Experiencing the Gallery: What You Need to Know
ACRONYMS: Viewers will notice that some organizational names in image captions are followed by parenthetical acronyms and others are not. When an acronym is comprised of the first letter of each word in the organization’s name, it is not mentioned [e.g., “Strategic Missile Squadron” is not followed by “(SMS)”], but when that is not the case, the acronym will be shown [e.g., “(SVS)” for “Services Squadron” and “(SMC)” for “Space and Missile Systems Center”]. Be aware that some acronyms for a name have changed over time. Missile Maintenance Squadrons used “MIMS” in the 1960s and 1970s, but today the acronym is “MMXS.” Acronyms not defined in the text are explained in the Glossary.
BLAZON: Over the decades, the Air Force has been inconsistent with the way emblem descriptions are officially recorded. Sometimes plain English is used, and sometimes blazon is used. Blazon is the rather archaic language of heraldry and dates from medieval times. When blazon is used, it can be difficult to follow and even more difficult to understand because it has an established structure and a unique lexicon. Therefore, before visiting the gallery for the first time, readers are strongly encouraged to read “The Language of Heraldry” on the Website of theheraldrysociety.com, or better yet, Guide to Air Force Heraldry (AFHRA website). Speaking of the Air Force Historical Research Agency, their current practice is to capitalize all colors and metals, but in this gallery only heraldic metals and colors are capitalized (it was necessary, for example, to distinguish between “or” as a conjunction and “or” as a color, technically a metal--gold). Sometimes the interpretation recorded in the emblem Significance aids in understanding the blazon, but sometimes it doesn’t. If you are not already well-versed in blazon, and you choose not to consult one of the suggested sources of heraldic terminology, I recommend skipping the Description section for the patches and beginning with the Significance, if available.
DATING A PATCH: For official patches, using the date an emblem was approved usually works best when attempting to determine when a patch was first made. The next best method is to consider the period an organization was active, which has been included in brackets following each image caption. For unofficial patches, the approximate year they were made, if known, is mentioned in the Commentary section. When that information wasn’t available, the next best thing for approximating the “when” is to know when the patch was obtained. In many cases, they appear on the so-called “secondary market” within a few months--or even weeks-- of when a unit gets and distributes them. Readers will see that a great many patches were donated by Monte Watts, a former Malmstrom missileer who now works as a civilian contractor in the missile community. For many years, his job took him to all of the remaining missile bases frequently, where he gathered the latest patches, so when he took possession is pretty darn close to when the patch was made--and that is annotated in the Commentary as well.
ILLUSTRATIONS: Most of the gallery images are of patches, vivid if possible, subdued if vivid patches were not made or one was not available for illustration. Sometimes, both may be shown, not because both were made, but because they differ in some way other than just the colors (e.g., a different inscription or abbreviation, or even a slight change in the design). When both versions exist, and they are otherwise identical, only the vivid patch is presented because the details of the design are easier to see. Most vivid patches have a subdued counterpart, and if both were to be shown, this gallery would contain about 10,000 images rather than half that number, and it was more than enough work just getting 5,000 posted! When a patch was not available, artwork is shown (official and in color if possible, unofficial and/or black and white if that is all that was available). If it was not possible to present an image of a patch, then an image of a decal, metal plaque, or art work, may have been used. Something is better than nothing! When art is shown, you will read “Patches have not been observed”--but this does not mean they don’t exist, only that I have not seen one anywhere (and I am always looking!) or encountered anyone else who has. Some images are better focused than others, and the quality of a few others could be better; eventually we will be removing and replacing these as time and circumstances allow. Oh, and one final note: Do NOT judge the actual size of a patch by the size of the image you see, or its relative size by comparing it to other images; there is no correlation. Some very large patches appear rather small on the screen, and some tiny patches look like back patches! Ideally, they would all be about the same size--perhaps another future fix.
MOTTO TRANSLATIONS: In a word, HELP! Many motto translations are marked “(translation unavailable”). Others are labeled “(translation unknown”). Here’s the dif: Officially approved patches with mottos in a foreign language have an officially recorded translation that may or may not be an accurate one, but because it is the official translation, right or wrong, it is the translation of record. For those in this gallery lacking a translation, until that record can be accessed and the translation transcribed, it is known but “unavailable.” When an unavailable translation is guessed at, the entry in the text will include a word like “roughly.” Translations for foreign language mottos on UNofficial patches are rarely recorded, and when such is the case for a patch, the entry will be “(translation unknown”). Since it was never recorded anywhere, the word “unavailable” is inappropriate. The bottom line is that there are many mottos in this gallery in a foreign language lacking a translation. Had I known when I was in high school I would someday be creating this gallery, I would have chosen Latin rather than German for my required foreign language course, but since I didn’t, I will not embarrass myself by offering a translation that may or may not be close to what was intended. But if you were involved in the making of a patch with such a motto and remember what translation was intended, please let us know so we can add it to the text!
PRESENTATION FORMAT: The text accompanying all official patches is divided into sections labeled DESCRIPTION, SIGNIFICANCE, APPROVED (a date), MOTTO (when applicable), and COMMENTARY. Unless otherwise stated, all except the commentary was transcribed directly from official source documents, sans quotation marks. Unofficial patches have commentary only, but it is not so marked. This formatting should make it clear to users of the gallery which patches are official and which are the unofficial (morale) ones.
SOFTWARE LIMITATIONS: The program used for the text in the gallery does not allow the use of italics, underlining, bolded fonts, or footnotes, all of which were used in the original text of my 1998 book that served as the foundation for this gallery. Consequently, the names of films, TV programs, books, periodicals, published articles, etc. that would normally be identified with these special features appear just like the text surrounding them, as do words that were italicized for emphasis. And most footnotes have been incorporated into the body of the text, using asterisks rather than numbers and adding the notes at the end, following the word “NOTE” (or “NOTES” if more than one). For image captions only, the software also does not allow the use of virgules (“/”), question marks, quotation marks, and certain other punctuation marks that are sometimes displayed on patches. We usually subbed a hyphen for a virgule so please keep this in mind when using the Search function for captions (e.g., search for “Stan-Eval” not “Stan/Eval”). I apologize for any confusion the reader may experience as a result of these limitations, and am hopeful this deficiency can be corrected at some point in the future. It has already been corrected for exclamation marks!
SOURCES: Although it may appear to have a scholarly facade, this gallery is focused on presenting images of patches and emblems, accompanied by explanatory text. Only on rare occasions is a source for information cited. Gallery users who are interested in sources of information contained in the text are referred to my book: AIR FORCE MISSILE PATCHES: Official and Unofficial, 1954-Present. Several editions of this were printed in very limited quantities, so obtaining a copy may prove challenging, but the final edition was digitized with my permission and is available for viewing at the Publications link in the Reference section of USAFPatches.com by clicking on the link titled “Air Force Missile Patches.” If the source was known, it was documented in that work!
TERMINOLOGY: Viewers of the gallery will note in the captions and text for some images the terms “Type” and/or “Style” used on occasion. A considerable number of missile-related patches for specific units have been made with different designs, shapes, colors, and/or lettering (font size and style, presence or absence of ordinals, and abbreviations vs. full spell-out of words). Some of these differences were intentional, while others are variations that occur as a result of changing manufacturers. To conveniently distinguish between such patches for the same unit, specific terms with precise definitions are used, as follows: TYPE - Another word that might be used here is “design.” A Type change occurs when an emblem is created that contains a design completely different from the one used previously. A good example is the 564th Strategic Missile Squadron. When the 564 SMS was reactivated as a Minuteman squadron at Malmstrom AFB, the Atlas missile depicted on the unit emblem that had been used at F.E. Warren AFB was no longer appropriate. Patches of different Types are identified with Roman numerals (i.e., Type I, Type II, Type III, etc.) So the triangular Atlas-era patch for the 564 SMS is the Type I, and the unit’s round Minuteman-era patch is the Type II. Generally, the higher the number is, the later the patch, chronologically. STYLE - Style changes are significant differences in the emblem due to a change in shape, color(s), addition or deletion of fimbriation, addition or deletion of scrolls, addition or deletion of charges (elements in the design), and/or differences in scroll inscriptions; for example, switching locations of a motto and designation, abbreviations used where full spelling was used before, use of a different abbreviation, and even the addition or deletion of ordinals following the numerical designation. Also, a Style change is warranted when a different type of construction is used rather than standard embroidery on twill (e.g., embroidery on leather or vinyl with a visible border of same, paint or decal on leather, chenille, bullion, screening/printing, and the latest fad, PVC). Again, generally speaking, the further down the alphabet, the more recent the patch is. Exceptions are noted. VARIETY - Minor differences, such as the use of upper case ordinals on one patch and lower case ordinals on another, a “d” on one patch and “nd” on another, the presence of punctuation on one patch and its absence on another, or variations in shades of colors, especially blues and greens, may be mentioned in the text but are usually too insignificant to warrant a different Style designation. Such differences are important to many patch collectors, but most viewers of this gallery probably care little about them. Inclusion of such variations would have increased the total number of gallery images by more than a thousand, so although they were used in the book, with just a couple of exceptions, Variety designators (Arabic numerals) are generally absent from this gallery.