FOR A BIT OF COLORED RIBBON
A STUDY OF RIBBON BARS & THEIR CHARM
One of the most attractive elements of a uniform and interesting to collect on their own, ribbon bars offer a lot to the collector. Whether it is their significance or construction, there are plenty of directions to take when examining them. I favor the stories they tell. Even when removed from a uniform, they offer great context to a service history in what they represent and how they appear together. This study will showcase attributed ribbons from the collection and focus on varieties and wear. Technical details such as construction, mounting bars and fabrication will follow in a second part to be published later.
Whether a uniform is identified or not, a collection of ribbons on the chest can open up a research journey. This simple rack on a coat identified to Lieutenant Samuel E. Hoover includes a Bronze Star with V [Fig. 1]. I assumed this would be an easy one to trace once I had his file, but the general order number was not noted in his paperwork and left the search open ended. It took some effort to narrow down the time frame in which he would have been first awarded the medal and then worn this uniform - it is an early piece due to the lack of the United Nations service medal (instituted 1951) and that he is still wearing his divisional patch on the left sleeve. Ultimately finding the citation was very rewarding. An extremely frustrating set [Fig. 2] sits on a beautiful Ike jacket bearing IX Corps and 7th Division bullion patches and Japanese made 31st Infantry insignia. Again, due to the lack of UN Service ribbon we can assume this is somewhat of an early war example and the GI probably wore it home after five campaigns in Korea. The Army Commendation Ribbon appears to be a recent award due to placement on the pocket off of the rack, possibly for meritorious service during his tour, and the uncommon Soldier’s Medal would seem to make it easier to narrow down. Unfortunately, there are no names or laundry marks to begin the search and after many years of owning this, scouring 31st Infantry rosters and cross referencing with all of the other clues, I still have not found a match. On the other hand, such a collection of awards can be what’s needed to link a laundry mark to a particular individual. Tracking a Silver Star recipient in the 2d Division general orders yielded only one match for the laundry number – Rosco Brewer [Fig. 3]. Yet somehow I am stuck again with a frustrating project as his World War II service remains a mystery. These ribbons are particularly nice and an embroidered example likely purchased in Germany.
When separated from a uniform, a set of ribbons still makes for a complete display and tells a particular history. The groups of Colonel Roy Reynolds [Fig. 4] and Major Joseph Shankle [Fig. 5] both include ribbon sets removed from the uniform that compliment the rest of the items in their displays. It is especially nice to see the actual set in use, as shown in Roy Reynolds' photo [Fig. 4-1] taken during the presentation of his Legion of Merit. The set of ribbons in the collection was likely updated shortly after.
Quality and construction can indicate a lot about how much someone was willing to invest in their appearance and also where they were at the time. The number of countries producing ribbons for U.S. service members as well as the multitude of manufacturers within the States makes the collecting field quite vast. A variety found frequently on Korean War uniforms specifically – meaning individuals who served in Korea or Japan during the period – is a coarse weave ribbon with scalloped edges, often coated in plastic. Private Kenneth Zimmet [Fig. 6] of the 40th Division wears this type – of particular interest are those representing his former Merchant Marine Service. It's unclear why the Occupation and United Nations Service do not match as availability due to time should not have been an issue during this period. Corporal Robert L. Quintal [Fig. 7], Captain James B. Pafford [Fig. 8], and Sergeants George Talbot [Fig. 9] and Bruce J. Reed [Fig. 10] also have this variety as does Major Edward P. Stamford [Fig. 11], though the latter two differ in that they are uncoated and Stamford's sewn directly to the tunic. This variety is common to the period, as they seem to be Japanese manufactured and therefore were available on demand when on R&R or rotating home, such as Robert Quintal in summer 1952 shortly after his return [Fig. 7-1]. A similar style made in Germany also features coarse weave, scalloped edges, and a characteristic wave across the weave. These tend to be extremely vibrant as well. Both Corporal Aaron Collinsworth [Fig. 12] and Sergeant Tommy Bianchet [Fig. 13] have this type directly sewn to their jackets.
Embroidered ribbons can be stunning and are most common among officers. Captain Raymond J. Toner [Fig. 14] has an impressive and vibrant stack spanning decades and includes an uncommon Ecuadorian award. Using a fully custom embroidered rack offers the ability to easily recreate foreign awards that may otherwise be difficult to procure silk ribbon material for. Sergeant Ervin G. Pilger [Fig. 15] sports a combination bullion Combat Infantry Badge and ribbon set made by German hands. Note similarity in wide bands on United Nations service to those on Corporal Collinsworth's [Fig. 12] above. Warrant Officer Harold Sims shows a different style of German work [Fig. 16] as does Colonel Edward Bewie [Fig. 17] whose ribbons measure closer to a half inch in height - a characteristic not common for Army personnel and especially unique after the end of World War II. Colonels William R. Reilly [Fig. 18] and Neville D. McNerney [Fig. 19] appear to have similar construction pads, though McNerney's uses thicker almost corded silk thread and standard metal devices in lieu of the technical fully embroidered devices on Reilly's.
The drawback of using embroidered ribbons is that they are difficult or impossible to update as an individual accumulates more awards. The pad sewn to Colonel Harvey Phelps' uniform [Fig. 20] predates the loose set that accompanies the group [Fig. 21] in which the entire top row has been cut, folded under, and replaced with a trio to include the Army Commendation [Fig. 21-1]. Without attribution, this may be a mysterious set sewn to an Army officer's coat, but Phelps' service during World War II as a Navy Corpsman explains the Navy Good Conduct and rarely seen Fleet Marine device.
FROM THE PX
Variations of the standard slide on ribbon include plastic covered, thin brass-backed, Wolf Brown plastic encased, and Viking Kwikset. The Hillborn Hamburger produced Kwikset is seen predominantly in Naval and Marine Corps use – see Corpsmen Joe Fanjul [Fig. 22] and Homer Hadley [Fig. 23], and General Frederick P. Henderson [Fig. 24] whose set nicely matches those in one of his official portraits [Fig. 24-1]. Corporal Charles E. Nyte also wears the H&H ribbons [Fig. 25] on his dress blues [Fig. 25-1], mostly - he has updated his bar with a National Defense which must not have been available in a matching type and instead is the thin, crimped brass type which lays much lower than the raised H&H ribbons [Fig. 25-2]. It is less common to find Army examples such as those worn by Sergeant Loren J. Knepp [Fig. 26]. The thin type of ribbon crimped by a piece of brass were produced by N. S. Meyer and Wolf Brown (and also in Germany). The Meyer type is the most common of the three and appears very often in the post-war period. This style of ribbon was used form its inception in the late 1940s through the modern era and has outlived most other varieties of ribbon. On and off uniform in the collection are the sets worn by Lieutenant Charles Brass [Fig. 27] in the mid-1950s and Colonel Elmer Gainok [Fig. 28] through the 1960s as seen in his portrait [Fig. 28-1].
Wolf Brown is the most recognized manufacturer of the plastic types, with any standard ribbon wrapped in thin cellophane like plastic being another common example. Both types intended to use the plastic covering to maintain the life of the ribbon from typical wear. While collectors love the Wolf Brown type, they are not as common as we wish they might be and may even be less frequent in the post-war period. Corporal Harry Spurlock [Fig. 29] and Sergeant Harley Holden [Fig. 30] wear the still vibrant Wolf Brown. At worst, these types will yellow with age or smoke damage, but the fabric material does not seem to fade or degrade. Sergeants Joseph St. King [Fig. 31] and Garabed Kassabian [Fig. 32] both had these in World War II, Kassabian keeping his for use in the early 1950s. Sergeant Windol M. Hazlett [Fig. 33] and Corporal William E. Wimmer [Fig. 34] have standard ribbons with the plastic wrap, which after all these years becomes yellowed and quite fragile. Of note is both are of mixed manufacturers. Hazlett appears to have first purchased the theater made type out of Japan for Purple Heart, Occupation and Korean Service and updated when awarded the Bronze Star, Good Conduct and once the United Nations Service became available. All but two of Wimmer's ribbons are for World War II service which he wore prior to the Korean War [Fig. 34-1] and subsequently added the Bronze Star and Korean Service ribbons when available and in the cellophane wrapped type.
Many of these custom and classy variants were not authorized by the military, yet the American serviceman continued to express their individuality through these choices. Army Pamphlet PAM20-158 notes explicitly on page 11 that "No plastic cover or artificial preservative of any kind is authorized to be applied to your service ribbons." The reader will also find on page 14 and 15 that their records hold the complete list of what they are entitled to wear and "Never wear an award without finding out these two things: you are personally authorized to wear it, and it is an award authorized by regulations. If these two conditions are not met you are liable to a find of not more than $250 or imprisonment of not more than 6 months or both." The following pages pose questions about unauthorized awards such as the Korean Occupation Ribbon, NATO service, Combat Artillery Badge, and Korean Fourragere, all of which have appeared on soldiers' uniforms. Corporal Shirley McCartney shows a number of infractions to these rules including a thick coat of lacquer to the disorganized rack [Fig. 35]. The Korean vet also wears World War II awards that he would never have earned (being only fourteen at the time of eligibility for the American Defense), the Korean Occupation ribbon, and also the Korean Fourragere. It is possible that he purchased everything at the PX that he assumed he was entitled to, including everything possibly related to occupation of Japan (in the Pacific) and the early defense of Korea. Most of these men did not study these items and regulations like collectors do and it opens many doors for unusual combinations.