How to identify a military pin

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military pins

So many pins, so little ti– so many pins!


U.S. Military pins. They’ve been around forever. As long as there have been armies, there have been insignia worn to commemorate an individual’s achievements on or off the battlefield. And contemporary U.S. service pins? Since WWI, there have been hundreds produced for each of the five branches.

Have you found an insignia you just can’t identify? Maybe we can help. Below is a simple guide to assist in your searching.

Let’s take this one step at a time…




Do you have a photo of the pin, or do you possess the actual pin? Take a close look at what you have. Most of these items will tell the story for you. “United States of America, Department of the Army” for example, is a common stamping. You are looking for the branch of service from whence the item came. Once you’ve figured this out, you can start filtering by unit.



These are Combat Service ID Badges. They are generally larger, heavier pins and represent the unit from which they belong. Find yours by describing it in a Google search.

Old Glory can be your best friend in this endeavor. Look for an image of the flag! There could be one in the detail of the pin, or on the reverse side. Flags are generally different per branch; for example, the Coast Guard uses the flag often in the very middle of the pin. US Army pins like to have two crossed flags, one being the stars and stripes, the other, white with an eagle. (Not all pins will have an essential marking, so don’t stress if these examples aren’t there — your journey is just getting started!)


If it’s an official item and not a replica or anything like that, it should have some sort of markings identifying it as belonging to a specific division within a branch. A good number of USMC pins have an eagle top right and a tilted anchor pointing bottom left. The Army uses very specific badges for their branch insignia. Aviation badges often portray wings, or a propeller. Medical pins should generally contain a caduceus or a cross. USCG pins often have two anchors crossed somewhere. These are good things to look for as they will help in your search.


Every person in the military has a job and a title. The pin you are looking at is likely to be associated with a particular position. Certain items like badges for example, will use markings that identify what the pin means. A basic parachutist badge is simply an opened parachute with a wing on either side. Sometimes it can be that easy. A Navy Diving Officer will wear an insignia that portrays an old school diving helmet. Ask yourself: what does the pin look like? Try searching in Google using a combination of words from your discoveries. If it contains a horizontal flag, three stars and a picture of an aircraft, you could search using keywords catered to those findings. Like I mentioned earlier, sometimes the piece itself  gives up the whole story — you just have to listen to what it’s telling you.

— Distinctive unit insignia, also known as “unit crests” are very, very common. They belong to the US Army so there’s your branch if you think you might have one. They do come in pairs, but you’re likely to come across just a single pin. Many will have latin or english phrases. If they do, look those up and you will very likely find your match.


Your biggest ally is the internet. Get on it and search, search, search! I use Google because the images are constantly crawled for keywords, so they are very up-to-date. Try searching some of your keywords in the image section and just scroll through. You never know, you could get very lucky like I have, many, many times. Not internet savvy? Contact businesses that specialize in awards or similar services. You will be surprised at how much an engraving shop could tell you, for instance.

If you have anyone you can ask regarding the origin of the item, be it a friend or family member, this could save you quite a lot of time. Sometimes an answer as easy as “I got it from a garage sale,” can set you up with a foundation for your entire search.

You may not always come up with an answer, so don’t get frustrated. If you find yourself at a dead end, just contact us folks here at and we can take a look too.

Good luck!

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