On May 6, 1959, the Army officially approved the “Cockade” as the distinctive unit insignia of the Old Guard. The Regiment has been wearing the device since the early 1920s, but it had never been approved by the Army or War Department.
Soldiers of The Old Guard use the word “cockade” to mean the Distinctive Unit Insignia worn by the Regiment. It has its origin with a commemoration of an earlier time. The Old Guard Cockade is not a cockade, but a representation of a cocked hat with a cockade on it.
Like many Army customs, the use of a traditional cockade (not The Old Guard’s metal insignia) dates to the earliest days of the service. Based on the French “cocarde”, the word and the cockade were first used about 1709 in a military context, meaning a rosette, worn as a badge. U.S. forces first created an insignia in 1778 when General Washington directed his army to add a white element to the black cockades worn on the hats of all ranks. This white-on-black “Alliance Cockade” honored our new French allies.
In the early 1920s, the 3rd Infantry took up residence at Fort Snelling, MN. At the same time, Army commanders looked for ways to use history, traditions and customs to enhance morale and esprit-de-corps. The Old Guard created a color guard that included two veteran soldiers as color bearers wearing representations of Continental Army uniforms. The color guard became popular at reviews and parades. The hats worn by these color bearers became the pattern for the 3rd Infantry Cockade.
Headquarters, 3rd Infantry, General Order 4, dated April 3, 1924, which superseded a 1922 general order announcing the adoption of the unit Distinctive Unit Trimming, the “Buff Strap,” contained this sentence:
“In addition thereto, a bronze Cockade Hat is worn fastened thru [the] cloth of [the] coat and [Buff] strap, on top of [the] shoulder, so that the lower edge of [the] hat coincides with the seam by which [the] sleeve is joined to coat.”
Initially a single dark bronze Cockade was used to connect the ends of the Buff Strap and keep it in place. In 1929, the use of the Cockade, never officially approved by the War Department, was worn until then on the left shoulder of coats and on the campaign hat, was discontinued after an inquiry by the Army Quartermaster General. Starting in the late 1930s, however, the Cockade was again unofficially worn. This time worn on appropriate headgear.
At the end of World War II it began to be worn on uniform coats as well. In 1948, the 3rd Infantry reactivated in Washington, DC, the commander of the Military District of Washington, noted the insignia was unofficial, but ordered that “the regiment will continue to wear the…metal distinctive insignia.” Written authorization from the Department of the Army for the Cockade was finally received May 6, 1959, and an authorized Distinctive Unit Insignia has been worn proudly since that date, at least 35 years after its initial use in the Regiment. It is officially described: “On a wreath an infantry officer’s cocked hat of 1784, with plume, all brass.”