One of the Army’s most prestigious and distinctive badges is the Combat Infantryman Badge. Many of those who have been awarded this badge value it more than any of their awards and decorations.
Despite the Combat Infantryman Badge’s distinction, many are unaware of it’s history, symbolism, criteria for award of the badge, and the variety that have been made.
According to Army Regulation 600-8-22:
“The Combat Infantryman Badge (CIB) was established by the War Department on 27 October 1943. Lieutenant General Lesley J. McNair, then the Army Ground Forces commanding general, was instrumental in its creation. He originally recommended that it be called the “fighter badge.” The CIB was designed to enhance morale and the prestige of the “Queen of Battle.” Then Secretary of War Henry Stinson said, “It is high time we recognize in a personal way the skill and heroism of the American infantry.”
Originally, the Regimental Commander was the lowest level at which the CIB could be approved and its award was retroactive to 7 December 1941. There was a separate provision for badge holders to receive a $10 per month pay stipend, which was rescinded in 1948. Several factors led to the creation of the CIB, some of the most prominent factors are as follows:
a. The need for large numbers of well-trained infantry to bring about a successful conclusion to the war and the already critical shortage of infantrymen.
b. Of all soldiers, it was recognized that the infantryman continuously operated under the worst conditions and performed a mission which was not assigned to any other soldier or unit.
c. The infantry, a small portion of the total Armed Forces, was suffering the most casualties while receiving the least recognition.
d. General Marshall’s well-known affinity for the ground forces soldier and, in particular, the infantryman. All these factors led to the establishment of the CIB, an award which would provide special recognition of the unique role of the Army infantryman, the only soldier whose daily mission is to close with and destroy the enemy and to seize and hold terrain. The badge was intended as an inducement for individuals to join the infantry while serving as a morale booster for infantrymen serving in every theater.
In developing the CIB, the War Department did not dismiss out of hand or ignore the contributions of other branches. Their vital contributions to the overall war effort were certainly noted, but it was decided that other awards and decorations were sufficient to recognize their contributions. From the beginning, Army leaders have taken care to retain the badge for the unique purpose for which it was established and too prevent the adoption of any other badge which would lower its prestige. At the close of World War II, our largest war in which the armor and artillery played key roles in the ground campaigns, a review was conducted of the CIB criteria with consideration being given to creating either additional badges or authorizing the badge to cavalry and armor units. The review noted that any change in policy would detract from the prestige of the badge.
There are basically three requirements for award of the CIB. The soldier must be an infantryman satisfactorily performing infantry duties, must be assigned to an infantry unit during such time as the unit is engaged in active ground combat, and must actively participate in such ground combat. Campaign or battle credit alone is not sufficient for award of the CIB.
The definition or requirement to be “engaged in active ground combat” has generated much dialogue over the years as to the original intent of the CIB.
The 1943 War Department Circular required infantrymen to demonstrate “satisfactory performance of duty in action against the enemy.” The operative words “in action” connoted actual combat.
A War Department determination in October 1944 specified that “action against the enemy” for purposes of award of the CIB was to be interpreted as “ground combat against enemy ground forces.”
In 1948 , the regulation governing badges stated that “battle participation credit is not sufficient; the unit must have been in contact with the enemy.” This clearly indicated that an exchange of hostile fire or equivalent personal exposure was the intent of the Army leadership.
In 1963 and 1965 Headquarters, Department of the Army (HQDA) messages to the senior Army commander in the Southeast Asia theater of operations authorized award of the CIB to otherwise qualified personnel “provided they are personally present and under fire.” U.S. Army Vietnam regulations went so far as to require documentation of the type and intensity of enemy fire encountered by the soldier. The intended requirement to be “personally present and under fire“ has not changed.“
Specific award criteria is slightly different for each of the eligible conflicts, but the requirement for awardees to have demonstrated satisfactory performance of duty in ground combat against enemy ground forces has remained essentially unchanged.
A silver and enamel badge 1 inch in height and 3 inches in width, consisting of an infantry musket on a light blue bar with a silver border, on and over an elliptical oak wreath. Stars are added at the top of the wreath to indicate subsequent awards; one star for the second award, two stars for the third award and three stars for the fourth award. #
The bar is blue, the color associated with the Infantry branch. The musket is adapted from the Infantry insignia of branch and represents the first official U.S. shoulder arm, the 1795 model Springfield Arsenal musket. It was adopted as the official Infantry branch insignia in 1924. The oak symbolizes steadfastness, strength and loyalty. #
The badge was designed by sculptor Trygve A. Rovelstad of Elgin, Illinois while employed by the Heraldic Section of the U.S. Army Quartermaster General.
Specific Eligibility Requirements -
Again referring to AR 600-8-22:
“To date, a separate award of the Combat Infantryman Badge has been authorized for qualified soldiers in any of three conflicts:
World War II (7 December 1941 to 3 September 1945, the Korean Conflict (27 June 1950 to 27 July 1953), and the Vietnam Conflict.”
A message dated 12 November 2002, from the Commander of the U.S. Army Personnel Command (PERSCOM) stated:
“1. Effective 5 Dec 01, Operation Enduring Freedom began the 4th conflict qualifying for award of the Combat Infantryman Badge and the Combat Medical Badge. The Vietnam Era (3rd conflict to qualify for the CIB/CMB) was officially terminated on 10 March 1995.
2. World War II and the Korean War were the 1st and 2nd conflicts qualifying for award of the CIB and CMB. The Vietnam Era (3rd conflict) include the operations/wars listed below. Soldiers who qualified for award of the CIB or CMB for any of these operations are recognized by one award only regardless of whether they served one or multiple tours in any or all of these areas.
A. Vietnam Conflict, 1 March 1961 to 28 March 1973
B. Laos, 19 April 1961 to 6 October 1962
C. Dominican Republic, 28 April 1965 to 1 September 1966
D. Korea on the DMZ, 4 January 1969 to 31 March 1994
E. El Salvador, 1 January 1981 to 1 February 1992
F. Grenada, 23 October to 21 November 1983
G. Panama, 20 December 1989 to 31 January 1990
H. Persian Gulf War, 17 January 1991 to 11 April 1991
I. Somalia, 5 June 1992 to 31 March 1994
…As an example, a soldier who was awarded the CIB or CMB in the Persian Gulf War (3rd Conflict) and/or Somalia (3rd Conflict) and Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan (4th Conflict) would wear the CIB or CMB with one star.”
Each of Vietnam Era, or “3rd Conflict” eligibility periods have additional, specific criteria, but those criteria are beyond the scope of this article. Complete award criteria can be found in AR 600-8-22, and in some of the references cited in the bibliography.
In 1952 the Army’s Chief of Staff approved a proposal to add stars to the CIB to denote award of the badge for service in separate conflicts. Regulations were enacted that provide for eight such awards. The first award is of the CIB itself, and each subsequent award will be indicated by the addition of a star, up to three stars. The fifth award is the basic CIB without stars, but in gold instead of silver, with stars added for subsequent awards, up to three stars to signify the eighth award.
In practice, only the first through third awards have ever been awarded. To date, only 303 infantrymen have been awarded the CIB three times. With the addition of the “4th Conflict” period, an individual could, theoretically, be entitled to four awards of the CIB, but that individual would have to be approximately 80 years old at the time he qualified for the fourth award. This makes it highly unlikely that any individual will qualify for a fourth award at this time.
Samples of the fourth award in metal are known to exist, but are rare. Samples of the fifth through eighth awards in metal are extremely rare. Embroidered cloth samples of first through third awards are readily available. Embroidered cloth versions of the fourth through eighth awards are relatively easy to acquire, but the authenticity of these items is difficult to verify. Many are modern reproductions or fakes.
Metal Full-Color Badges -
The Combat Infantryman Badge was originally issued only in the full-color, full-size (3 inch x 1 inch), metal clutchback pin-on version, die-struck from a single piece of metal. (See Figure 1). Modern, full-size CIBs also feature clutch back fasteners, and are die-struck from a single piece of metal, but there are a few details on CIBs from different eras that may help in accurately dating the badge.
Sterling CIBs were produced in sufficient quantities that existing stocks were still available for issue during the Korean War. Anecdotal evidence suggests that a few WWII-era CIBs were even issued for Vietnam War service in the 1960s.
World War II and Korean War era CIBs are typically marked “Sterling” on the reverse, with no other markings. (See Figures 2 through 4.)
Figure 2. Typical WWII/Korea CIB, example 1.
Figure 3. Typical WWII/Korea CIB, example 2.
Figure 4. Typical WWII/Korea CIB, example 3.
The prongs, or pins that the clutch fasteners attach to are typically shorter on WWII/Korean War era CIBs than on modern versions. WWII/Korea CIB prongs average approximately ¼ to 5/16 inches (6 to 7mm) long, versus 9/32 to 11/32 inches (7 to 8mm) for the typical modern version.
The issue WWII/Korea CIBs feature smooth-face sterling clutch fasteners (see Figure 5). Smooth-face brass clutch fasteners (see Figure 6) may sometime be found on WWII/Korea sterling CIBs, but they are probably replacements for lost sterling clutch fasteners. Beginning in the early 1950s clutch fasteners began to feature raised “pips,” “bumps,” or “dimples” on the face of the clutch fastener (see Figure 7). Badges utilizing this type of fastener are typically referred to as “clutch backs” by collectors
Figure 5. Smooth-face sterling clutch fastener.
Figure 6. Smooth-face brass clutch fastener.
Figure 7. Modern brass clutch fastener.
World War II and Korean era sterling CIBs may also be found with a variety of brooch-type pin fasteners, but these are likely a private-purchase item acquired from the PX or other military insignia supplier. (See Figure 8). Badges with this type of fastener are commonly referred to as “pinbacks” by collectors.
Figure 8. Pinback sterling CIB.
A unique and highly collectible variant of the CIB is a two-piece version pictured below (see Figures 9 through 12). It features a removable wreath that is held on by the clutch fasteners. This version is most likely German or Italian-made in the immediate post-WWII era. Because of the desirability of this type of CIB, it is suspected that modern fakes of this variant are being produced and artificially aged.
Modern and WWII/Korean War vintage CIBs are virtually identical in appearance from the front, but markings on the reverse and the length of the prongs can help date them.
Starting in the mid-1950s, government approved suppliers of a variety of insignia began using two-character manufacturer codes. These codes typically consist of a number and a letter, or a letter and a number such as “9M” for N.S. Meyer, or “D2” for A.H. Dondero.
In the early 1960s, the army replaced the two-character codes with three-character codes. Most of the codes consist of a letter and two numbers, such as “G22” for Gemsco
Markings did not always consist of the government code exclusively. Manufacturers might also include a hallmark describing the metal content, such as “Sterling,” .the initials of the company, the company name spelled out, a logo, or combination of all of the above. An example is shown in Figure 13, below.
Figure 13. “Modern” CIB with “Sterling” and G-22 hallmarks.
Figure 14. “Modern” CIB, 1st Award (Note: This is the obverse
of the badge shown in Figure 13.)
Figure 15. “Modern” CIB, 2nd Award.
Figure 16. “Modern” CIB, 3rd Award.
Figure 17. “Modern” CIB, 4th Award.
(Photo courtesy of Craig Pickrall)
Figure 18. Combat Infantryman Badge - variety of sizes.
(Top: 3 inches wide. Bottom: ¾ inch wide.)
Combat Infantryman Badges also became available in a variety of sizes ranging from the full-size, three-inch wide examples called out by regulations, down to lapel pin/tie tac size. Two-inch sizes are typically advertised as “shirt-size.“ Modern regulations allow a smaller size for wear on the Mess Dress uniforms, but this still does not account for the variety of sizes that were made. A variety of sizes are shown below in Figure 18.
Figure 19. Full-color, cotton embroidered on OD wool.
Embroidered Full-Color Badges
At approximately the same time that World War II ended, embroidered CIBs became available for wear. The embroidered CIBs were typically full-size, full color, and available on cloth backings that matched the uniforms then in use. Embroidered CIBs can be found in simple cotton embroidery, so-called “BeVO” or woven construction, and bullion embroidered. Embroidered CIBs were not an issue item, but were allowed for wear. A few examples are shown below.
Figure 20. Full-color, cotton embroidered on khaki twill.
(Note the original price tag still affixed. Price: 25 cents)
Figure 21. Full-color, bullion embroidered on dark blue elastique.
(For wear on the Army Dress Blue or Mess Dress Blue uniform)
In the early 1950s the Army authorized the wear of the Combat Infantryman Badge, among others, for wear on the olive green cotton fatigue uniform. Combat Infantryman Badges, and others were produced in full-color, cotton embroidery on olive green cotton for wear on these uniforms.
Figure 21. Full-color embroidered CIB 1st Award on olive green.
Figure 22. Full-color embroidered CIB 2nd Award on olive green.
Figure 23. Full-color embroidered CIB 3rd Award on olive green.
Figure 24. Full-color embroidered CIB 4th Award on olive green.
Figure 25. Full-color embroidered CIB 5th Award on olive green.
(Photo courtesy of Craig Pickrall)
Figure 26. Full-color embroidered CIB 6th Award on olive green.
Figure 27. Full-color embroidered CIB 7th Award on olive green.
Figure 28. Full-color embroidered CIB 8th Award on olive green.
Subdued Metal Badges -
When the U.S. military began operations in Vietnam, the standard Army uniform featured full-color insignia, including rank chevrons, unit shoulder sleeve insignia, and badges including the CIB; on the standard fatigue uniforms. It soon became apparent that the full-color insignia was impractical, and some units began devising subdued insignia with olive green and black as the only colors. In 1970, the Army officially adopted subdued insignia for use on field uniforms.
Combat Infantryman Badges are produced in subdued metal pin-on versions, and subdued embroidered versions. The metal CIBs are of a uniform flat or matte black. Pictured below are examples of 1st, 2nd and 3rd Award versions.
Figure 29. Subdued metal CIB, 1st Award.
Figure 30. Subdued metal CIB, 2nd Award.
Figure 31. Subdued metal CIB, 3rd Award.
Subdued Embroidered Badges -
Subdued embroidered CIBs were initially produced in black embroidery on olive green cloth. Locally-made variants can be found on a variety of materials in both machine- and hand-embroidery.
Figure 32. Subdued CIB 1st Award, black embroidered on olive green.
Figure 33. Subdued CIB 2nd Award, black embroidered on olive green.
Following Desert Storm, the Army also authorized a special subdued CIB for wear on the Desert Combat Uniform. This badge is described as being spice brown machine-embroidered on tan. Examples also exist in black machine-embroidered on tan, but it is not clear if that color combination was officially authorized for wear.
Figure 34. Desert subdued CIB 1st Award, brown on tan.
Figure 35. Desert subdued CIB 2nd Award, brown on tan
Figure 36. Desert subdued CIB 3rd Award, brown on tan
When the Army adopted the Army Combat Uniform (ACU), they did not authorize any embroidered badges, wings, etc. including the CIB. Currently (February 2010) only the black, subdued metal versions of the CIB are authorized for wear on the ACU.
Special thanks to Craig Pickrall for the use of a few photos from his amazing collection, but most of all, for the advice, information, and inspiration.
Thanks also to all the people, most whose real names remain unknown to me, on multiple internet militaria forums, that have patiently answered questions and provided information that was used in this article..
All photos are of the author’s collection unless otherwise noted.
Army Regulation 670-1, Wear and Appearance of Army Uniforms and Equipment
Army Regulation 600-8-22, Military Awards
U.S. Army PERSCOM Message DTG 110501Z Mar 02, SUBJECT: Award of the Combat Infantryman Badge (CIB) and Combat Medical Badge (CMB) - Operation Enduring Freedom
U.S. Army PERSCOM Message DTG 121305Z Nov 02, SUBJECT: Second and Subsequent Awards of the Combat Infantryman and Combat Medical Badges
Encyclopedia of United States Army Insignia and Uniforms, by William K. Emerson, University of Oklahoma Press, ISBN 0-8061-2622-1
Government Issue - U.S. Army European Theater of Operations Collector Guide, by Henri-Paul Enjames, Histoire & Collections, ISBN 2-913903-87-8
The Officer’s Guide, 22nd Edition, January 1956, The Telegraph Press, Library of Congress Catalog Card Number 30-21652
U.S. Army Patches - An Illustrated Encyclopedia of Cloth Unit Insignia, by Barry Jason Stein, University of South Carolina Press, ISBN 1570031797
U.S. Army Uniforms of World War II, by Shelby Stanton, Stackpole Books, ISBN 0-8117-2595-2
U.S. Army Uniforms of the Korean War, by Shelby Stanton, Stackpole Books, ISBN 0-8117-1819-0
U.S. Army Uniforms of the Vietnam War, by Shelby Stanton, Stackpole Books, ISBN 0-88117-1852-2
Combat Infantryman Badge/Expert Infantryman Badge: An Infantryman’s Award, by Rob Knisley and Roger James Bender, The Military Advisor, Volume 8, Number 4, Fall 1997
Combat Infantryman Badge: Silver 4th and Gold 5th through 8th Awards, by John Mull, The Military Advisor, Volume 15, Number 2, Spring 2004