We Need a Universal Veteran Symbol for America’s Recent Conflicts

When World War II came to a close in 1945, about 13 million service members began the transition into civilian life. Some had been in uniform for the whole four years; some, for just a few months. Some had served overseas; some had served at home. Many had been in terrible combat; many more had never heard a shot fired in anger. Many were men, many were women. There were whites, blacks, latinos, Indians, Jews, Catholics, Muslims, atheists, alcoholics, teetotalers, the illiterate, the highly educated; in other words, the whole spectrum of society. In one way or another, over 16 million Americans served during the war. For those who received an honorable discharge, the War Department issued the Honorable Service Lapel Pin, more commonly referred to as, “The Ruptured Duck.”

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This pin, worn on the lapel of a civilian suit or sewn onto a military uniform, provided visible proof to all who saw it that the wearer had served in some way during the war. It ensured that veterans of every background could be easily identified, and it came to be an iconic representation of an entire generation of veterans.

Fast forward to today. A woman in her twenties or thirties walks into a VA center. She is a veteran, of any of the recent conflicts either in Iraq or Afghanistan. She may even be a decorated combat veteran with multiple tours to both countries. But she is often greeted with, “Hi sweetie, what veteran are you the spouse of?”

Today we have an entirely new demographic of veteran, due to the nature of our recent wars. The conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan lack conventional “front lines.” Support troops suddenly became far more involved in combat operations than once was the norm. Convoys of logistics troops were routinely targeted by improvised explosive devices (IEDs), small arms fire, mortars, and/or rocket-propelled grenades (RPGs). Bases housing support personnel were hit with rocket and mortar attacks and targeted by vehicle-borne IEDs. Women served – and continue to serve – with heroism alongside their male counterparts, earning awards such as the Silver Star, and Bronze Star Medal with “V” device for valor. Not only have women been fighting in our nation’s wars, but they’ve been excelling at it. Which should be of surprise to no one.

The definition of “front lines” became a gray area, and coincided with the rise of the percentage of women in the uniformed services. According to a Rutgers study, women comprised only 1.4 percent of the total U.S. military force in 1970, right in the middle of the Vietnam War. By 2008 – as the war in Iraq was hitting its surge – they were 14 percent of the whole force. By 2014, this number had risen to 16.5 percent.

Up until last year, women were excluded from the combat arms branches of the Army (infantry, field artillery, armor, etc) even though they had been in combat through the duration of the wars on terror. This means that we will see even more women veterans in the future. In other words, the face of veterans is changing rapidly. But we have yet to see that reflected in societal acceptance of the term.

The easiest way to see this is to stop in at any of the traditional veterans service organizations, such as the American Legion or VFW. The vast majority of members will be men over the age of 50. As I have previously written, these organizations are having a hard time adapting to the newest generation of veterans. Women veterans attempting to enter these posts have an even more difficult time, sometimes encountering outright sexism and skepticism that they were able to “hack it.” Women have responded to this by either migrating to new veterans organizations – such as Team Red, White, and Blue, Team Rubicon, or Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America – or by simply staying home. Some have persevered and made inroads at local Legion or VFW posts. But no veteran who is eligible for membership of a veterans organization should be made to feel unwanted merely because of gender.

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Returning baseball players even wore the “ruptured duck on their uniforms in 1946 (Courtesy US Militaria Forum

As of 2014, there were 2.5 million veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. This number continues to slowly rise – and will rise for the foreseeable future. As the face of America’s veteran population changes, it is becoming more and more clear that we need another “ruptured duck,” another symbol of universal veteran service that will be as iconic today as the the Honorable Service Lapel Pin was for the World War II generation. What that symbol should consist of is a matter for debate, of course. In my snarky moods – which tend to be all of them – I would put forward a Rip-It wreathed in a reflective belt as my own personal favorite symbol to represent my generation’s conflicts.

But whatever the symbol might be, now is the time to begin designing it. America’s daughters and sons who have proved themselves in conflict should not have to do it again here at home.


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About the Author: Angry Staff Officer is an Army officer who is adrift in a sea of doctrine and staff operations and uses writing as a means to retain his sanity. He also collaborates on a podcast with Adin Dobkin entitled War Stories, which examines key moments in the history of warfare.

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14 thoughts on “We Need a Universal Veteran Symbol for America’s Recent Conflicts

  1. I am not impressed with the argument. It smacks of soccer trophies for kids — just for showing up.

    My father dropped paratroopers in WW2 and was shot down at Arnhem. My father-in-law went in with the Marines in NINE amphibious landings in the Pacific. My uncle was a clerk typist at Fort Dix. They all got the “ruptured duck”. Those who “saw the elephant” did not need a two-inch piece of cloth (for the uniform) to prove who they were. Real vets of the GWOT do not need (or want) it either. Isn’t the CAB enough? Or the automatic Bronze Star?

    I was a Cold War warrior. It was a long, painful war was in the shadows. Did the SF troops who went to El Salvador get a patch or pin? What about Vietnam? Korea?

    Isn’t enough that we are gold plating the VA programs? When does service kick in and entitlement stop?

    Like

    • Entitlement? To want to be recognized as a Veteran?

      Your argument goes from talking about people in your family who received the recognition to your Cold War era time-frame where you did not. Your name is ambiguous, but I am guessing you are a White Male Veteran who has never been questioned about his service. And I am happy for you regarding that. But you don’t get to speak for people like me, a GWOT OIF Female Combat Veteran, who had all the experiences this article talks about. I have been asked whose wife and daughter I am constantly. I do not get the same recognition for the time I served and the things I did as my male counterparts.

      This being said, I don’t need a pin or patch to know what I am, or what I have done. But I am sick and tired of people who do not know the struggle of what Veterans like myself go through telling us what we feel we deserve.

      “Real vets” of my war don’t want or need it? How many of us have you talked to? How many deployments have you gone on? The reality is – back then, 11.5% of our nation in WWII served our country, and there was a draft. In Vietnam, 4.3% of our nation served and there was the draft. Since 2001, only 0.45% of the nation has served in Iraq and Afghanistan, in an all-volunteer military. It’s significantly harder to recognize our own era of war Veterans. It would (in some ways) to be able to see someone and know they were in my war. To recognize other people who fought the same fight. Just like back in the day when it was easier to recognize because more people had gone over.

      Please just keep this in mind next time you argue on behalf of another Veteran’s war. Have a nice day.

      Liked by 2 people

        • There is no “honorable discharge pin,” you internet troll.

          And this is cleary said by someone who hasn’t had to struggle to get recognized for their honorable service. Not to mention a combat service. But cute comment, bro. I’m sure all your buddies thought it was real funny.

          Liked by 1 person

      • Well said, Kelly. You, and everyone else who served honorably, deserve to be recognized for their contribution and courage.

        Like

      • Kelly:

        As another female veteran, I have to agree with you 100%. I remember walking into a VFW and being told, “Oh, we have a wives’ auxiliary.”. While I took an application for membership, I never filled it out, thinking that every time I walked in there, I’d have all the wives giving me the stink eye for not being a wife, standard issue, NSN.

        Liked by 1 person

    • I think you’re missing the entire point of the article, catman.

      “It smacks of soccer trophies for kids — just for showing up.”
      Then you have to say the same thing about the Ruptured Duck for all the WWII vets. They all got a participation trophy just for showing up too. They must be entitled snowflakes!

      “Isn’t the CAB enough?”
      What about those that did not receive a CAB? There are plenty who, depending on when and where they served, who could have potentially never been fired upon or attacked. Besides, who the hell wears a CAB on their civilian clothes?

      Not everyone wants to wear an OIF or OEF baseball cap around every time they go to the VA or try to venture into the VFW only to be disrespected like the women in the article.

      Like

  2. Having entered the Army in 1973, I was in Germany, but technically a part of the Vietnam Era. I was treated terribly by most of the male officers to including one Captain, who thought any woman with a degree should be home in the kitchen pregnant. It was sad and I just did my time and got out for good.UGH.

    Like

  3. And then there is the female veteran who got tired of constantly being asked by other patients, patient’s family, and staff “Who are you waiting for?” and got a teeshirt made to wear to the VA. The front started out “NOT here with my” over a vertical list with unchecked boxes “Father Son Brother Husband” and the back read “I’m the veteran!”

    Liked by 2 people

  4. Pingback: Things I’m Verbing: Freaky fathers, HQ donuts and things only ’90s kids will understand – Esther Bergdahl

  5. I fully support this idea.

    The “neo-bro” culture of the existing veterans groups is the major reason I never joined one (I’m a Desert Storm era vet) and I can see why the women who served in our more recent wars would feel intensely unwelcome there. I think we, as Americans and fellow veterans, owe at least that much to those returning from Iraq and Afghanistan.

    Like

  6. Re: Veterans Organizations…My wife and I are very active in our local American Legion Post. Both of us are veterans (DS/DS). What we have found to be true for our Post is that we have veterans all around us, Vietnam, Desert Storm, Iraq, and Afghanistan, who could not care any less about organizations that exist only to help veterans. They see no help in the organizations until…twenty or thirty years down the timeline, when the veteran realizes that the damage done to skeletal/TMI/hearing needs attention. Then they want help and NOW. I work as a Veteran’s Service Officer through the Department’s Service Office and all I can do is smile, nod in commiseration, and inwardly fume. How do we get these veterans to recognize the benefits of these organizations in lobbying in front of Congress?
    I blame the internet for a lot of it. Why join a Post when all your care and benefit questions can be answered individually online?
    Wait for twenty-thirty years; if the Legion and the VFW and the like are still around, membership will soar, after having left tens of thousands of veterans behind.

    Liked by 1 person

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