Patches from the Army's overseas commands are among the most distinctive — and unheralded — shoulder patches of World War II. They are colorful, in most cases short-lived, and showcase an armed force operating on a global scale.
In late 1941, the Army's only major overseas garrisons were in the Philippines and the Panama Canal Zone, then American protectorates, and Hawaii, then a territory. A year later, the Army had large units, or was soon to establish them, throughout Europe, North Africa, the Indian subcontinent, and the Far East. Most combat troops wore division patches. Many support troops wore the insignia of their corps or armies. Others, however, wore colorful theater and command patches.
The Greenland, Iceland and Bermuda base command patches are examples of long-disappeared insignia from fairly close locales. All allude to the water surrounding their bases — the Greenland and Iceland patches with waves, the Bermuda patch with a blue background.
Other patches draw on regional culture. North African theater personnel wore a patch shaped like a minaret, while the nearby Persian Gulf Command's patch featured a scimitar. London Base Command featured Big Ben. Soldiers assigned to the China-Burma-India theater, the famed CBI, wore a shield featuring a Chinese sun and an American star. The Caribbean Defense Command showed a Spanish galleon. This was one of the few World War II command patches that survived the war, first as a regimental combat team patch in the 1950s, later as the "Jungle Expert" patch worn by graduates of the Jungle Warfare School.
Other theater patches invoked ideological symbolism. The European Theater of Operations patch showed lightning bolts snapping the chains of Nazi oppression. The ETO's Advanced Base superimposed the Army Service Force patch on the lightning bolts. On Southeast Asia Command's patch, a phoenix rose from the ashes of the Japanese occupation.
Most of these overseas command patches disappeared at the end of the war. Today, they remind us of a massive, widespread force.