Morale Patches | Military History and Use

“Espirit de Corps” is a french term to describe military morale. It’s french pronunciation is ​[ɛspʀi də kɔʀ] it is frequently used by the military to maintain a belief in the cause and the institution, in the face of difficulty and hardship.

To be in the military is like being in a brotherhood, united by a sacred cause. Soldiers treat each other like family, and sometimes the bonds shared run even deeper than blood. The job is demanding, it requires men and women to leave their loved ones behind to serve the state. In the face of such sacrifices, individuals affiliated with the military are also subject to unique – often horrifying – experiences. Naturally, to be engulfed in a world filled with war and tears must have a spiritual trade off – the most influential one being an exclusive sense of pride, such that resilience and perseverance are paid off with honor, and respect.

Like any club, being in the military offers tremendous exclusivity which is often made clear through military uniforms, accolades, badges, and special gear. Veterans are patriotic and love to show their military association with several forms of emblems and insignias by creating custom made morale patches which are ornate military badges showcasing specific logos, images, motto, catch phrases or expressions. However, morale patches aren’t like any other ordinary patch.

While they are designed the same way – that, the colors and the formats are alike – they possess a monumental value which is accorded to them because of the purpose for which they are created and their value throughout history. Morale patches are used as a means of identification and association with a military division, battalion, squadron, unit, a small group of troops or just an individual. They are specially created and worn to represent loyalty shared among the group. 

Typically, these patches aren’t officiated and sanctioned through a higher order in the military, and need not be worn on uniforms. However, because of the tribute they pay to the honorable service, many soldiers choose to voluntarily adorn them either to share a story or to pay tribute to their colleagues. Consequently, tracing the patches back to their original roots can be an interesting journey and you’ll be surprised to discover all the fun facts related to their inception. 

History of Morale Patches

Initially, morale patches came from the British. Reports suggest that these go as far back as the beginning of the 20th century, perhaps even before World War I. The British army would wear morale patches – originally referred to as ‘battle patches’ – to establish an association with allies and a disassociation with enemies. On the surface, identification was the basic reason but when you dig deeper, it is evident that this had more to do with symbolism than anything else.

As the name suggests, whoever coined the idea did so to boost morale among comrades. Morale patches are seen as visual testimonies of those wearing them. They signified the sharing of sentiments among a lot that had devoted their entire life for the defense of their homeland. On the other hand, morale patches are great for telling stories, sometimes even inside jokes and each brought the members closer together in spirit. 

Naturally, in the beginning, not every troop adopted the idea. In fact, it only gained enough traction when the Americans became involved. Impressed by the practice, many US units indulged their most creative personnel in designing morale patches.

The first-ever morale patch – at least the one found in the available written history – belongs to the 81st Infantry Division aka Wildcat. This was during the First World War when emotions ran high due to the implications of battle and the military wanted to assign literal meanings to their missions. Earlier, patches were limited to name patches, shoulder sleeve insignia which is awarded if you are involved in a combat for more than 30 days and the ones that were sanctioned with each units uniform.

Their desire to be known as a part of something bigger than themselves sanctioned the use of  in the military. Due to lack of variety at that time, and almost no other patch types to choose from, the Wild Cat’s morale patches were custom embroidered.

Soon after the Wild Cats’ enthusiastic participation, John J. Pershing, a senior United States Army officer ordained every unit to design its unique patch. Had it not been for the official’s order, morale patches might have become lost in history.

How The Name Was Coined

While the British coined the phrase ‘battle patches’, ‘morale patches’ is has roots in the US Military. As surprising as it sounds, the label was coined when America went to war against Vietnam. Among all the bloodshed and lives lost, soldiers had little entertainment to go by. Everything was reliant upon military friendships, the value of the times shared, and the uniqueness of it all. Like all relationships, soldiers would often take jabs at each other, joke around and throw around enough sarcastic remarks and catch phrases like Molon Labe in English or μολὼν λαβέ in Greek that are worthy enough to obtain copyrights for.

Somewhere among all this, the emblems that were created, featured commonly uttered slang, catch phrases and humor within a unit. They were an ode to the hours spent outside of the battle – the hours that kept everyone relaxed and kept the morale high. These emblems and representations, then, became popular as “morale patches” because they reminded the military personnel of the worthiness of their purpose as well as the spirit of their bonds.

The Popularity of Patch Trading

Throughout the years, morale patches have been perceived as an expression of personality. Verily, they have transcended beyond the mere status of memorabilia to become part of a trading system that is active to this day. Essentially, even after people retired from the military, they closely held on to their patches. There is no doubt that this was primarily because of emotional appeal but somewhere down the line, veterans began customizing to add individualistic flair. By doing this, not only did the patches represent membership within a unit or department, but a personal anecdote, or story. Naturally, it did not take much time before morale patches were being collected by soldiers and civilians alike. Some of the rarest ones, particularly those with a sarcastic phrase or eye-catching logo, are traded for more money than others. Many people are eager to get their hands on favorites and some die-hard collectors even pass their prized possessions down generations. This practice has allowed old patches to stay preserved and return to circulation every few years or decades.

Moreover, patch trading is significantly responsible for accelerating the use of morale patches beyond the army and on to the civilians. Many law enforcement agencies have also adapted the tradition of morale patches, and that might be due to some ex military personnel joining the civilian law enforcement departments in the later stages of their careers.

If anything, these patches are a great way to bridge the gap between military and regular citizens as the message they send can be funny and patriotic. 

Velcro – The Game Changer

Velcro first got popular in the 1960’s and the company quickly took flight. Today, it is used as a fastener across a plethora of items including patches, shoes, bags, watches, apparel, and more. The role of Velcro hook and loop backing is relevant and significant in creating custom made patches in particular.

Before the invention, soldiers would have to stitch the patches on their uniforms or use rather unsafe methods involving pins. It is no secret that neither option was ideal, stitching was time-consuming, permanent, hard to remove and replace and created holes in their clothing or gear. Similarly, pins were a safety hazard unworthy of achieving appropriate results. With a Velcro backing, however, patches could be attached and removed as many times quickly and easily.

Morale Patches in The Modern Age

Because patches have so much history and the most coveted varieties are passed down generations, the majority of the morale patches are embroidered. However, the trend is gradually shifting towards PVC patches. The durability, longevity and strength of pvc patches makes it an extremely popular choice for the military. Hence, we have noticed an increase in popularity and demand for custom made pvc patches by the military.


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