The possibility that a congressional committee examining the potential renaming of Army posts in the south as well as the elimination of uniform patches and paraphernalia and memorabilia that are perceived as celebrating the Confederate cause, may prompt the elimination of the famed 29th Infantry Division’s Blue and Gray patch.
It would be ill-advised, a mistake. Patches are more than a corporate logo; they signify battles fought, and soldiers killed.
The 29th Division patch represents the unity between the north (blue) and south (gray). When the National Guard division was formed in 1917, comprising citizen-soldiers from Maryland and Virginia, the War Department intended that the patch would represent unity. Resembling the Chinese ying and yang (opposites), the patch has symbolized incredible acts of bravery in two world wars and Persian Gulf deployments.
When one walks the manicured, solemn Normandy American Cemetery in Vierville-sur-Mer, overlooking now serene beaches once the site of fierce combat, it takes but a moment to realize that the 9,300 marble crosses and Stars of David bear the remains of soldiers from Maryland and Virginia who fought against great odds to establish a beachhead on Bloody Omaha Beach in Normandy, France on June 6, 1944.
Today is the 78th anniversary of D-Day, a seminal event in breaking Hitler’s iron grip on Europe. The amphibious assault was one of the greatest in military history. Soldiers storming Omaha Beach included many from the Eastern Shore.
As I wrote a few weeks ago, I understand and normally support the reasoning behind renaming of buildings that glorify the Confederate campaign to divide our nation. I understand the discomfort and hostility these buildings cause among Blacks. Renamings and discarding of symbols are necessary in some cases.
This is definitely not one of them. The Blue-Gray patch is an icon, deliberately created to accentuate unity.
Admittedly, the 29th, known as the Blue and Gray Division, had no Black soldiers during World Wars I and II. This unfortunate situation was true throughout the Armed Forces. Integration did not happen until 1948 when President Harry Truman proscribed integration in U.S. military units. The famed all-Black Tuskegee Airmen and the Buffalo Soldiers illustrated the harmful effect of segregation; they excelled as airmen and soldiers, yet they were needlessly excluded. The latter’ lineage extends from the American Indian Wars through World War II.
The 29th, deactivated in 1968, found new life in 1985 when it was reorganized, again containing Marylanders and Virginians. But it also included Black soldiers who proudly wore the historic patch. As a longtime member of the Maryland National Guard, I never heard any discomfort, even quiet rumblings, expressed by Black soldiers, enlisted and officer alike.
While the congressional commission should study and possibly recommend the renaming of Army posts in the south, it would be courting the ridiculous if it proposed the elimination of a patch representing unity and reconciliation. Such an action would be going way too far in righting the distasteful glorification of the Confederate cause.
I hope the renaming commission is prudent and sensible in its recommendations. Translated: retain the blue and gray patch.
Columnist Howard Freedlander retired in 2011 as Deputy State Treasurer of the State of Maryland. Previously, he was the executive officer of the Maryland National Guard. He also served as community editor for Chesapeake Publishing, lastly at the Queen Anne’s Record-Observer. In retirement, Howard serves on the boards of several non-profits on the Eastern Shore, Annapolis and Philadelphia.