Pick and Sledge

Curious Stories from the American West

100 Years Ago Today: Chevrons Causing Trouble

Akron Weekly Pioneer Press, January 31, 1919

Chevrons are making headlines again! Today’s post is a follow up to a previous article filed under ‘100 Years Ago Today’ about chevrons called Marks of Service, which concludes with the author pleading to its readers:

“The man who displays any of the chevrons…has done his full duty by his country and is worthy of honor.”

Cheyenne Record, Volume 7, Number 44, January 23, 1919

Apparently the message didn’t hold water for many people reached out to their Congressmen over the “discrimination” of the distinction of gold vs. silver chevrons, complaining that their service stateside was not their choice but their assignment, and they gladly would have served on the front lines instead.

Gold Chevrons:

A single gold chevron for each wound received in service in the Theater of Operations (mostly France) is worn on the forearm of the right sleeve. This chevron is placed pointing downward.

2 Types of Gold Chevrons.jpg
Gold chevrons

Silver Chevrons:

A single silver chevron for each complete six month’s service in the United States is worn on the forearm of the left sleeve. This chevron is placed pointing downward. 

Silver Chevron

Republican House Representative, John C. McKenzie, (who held that position from 1911-1925), gets a looooong quote in this page three opinion piece, saying that Congress may need to prohibit certain chevrons, but I can’t find any evidence that this was actually brought to lawmakers, nor that it was passed. Rep. McKenzie does offer an interesting solution to the problem, namely that chevrons should only be worn by those who “served in actual fighting” and “clearly risked their lives.”

But what is “actual fighting” and what does it mean to “clearly” risk your life? The article’s author rebuts with a nod to the air servicemen who trained pilots stateside. I imagine their job being akin to a Drivers Ed teacher, except your students are flying primitive airplanes thousands of feet above the ground. Clear risk? Check!

Also, Rep McKenzie, what’s up with the shaming of the army field clerks who according to you, “dodged real military service”? Does the military not have important clerking to be done? Records to keep? Messages to send? Shout out to the clerks!

Regardless of whether Rep. McKenzie’s solution is appropriate, the problem was very real to servicemen after the War. I like the following explanation of hierarchy that was causing the rift:

“There was a clear hierarchy for these left sleeve service chevrons: silver were the lowest ranking and could not be worn by anyone entitled to wear either a single blue chevron or for anyone entitled to wear gold chevrons(s). The next rung was the single blue chevron, showing less than 6 months in the theater of operations. Anyone with more than six months service was to wear a gold chevron for each 6 months in the theater of operations. Thus World War I uniforms should exist only with one or more silver chevrons, one blue chevron, or one or more gold chevrons.”


I’m also intrigued by the way that the editorial cartoon highlights the problem of untreated anxiety servicemen were dealing with post-WWI.

The poor fella on the right who can’t get the ladies wears two silver chevrons, meaning he served stateside for at least 12 months but not more than 17 months, while the (pipe smoking?) gent on the left served at least six month but not more than 11 months abroad.

Pfft, AND he was probably a clerk. Kudos to the cartoonist for the inclusion of the word GOLD in all caps on the woman’s shoulder to let us know her man’s chevron color. Very subtle.

The anxieties I’m seeing in the cartoon include: Can I find a partner? Will anyone want me after my service? Should I wear my military uniform? Is this attracting people or repelling them? Why is everyone else getting the attention I want? Why is it so hard being lonely? How can I improve my status when it’s printed on my sleeve?

100 years ago today, chevrons became a point of contention for former service members, symbolizing the anxiety over status in 20th century America, to the point that Congress members were thinking of making laws to legislate chevron wearing.

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