George Willcox Mclver Papers (Addition #6), East Carolina Manuscript Collection #251
Staff Person: Jonathan Dembo
The Carolina Wildcat insignia displayed here is a reproduction of the shoulder patches worn by Headquarters units of the 81st Infantry Division during World War I. Although the division included troops from Florida, Puerto Rico, and New York City, the insignia recognized the fact that the bulk of troops in the 81st were from the Carolinas. This insignia is known as the first divisional insignia to be adopted in the U. S. Army. It quickly proved popular in the division. The various brigades, regiments, and specialty units quickly adopted slightly modified versions for their patches. The 161st Infantry Brigade had a white wildcat insignia. The 162nd Infantry Brigade wore a blue patch; the 156th Field Artillery Brigade patch was red; and the 306th Field Signal Battalion wore a yellow insignia. The patch served an important purpose in creating and enhancing unit identity, cohesion and pride.
When the 81st Infantry Division embarked for France in late July 1918 its morale was low. One of the last units of the American Expeditionary Force to arrive in France, it was unprepared for combat. It lacked much of its transport and equipment. Many of the men lacked training. Ethnic and racial tensions created disunity within the ranks. But after the adoption of the Carolina Wildcat shoulder patches, the 81st behaved heroically in combat. The 81st made significant gains against intense last-ditch German resistance. The popularity of the shoulder patches quickly spread to other divisions in the AEF. By the end of the war most had adopted their own patches. Today shoulder patches are prevalent throughout the U. S. Army. Although its official nickname continues to be the “Stonewall Division,” the 81st Division is today best known throughout the Army as the “Wildcat Division.”
Source: Shoulder Patch Insignia (ca. 1918-1945) of the 81st Division. George Willcox McIver Papers (Addition #6) #251.7.a
You may access the finding aid to the George Willcox McIver Papers at: Manuscript Collection 251
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