect to AEF shoulder sleeve insignia (SSI). This was done to add a bit of color to the thread and to save me from putting together what would be an impossibly long post on WW I army, corps and division insignia. I plan to continue this practice in other parts of AEF Sleeve Insignia to show as many variations of AEF insignia as possible.


Members will also notice that I’ve lifted numerous photos that were posted elsewhere on the forum by other members to help illustrate this particular post. Because I’ve downloaded so many photos over the years for personal reference, I didn’t note to whom they belonged. As a result of my laziness I’m unable to give credit where credit is due. I apologize for this oversight. But to backtrack and search the forum for hundreds of photographs would have been an impossible task. So please feel free to claim ownership of any of the photographs that I’ve used.


As always, everyone is welcome to post any relevant comments, questions, corrections, theories and hopefully photographs that may improve our knowledge on the subject or otherwise advance or improve the topic.


By the way, this is just the first of several posts on AEF “Sleeve Insignia”. I plan to follow this post with additional threads, more or less in the following order on:


  1. USMC and Navy War Service Chevrons
  2. Wound Chevrons
  3. Honorable Discharge Stripes
  4. Misc. AEF Sleeve Insignia, i.e. MG, Tank, Trench Mortar, Air Corps, etc.
  5. Red Cross, YMCA, etc.
  6. Shoulder Sleeve Insignia (Shoulder Patches)
  7. Armbands and Brassards
  8. Women’s Services


As such, I am actively seeking the best possible photographs, and or information regarding anything pertinent to the above subjects. Any member wishing to contribute photos, etc. please contact me via a personal message here on the forum. Also if you can think of something that should be included which I may have overlooked, please drop me a PM.


Thanks for looking … World War I Nerd


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Photo No. 01: This illustration titled, “The Coward”, painted by a youthful Norman Rockwell as a cover for the April 10, 1919 issue of Life magazine. It depicts a fictitious WW I veteran wearing 3 gold service chevrons, indicating between 18 and 23 months of overseas service and two gold wound chevrons issued for being wounded or gassed twice in the Theater of Operations. Despite the soldier’s bravery on the field of battle, the returning veteran seems to be ill-equipped to deal with the indecorous advances made by the fairer sex.


At six feet tall, Norman Rockwell weighed just 140 pounds. Being eight pounds underweight he was refused entry into the Navy. To compensate, he spent the night eating bananas and doughnuts and somehow met the minimum weight requirement the very next day. Unfortunately he saw no action, as he served out the entire war as a military artist.


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January 1918: Gold War Service Chevron Adopted


War Department General Orders No. 6, dated January 12, 1918 authorized the officers and enlisted men of America’s Army, Navy and Marine Corps to wear a War Service Chevron or what collectors today call an “Overseas Stripe”. The ‘V’ shaped chevron was initially issued in one color … gold. Its purpose was to signify that the wearer had served in the “Zone of Advance”, overseas in France during the Great War. One gold War Service Chevron was awarded for each six month period that a soldier, sailor or Marine served in the Zone of Advance.


The Zone of Advance was considered by the AEF, to be where a line soldier could expect to be either under direct fire from the enemy in an opposing trench line or within range of the opponent’s large caliber artillery and gas shells. Typically, this area included the front line trenches and the twelve or so miles of territory directly behind them. Any soldier, sailor, or Marine who served anywhere between the French port cities and the beginning of the Zone of Advance did not qualify for a gold War Service Chevron unless part of that six month period was served in a forward position. Since no insignia was prescribed for the troops who served in the area to the rear of the Zone of Advance, it would be safe to assume that the insignia was initially intended to be worn only by the members of the AEF who had seen combat.


In January, when the War Service Chevron was adopted, the War Department determined that a soldier’s overseas service began on the day that he first set foot on foreign soil, be it Ireland, Scotland, England or France. In most instances, that was 12 to 20 days after the troopship had sailed from a U.S. Port of Embarkation. The average voyage across the Atlantic Ocean during the war was 14 days.


Aside from General Orders No. 6, which most AEF soldiers probably never saw, the Doughboys received news of the six week old War Service Chevron in the Stars and Stripes newspaper. The third issue of that AEF broadsheet had this to say about the recently adopted gold chevrons:


The war service chevron of gold and standard material and design is to be worn on the lower half of the left sleeve of all uniform coats except fatigue coats by each officer and enlisted man who has served for six months in the Zone of the Advance in the war, and an additional chevron will be worn for each six months of similar service thereafter. Officers and enlisted men of the Aviation Service on combat flying duty in Europe will be credited with the war service chevron with the time they may be on that duty.

Stars and Stripes Newspaper, Volume 1, Issue No. 3, February 22, 1918, page 01

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Photo No. 03: Here a real WW I hero awarded the Distinguished Service Cross has adopted a stance which ensures that his gold wound and gold service chevron are both visible to the camera’s lens. Alongside the period photograph is a selection of metallic gold tape service chevrons. These are arguably the most common variety of War Service Chevron encountered. Note the different sizes and widths, the multiple shades of olive drab wool backing cloth and the varying degrees of age discoloration on the once bright gold tape.


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May 1918: Gold War Service Chevron; Amended Regulations


In May of 1918, General Orders No. 53 issued by the War Department modified the conditions under which an Army ‘Doughboy’, Marine ‘Leatherneck’ or Navy ‘Blue Jacket’ serving in the AEF could qualify for a War Service Chevron. The orders stipulated that a man no longer had to serve exclusively in the Zone of Advance in order to earn the coveted gold chevron. It further authorized that all AEF personnel who previously did not qualify for a War Service Chevron, because they served behind the Zone of Advance, would retroactively be awarded one gold service chevron for each six months of service they had already served or would serve in the future in what was now being called the “Theater of Operations”.


The orders mandated that henceforth, all AEF personnel would be eligible for a service chevron for every six months of service accrued in the Theater of Operations, which was defined as anywhere AEF troops happened to be posted in Europe. The Theater of Operations literally extended from the most forward front line trench all the way back to the gangplanks used to exit the transport ships at the French ports of arrival, and then across the English Channel to the United Kingdom. It also included all operations that were, or would later take place in Flanders (Belgium), Luxembourg, Italy, Russia and Germany. In other words, the orders now made it possible for every officer and enlisted man to receive a gold chevron whether he took part in combat or not, and regardless of what his overseas duties were or where that overseas service took place as long as it was in Europe.


This meant that if a man served six months in the 301st Stevedore Battalion unloading cargo at the port of Brest, or was a lumberjack with the 20th Engineer Regiment logging and cutting timber at the AEF sawmill near Gien, miles from the front, or if he was a combat Marine in the 6th Machine Gun Battalion, preparing to enter the deadly killing ground that would be known as Bois de Belleau, he would be entitled to wear one gold chevron on his lower left sleeve after May of 1918, simply because he had served somewhere in the “Theater of Operations”.



Photo No. 04: This Doughboy bearing the blue and white insignia of the IV Corps on his left shoulder has earned one gold service chevron for his service in the Theater of Operations. To the left is a selection of gold bullion War Service Chevrons. The first and second chevrons from the top are made from heavy gold bullion metallic thread, while the two examples shown below have been fabricated from a fine gold bullion wire. Again note the different colors of wool backing cloth and the various shades of discoloration on the metallic thread.




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May 1918: Light Blue War Service Chevron Adopted


In May of 1918, War Department General Orders No. 53 also established a light blue War Service Chevron for any soldier who had served for less than six months overseas in the Theater of Operations. The new blue chevron, essentially made every, soldier, sailor and Marine who had or was currently serving in England, France, Belgium and later Luxembourg, Italy, Russia and Germany eligible to wear one light blue chevron by simply arriving overseas to the Theater of Operation.


At the same time the War Department also revised the date on which a service man’s overseas service began. It was shifted back by approximately two weeks. Instead of beginning the day the man landed overseas, the clock that started counting each man’s first six months overseas now began ticking as soon as the troop transport ship entered international waters, which was some three miles off the eastern coast of the United States. Therefore, after May of 1918 a soldier’s overseas service started on the day that he departed from America, not the day he landed in Europe.

Photo No. 05: I’ve only seen three types of light blue War Service Chevrons. They have been fabricated from various shades of light blue felt (left). They have been embroidered with silk or mercerized cotton thread (center). They have been constructed from light blue ribbon or tape (right). All three variations show up on the usual array of olive drab wool backing cloth.




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Photo No. 06: On the left are three hues of light blue felt service chevron of various widths. Note that the upper chevron appears to have no olive drab backing cloth while the two below feature drastically different shades of olive drab. Opposite is a 1917 wool Service Coat that belonged to an artillery officer of the ‘Dixie’ or 31st Infantry Division. That nickname is particularly apt, since the division was made up of National Guardsmen from Florida, Alabama and Georgia. The SSI is made up of the initials ‘D’ and ’D’, for Dixie Division. The light blue War Service Chevron on the sleeve is of the embroidered variety. This example is more of a turquoise blue rather than the more typical light gray/blue. The light blue service chevron is correct for this division. The division’s overseas service began the day it embarked for France, which was in September of 1918. The Dixie Division never saw combat as a division, becaus upon arrival, the 31st was designated as a depot or replacement division. The light blue chevron indicates that this officer’s service in the Theater of Operations ended sometime before mid March of 1919.


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Photo No. 07: This service coat features the Shoulder Sleeve Insignia (SSI) of the 38th Infantry Division, a monogram composed of the initials ‘C’ and ‘Y’ which represent the division’s nickname of ‘Cyclone’. That name was selected after a tornado struck Camp Shelby in Mississippi in the spring of 1918 while the division was training there. The original owner has placed a silver home service chevron beneath the light blue overseas service chevron to more accurately depict his military service during the war.


While chronologically correct, the practice of mixing gold, light blue and silver War Service Chevrons was strictly against regulations. The silver chevron was likely added to the service coat after his discharge from the Army. The black and white photo shows another member of the Cyclone Division with a steel helmet painted with that division’s emblem and a similar SSI at the top of the left sleeve. The two photos to the right show a better image of the SSI that appears on the service coat and an enlarged, albeit blurry image of the coats combined blue and silver chevrons.


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December 1918: Silver War Service Chevron Adopted

During the course of America’s involvement in the Great War, millions of men and a number of women served exclusively stateside at training camps, hospitals, Navy yards and other military installations. Many of them were professional military men who had hoped to serve overseas but were denied from doing so because they were needed for home service. To honor their service, in December of 1918, War Department General Orders No. 122 authorized a silver War Service Chevron, identical is size and pattern to both the gold and light blue chevrons. One silver chevron was retroactively awarded for each six months of home or stateside service.

Photo No. 08: Silver tape and silver wire are the only type of home service war chevrons that I have personally encountered. Presumably there would have been a heavier silver bullion chevron similar in appearance to the gold bullion service chevrons shown in photo number two and four. The soldier at right, wearing the white on dark blue “Recruiting Service” Brassard is typical of the hundreds of thousands of military men who served state side throughout the war at Army schools, Quartermaster Corps depots, military hospitals or at one of the twelve Ports of Embarkation scattered along the eastern seaboard (The mixed color chevrons and the star insignia will be covered further on in this topic).


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Photo No. 09: Any officer or enlisted man who served stateside from April 2, 1917, the date that America declared war, all the way through to the signing of the Armistice, nineteen months later on November 11, 1918, would have been authorized to wear the maximum number of silver War Service Chevrons, which was three. Here, a 1917 Service Coat, displays the SSI of the ‘Wolverine’ or 14th Infantry Division, a red Honorable Discharge Stripe and one silver war chevron. The 14th Infantry Division never made it overseas and therefore the majority of the men in that division only qualified to wear one or possibly two silver service chevrons.


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U.S. Territories, Possessions and Protectorates


Soldiers, sailors and Marines who did not serve overseas in Europe, but who were posted to one of America’s territories, possessions and protectorates were eligible to wear only silver War Service Chevrons, as America’s territories and possessions were not a part of the Theater of Operations which was ultimately comprised of the United Kingdom, France, Flanders, Italy, Luxembourg, Austria, Hungary, Germany and Russia.


At the time America entered WW I, its possessions included:


  • Alaska: which was purchased from the Russian Empire in 1867 for two cents an acre or 47.2 million dollars. The territory was used as a vital refueling station for U.S. ships en-route to or from Asia. It became an organized territory on May 11, 1912, and the 49th state in 1959

  • American Samoa: as a result of the Second Samoan Civil War America took control of the western Samoan Islands in 1900. American Samoa, as the islands were called became an “unincorporated territory” and remained under the control of the U.S. Navy until 1951. In 1946 both the eastern and western Samoa Islands became a UN trust territory and were administered by New Zealand until Samoa reestablished its independence in 1962.

  • Canal Zone (Panama): was an “unorganized territory” established under the Hay-Bunau-Varilla Treaty of 1903. The Canal Zone remained an American possession so that the inter-ocean canal built by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers could be monitored and maintained by America. The canal was returned to the control of the Panamanian Government in 1979.


  • Cuba: Spain relinquished all claim of sovereignty over Cuba as a result of the Treaty of Paris which concluded the Spanish American War in 1898. The island nation was occupied by the U.S. until 1902 when Cuba gained formal independence. However, Cuba agreed to lease to the U.S. a base at Guantanamo Bay in 1903, “for the purposes of coaling and naval stations”. The terms of the agreement allowed the U.S. to maintain a presence there, “so long as the United States of America shall not abandon the said naval station”. U.S. troops have yet to abandon the naval base at Guantanamo Bay.


  • Guam: was also ceded to the U.S. by Spain at the conclusion of the Spanish American War in 1898. To this day Guam remains an “unincorporated territory” of America.


  • Hawaii: through trade and missionary work the Kingdom of Hawaii had retained close ties with the U.S. In 1893 a revolt overthrew the queen and established an independent republic. In 1898 the small republic was allowed to join the U.S. as a protectorate, largely because the U.S. desperately wanted a naval base in the Pacific Ocean to thwart Japanese ambitions. The Hawaiian Islands gained official status as a territory in 1900 and became America’s 50th state in 1959.


  • Philippines: the Treaty of Paris also transferred control of the Philippine Islands from Spain to the U.S. in 1898. This agreement; however, was not recognized by the Filipino insurgents who immediately declared war on America. The president of Malolos (the name the rebels had given to the Philippine Islands) and the rebel leader was captured in 1901. He then pledged his allegiance to the U.S. and the following year the Philippines became a U.S. territory. Partial autonomy was granted to the “Commonwealth” in 1935 and full independence came to the Philippines in 1946.


  • Puerto Rico: became an unincorporated territory of the U.S. in 1898 as a result of Spain’s defeat during the Spanish American War. In 1917, Puerto Rican’s were granted full U.S. citizenship. Some say this was done so that the U.S. Government could draft Puerto Rican men into the U.S. Army when America entered WW I. In 1947 Puerto Rico became a Commonwealth and it remains an American “insular area” to this day.


  • Virgin Islands: were purchased for $25 million from Denmark by the U.S. Government in 1917, because it was feared that Germany would seized and use the islands as a submarine base during WW I. To this day, the Virgin Islands remains an unincorporated territory, which in 21st century terms is known as an “insular area”, or an inhabited area that is controlled by the U.S., but is neither a part of any one of the 50 U.S. states nor a part of the District of Columbia.


  • Wake Island: was annexed as an “empty territory” by the U.S. in 1899. To this day the tiny coral atoll remains an unorganized and unincorporated territory of the U.S. It’s currently being used as an American air base and missile facility.

Photo No. 10: Leading up to and throughout WW I, the U.S. military maintained a military presence in the territories, possessions and protectorates which the nation had accrued since the turn of the century. At left, this photo shows a soldier wearing the taro leaf SSI of the ‘Hawaii Division’. Next is a ‘Buffalo Soldier’ of the 25th Infantry Regiment. That particular regiment of the regular Army was stationed in Hawaii for the duration of the war. This soldier has earned three silver War Service Chevrons for his eighteen to twenty-three months of service in Hawaii during the Great War.


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Procurement and Issue of War Service Chevrons


The Army “issued” service chevrons were either machine embroidered or sewn onto a roll of olive drab woolen material. Each roll contained approximately one hundred chevrons, which were cut from the roll as needed. Service chevrons were also individually hand made by seamstresses and tailors, both during and after the war, and on both sides of the Atlantic. Therefore, it is possible for the size, width, the angle of the chevron’s arms, the type and color of the backing cloth and the material used for the actual chevron, and how they are placed on the sleeve, as well as their method of construction to vary dramatically.


On a soldier’s 6 month, 12 month, 18 month, 24 month, etc. anniversary, a company clerk would submit paperwork to the authorities at Division Headquarters. After the appropriate documents made their way through the Army’s paper mill, his records would be updated and word would filter back down the chain of command until it reached the platoon Supply Sergeant who would then issue the appropriate quantity and color of chevrons along with a copy of the orders that authorized them to the soldier in question.


The type of chevron issued, i.e. tape, bullion, etc. depended entirely on what the supply sergeant had on hand at the time that the chevrons were issued. It was not unusual to see two or more different styles of chevrons sewn onto the same enlisted man’s uniform. However, this seems to be the exception rather than the rule. Any enlisted man or officer could also upgrade or replace the issued chevrons with higher quality custom made or commercially manufactured chevrons. Once in possession of either the issued chevrons or chevrons acquired outside of the military supply chain, it was up to the individual Doughboys to sew the chevrons onto the service coat and overcoat … hopefully, in the prescribed manner.

Photo No. 11: Both of these Doughboys wear two gold War Service Chevrons. Close inspection shows that each soldier’s service chevrons are comprised of two mismatched chevrons sewn onto the service coat at different times. The chevrons worn by the 3rd Division man on the left look to be of the same pattern, but one is bright gold and the other is much darker or in shadow. The 1st Army Engineer next to him has two entirely different patterns of war service chevrons. Between the two of them they look to be wearing three different types of gold service chevrons.


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Photo No. 12: Because the issued War Service Chevrons were manufactured for the Army by a number of different firms, and because they were also individually made by tailors, seamstresses, housewives or anyone else who happened to be handy with a needle and thread, they turn up in a wide variety of similar, yet dissimilar shapes, colors and styles.


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War Service Chevron Placement

Each officer and enlisted man who qualified for a gold or silver War Service Chevron was issued two gold or silver chevrons for each six months that he served, or two light blue War Service Chevrons if he had served for less than six months. The chevrons were to be sewed on as follows:


  • One for the service coat (wool and cotton)
  • One for the overcoat (all styles)
  • War Service Chevrons were not prescribed for wear on the wool flannel shirt, although they do sometimes appear on that garment

Photo No. 13: After mid 1918 every enlisted man in the Theater of Operations was eligible to wear either a gold or light blue service chevron on the lower left sleeve of his service coat. Here, enlisted men from the 26th, ‘Yankee’ Division and the 80th, ‘Blue Ridge’ Division wear their divisional insignia and War Service Chevrons within the parameters prescribed by AEF regulations. Beneath the photo are two variations of the 80th Division SSI which mirror those worn by the Doughboys above.


The 26th Division or ‘YD’ shoulder patch in the center has been cut from either purple felt or a blue felt that’s aged to a shade of purple. I’ve seen the ‘YD’ monogram on other 26th Division’s SSI made from black, light blue, dark blue and purple felt. However, it remains unclear to me if there was any significance attached to the colors used, i.e. HQ – black, Infantry – blue, MG – purple and so on.


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War Service Chevrons on the U.S. Army Enlisted Men’s Service Coat

Regardless of the color (gold, light blue or silver), enlisted men’s War Service Chevrons were to be sewn point down on the lower right hand sleeve of the service coat, four inches from the bottom of the left sleeve. Each additional chevron was to be one-quarter-inch above the neighboring chevron. The exception being, Navy and Marine personnel who served on board a ship during the war. Sailors and fleet Marines were authorized to wear one gold War Service Chevron with the point up, not point down for each six month period that was served at sea. It was possible for Navy and Marine personnel to wear a combination of points up and points down service chevrons if they saw service both on a ship and with the AEF in France during the war.


Photo No. 14: Note the gold, points up, War Service Chevrons for ship board service on the left sleeve of the sailor’s pea coat and the Doughboy’s gold, point down Wound Chevron. Wound chevrons were identical to the gold War Service Chevron in appearance and placement, except they were worn on the right, not the left sleeve of the service coat (wound chevrons will be dealt with in a separate topic). Also of interest is the Salvation Army worker’s olive drab uniform with a red and white cap badge and shoulder straps worn by the female volunteer distributing coffee and doughnuts to the troops.



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Photo No. 15: Because the enlisted men were responsible for sewing their own service chevrons and insignia onto the service coat, or finding someone else to do it for them, the final result was not always as the Army prescribed. The soldier on the left with the Advanced Sector, Service of Supply SSI is wearing all of his sleeve insignia per regulations. The ‘Santa Fe’ or 35th Infantry Division Doughboy at center was not quite as successful in respect to the correct placement of his sleeve insignia. His SSI is well below the shoulder seam, the Discharge Stripe is too high and canted towards the back. Even though the service chevrons are at an acceptable height, they are out of alignment with the center of the sleeve and tilted counter clockwise. Meanwhile, the sleeve insignia on the ‘Pathfinder’ or 8th Infantry Division service coat on the left is all over the map. It’s crooked, un-centered and in general, very poorly situated.


Underneath is an example of the Advanced Sector Service of Supply SSI, the 35th Infantry Division SSI. The yellow and black quadrants of this particular SSI represent the 140th Infantry Regiment. Next is the SSI of the 8th Infantry Division’s.


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Photo No. 16: All three of these enlisted men wear their War Service Chevrons in the accepted manner. It’s worth noticing the size and arm angles of the various chevrons. On the left this infantryman from the 79th Infantry Division has earned one gold service chevron. In the center is a member of the ‘Blackhawk’ or 86th Infantry Division wearing a pair of service chevrons and a red Discharge Stripe. Note the unauthorized U.S. insignia pinned to the front of his campaign hat. On the right is an eighteen month veteran of the “Yankee” or 26th Infantry Division. The insignia painted onto his steel helmet identifies him as an artilleryman from the 101st Field Artillery Regiment. Judging by the size, I would say that his service chevrons were not regulation. They were probably tailor made or privately purchased.


Underneath the period photos is an example of the 79th Infantry Division’s ‘Cross of Lorraine’ emblem, the Blackhawk design of the 86th Infantry Division and the regimental insignia for the 101st Field Artillery Regiment of the 26th Division. The insignia is comprised of an Indian chief wearing a war bonnet superimposed over a map of Massachusetts, the state from which the majority of the men who made up that regiment hailed from.



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War Service Chevrons at the Front


Most AEF troops spent anywhere from ten days to two months in the trenches, before moving back to a so called “rest camp”. Period photographs of Doughboys and Leathernecks at the front reveal that the majority of line troops neglected to sew service chevrons onto their service coats and overcoats. This was likely due to the fact that the service coats they wore when they moved up to the front, stood a pretty good chance of being unserviceable by the time they rotated to the rear again. If the front was active, the men were under standing orders to never remove their clothing or shoes, not even while sleeping. This was because they had to be ready to stand to at a moment’s notice. In the event of a sudden attack or a surprise raid, fumbling around in a dark dugout for shoes and service coats would do very little to deter a determined attacker. This meant that the clothes they wore often remained on their backs for as much as sixty days, and in some instances even longer.


A mile or two behind the front line trenches was where the rest camps were located. When an infantry regiment was at the front, it was common practice for one or two of its three battalions to enter the trenches. The third battalion being kept in reserve at the rest camps. The reserve battalion would rotate up to the front at such time that Regimental HQ, or Division HQ or GHQ determined that it was necessary to relieve or reinforce its sister battalions or any of the other AEF or Allied organization.


Once relieved, the rest camp was where the tired and filthy men would receive a hasty cold shower, hot meals, and the first change of clean clothing since they moved up to the front. After a day or two of rest, they began the task of training new replacements and making themselves ready to move back to the front. The filthy, louse ridden and torn outer-clothing that the troops shed was heaped into a pile to be sent back to a laundry unit, operated by the QTMC that was attached to the division. There the garments would be laundered, disinfected and repaired before being returned to the front for a completely different outfit to change into. In most cases, the men passing through the disinfecting plants and temporary shower facilities retained only their overseas caps, hobnailed field shoes and overcoats. The odds of ever seeing the same service coat again were very slim. Therefore, it didn’t make sense for any enlisted man heading to the front to waste his free time sewing service chevrons onto a service coat that would be in his possession for only a very short period of time.

Photo No. 17: The above photo reflects the combat infantryman’s reluctance to waste time sewing insignia on a service coat that would be discarded. Not one of these combat engineers is wearing a War Service Chevron. Combat soldiers and Marines of the AEF lived in the dirt and mud for weeks on end, and when they came out of the lines their uniforms were always ragged and always filthy. After a stint at the front, a member of the 27th Infantry Division and a Doughboy with the 33rd Infantry Division wrote the following about their appearance due to the absence of personal hygiene in the front line trenches:


We certainly are sleeping and eating like wild men. I’ll be qualified for a first class hobo’s diploma after I get out of this man’s army.


Over a month without a bath and change of clothes and sleeping anyplace and always under fire sure don’t make a dude in a frock tailed coat out of you. Hardly look human.



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Because of the tortured environment that the AEF soldiers were forced to exist in, QTMC statistics show that between June of 1918 and the signing of the Armistice on November 11, 1918, the average Doughboy’s woolen service coat needed to be replaced every 73 days. When the American soldiers filed out of the trenches their woolen service coats were either torn to shreds or riddled with body lice or encrusted with mud or contaminated with poisonous gas or completely ruined. The veteran soldiers knew that there was no point in sewing gold Wound and gold War Service Chevrons onto the right and left hand sleeves because the service coat they wore would very likely be un-wearable in little more than a week or two.


Photo No. 18: Note that there are no service chevrons worn by the Chauchat gunner cleaning the weapon that was described “as a dirt absorber” (left). The enlisted men’s 1917 Service Coat, which has been upgraded for use by an officer by adding the brown mohair cuff braid onto the sleeves also bears no service chevrons (right). Because there was so much wear and tear on field grade officer’s uniforms at the front, AEF lieutenants, captains and majors complained bitterly about the financial burden of having to frequently repair or replace their uniforms when out of the line. In February 1918, GHQ took note of the inequity and the following was reported in the “Mentioned in Orders” section of the Stars and Stripes newspaper:


Officers serving in the Zone of Advance will be issued all articles of the enlisted man’s uniform and equipment they need; and when their duty in the trenches is over, they will return all such articles.


Stars and Stripes newspaper, Volume 1, No. 1, February, 8, 1918, page 04


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Photo No 19: Conditions at the front were extremely harsh. Everything from heaps of building rubble, to splintered trees, to mile upon mile of rusting barbed wire collectively took their toll on the men’s shoes, clothing, bodies and in many cases their spirits. A combat engineer with the ‘Sight Seeing’ 6th Division*, moving through what was left of the Hindenburg line in the autumn of 1918, left this description of the devastation at the front:


We moved out at 4 A.M. & marched all day passing the old H line in a heavy rain at about 1:30. It is in the midst of a decapitated forest where every single tree is splintered and recut. The trench line itself is the most devastated picture of landscape gone mad you could dream of. Trenches dug, blown up, re-dug, reblown, filth upon filth.


*The 6th Division earned the nickname, ‘Sight Seeing 6th’ because it marched farther than any other AEF division during the course of the war.



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War Service Chevrons on the U. S. Army Enlisted Men’s Overcoat

Like the service coat, all three colors of the War Service Chevrons were to be sewn point down on the lower left hand sleeve of the overcoat. I have not located any regulations that specify exactly how the service chevrons were to be positioned on the sleeve of the overcoats. However, photographic evidence reveals that there was some uniformity in regard to how the chevrons were situated on the various patterns of enlisted men’s overcoats, which are as follows:


  • 1917 Overcoat: Approximately one to two inches above the sleeve adjustment tab or five to six inches from the bottom edge of the left sleeve. Each additional chevron is to be placed one-quarter-inch above the neighboring chevron.

  • 1917 Short Overcoat: Approximately five to six inches from the bottom edge of the left sleeve. Each additional chevron is to be placed one-quarter inch above the neighboring chevron.


  • 1918 Overcoat: Approximately five to six inches from the bottom edge of the left sleeve. Each additional chevron is to be placed one-quarter inch above the neighboring chevron.

Photo No. 20: On the right is the pre-war ankle length 1917 Overcoat with its distinctive cuff tab and button. In the trenches, the 1917 Overcoat’s long skirts were found to be unnecessarily long. GHQs solution to the problem was to shorten the length of the long coat by approximately ten to twelve inches. Second from left is the 1917 Overcoat with shortened skirts. Third from left is the 1917 Short Overcoat which should not be confused with the 1917 Overcoat that was shortened. The short overcoat is easily identified by its roll collar and the lower patch pockets. At the extreme right is the 1918 Overcoat that was designed with an eye towards conserving wool. This example bears the shell shaped SSI of the 17th Artillery Regiment which was part of the 2nd Infantry Division. Note the different shapes of the service chevrons on the coats and that on all four overcoats the chevrons are roughly the same distance from the bottom of the left sleeve.


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Photo No. 21: On the left is the full length 1917 Overcoat. During the war that pattern of overcoat was shortened to prevent its long skirts from dragging in the mud. The coat bears the SSI of the 2nd Air Park and its gold bullion service chevrons appear to be properly positioned. The simplified 1918 Overcoat with the 33rd Infantry Division’s SSI also displays a red Discharge Chevron and a single gold tape War Service Chevron.



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Photo No. 22: The blue, shell shaped background on this 2nd Division, 17th Field Artillery Regiment SSI, indicates that its original owner was from the 3rd Battalion. Next is the insignia of the 2nd Air Park, followed by the yellow cross on a black background of the ‘Prairie’ or 33rd Infantry Division.



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Photo No. 23: This well known photo of decorated African American Doughboys from the 93rd Infantry Division shows three patterns of AEF enlisted men’s overcoats. Each overcoat exhibits a pair of gold service chevrons, all of which are approximately the same distance from the bottom edge of the sleeve. Three of the men wear the 1917 Overcoat with cuff flap, two wear the 1917 Short Overcoat with roll collar and one has donned the plain 1918 Overcoat that conserved wool and was cheaper to produce.



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