To honor the soldiers who stormed the beaches of Normandy, a California company is reproducing combat patches from D-Day and making them available to relatives of those who fought in that epic battle.
"It is our way of giving back to the men and women who fight for our country," says Ira Newman of Action Embroidery of Ontario, Calif.
The U.S. Army is unique among military branches in that all soldiers are required to wear a shoulder patch identifying their units. To those who serve, the patch is more than cloth and thread. It represents a brotherhood, lost or forgotten friends and a link to those who came before.
"He got shot twice in Germany and got wounded coming down," said Barry Moss, a Marine-turned military librarian. His father parachuted into Normandy while serving with the 82nd Airborne Division on D-Day.
"They had guys they served with and the next thing you know they were not there anymore," said Moss, recalling one of the few stories his father shared about the war. Like many families, his father's uniform and other memorabilia are in the attic.
U.S. forces invading Normandy were composed mainly of the following Army units: The First Army under Gen. Omar Bradley, the Fifth and Seventh Corps, the First, 4th and 29th Infantry Divisions, the 2nd Ranger Battalion and two airborne divisions, the 101st and 82nd.
Shoulder sleeve insignia, or SSI, are made to precise, government specs.
For example, the First Army patch contains 9,082 stitches. The 1st Infantry, 4,200. Thread on the 4th Infantry patch is sewn with needles exactly two inches apart.
Each is specific, detailed and wrought with meaning. The 29th Infantry's blue-gray design represents soldiers brought together from both sides of the Civil War. The 82nd Airborne's "AA" means All-American. It is meant to depict soldiers from every state.
Prior to 1960, each military branch designed its own insignia. Afterward, the Pentagon's Institute of Heraldry standardized the task and awarded contracts. Today, all U.S. military patches are designed in Virginia and made domestically.
With permission and encouragement from the Pentagon, Newman's company produced several hundred combat badges from each unit, all of which spilled blood on the beaches and fields of Normandy 75 years ago. Wives, sons and daughters of those brave men can obtain a patch honoring their service by emailing email@example.com with a local address until the patches run out.