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Militaria: Regimental Combat Teams

Left to right: 442nd Regimental Combat Team, first and second pattern patches. 74th Regimental Combat Team, correct patch in (2nd from right) and error (right).
Left to right: 442nd Regimental Combat Team, first and second pattern patches. 74th Regimental Combat Team, correct patch in (2nd from right) and error (right).

On June 21, 2000, President George W. Bush awarded the Medal of Honor to 22 Asian-American veterans — many of whom served in the Japanese-American 442nd Regimental Combat Team, the all-Nisei unit — for acts of heroism in World War II. And the following weekend marked the 50th Anniversary of the start of the Korean War, the heyday of the Army's regimental combat teams. Let's take a look at the shoulder patches of the RCTs.

The concept of the RCT originated in World War II. The idea was to build a limited support organization — artillery, engineers, and so forth — around an infantry regiment. Much smaller than infantry divisions, which were built around three infantry regiments, Regimental combat teams could be used as smaller but entirely self-sufficient units.

Most World War II RCTs were temporary task forces from which no distinctive insignia survive. The 503rd Parachute Infantry Regiment, for example, briefly expanded into an RCT for the airborne assault on Corregidor in the Philippine Islands in 1944. World War II produced two notable exceptions: the 442nd and the 74th.

The 442nd RCT, the most decorated unit of its size in WWII, owes its existence to racial prejudice. The Army hesitated to ask white soldiers to serve alongside Japanese Americans, albeit against German opponents in Italy and France. The 442nd wore two patches, both illustrated. The second and longer-lived pattern showed the hand and torch of the Statue of Liberty.

The 74th RCT formed in 1944 from the 99th Separate Infantry Battalion and American survivors of the 1st Special Service Force, the Canadian-American Devil's Brigade. The 99th, largely made up of Norwegian nationals, had formed in 1942. Following the 99th's service in combat after D-Day and the effective destruction of the Devil's Brigade in heavy combat in Italy, the 74th RCT organized and assisted in the repatriation of Axis forces from Norway in 1945. The 74th's patch combined the Viking ship of the 99th with the red arrow of the Devil's Brigade, topped with a black Ranger scroll. From time to time, a manufacturer's error, also shown, turns up: in this version of the patch, the red and blue colors are reversed.

Regimental combat teams became more numerous in the years following World War II. About 30 units sported distinctive patches, some of which are becoming scarce. Several RCTs served with distinction in Korea. The most famous of these is undoubtedly the 187th Airborne RCT, the Rakkasans, which made two combat jumps. Today, they serve as the 187th Infantry, part of the 101st Airborne Division.

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