Of all the branches of the military covered by World War II correspondent Ernie Pyle, the infantry was his favorite.
“I love the infantry because they are the underdogs,” he wrote. “They are the mud-rain-frost-and-wind boys. They have no comforts, and they even learn to live without the necessities. And in the end they are the guys that wars can’t be won without.”
Truly, the life of an infantryman is a hard one, regularly devoid of dry clothes, hot meals, beds and showers. From sunup to, well, sunup, the infantryman is expected to endure whatever stands between him and his single-minded goal of closing distance with -and destroying- his enemy.
Because of this, it is only fitting that the Combat Infantry Badge exists with the prestige it currently holds. Even in an era where the Combat Action Badge exists for the rest of the Army (except the noble Combat Medical Badge), there is no combat badge in the US Army higher in precedence than the good ol’ CIB.
However, the origins of the CIB are more telling of the award’s importance than the badge itself.
When America entered World War II in 1941, the US War Department (the Department of Defense had a much cooler name back then) had trouble getting young men to sign up for the infantry branch, mainly due to the fact that of all the men in the Armed Forces, the infantryman was consistently subjected to the worst conditions- a tiny fraction of the military bearing the brunt of ground fighting, with little to no public recognition.
By 1943, the War Department authorized the Combat Infantry Badge, along with the Expert Infantry Badge. One year later, Congress approved an extra $10 dollars a month to every infantryman awarded a CIB (which was pretty good considering the average Army Private made about $50 a month).
From the very start, the Army was careful to remember that the badge was meant to honor the infantry. As other branches (such as armor and artillery) began to request their own badges, a conducted review noted that the change in policy would essentially cheapen the badge. This would later be sidestepped in 1945 with the Combat Medic Badge and forgotten entirely with the Combat Action Badge in 2005, though the CIB would always be considered the highest of the three awards.
In order to earn a CIB, the soldier must be a member of the infantry or Special Forces (ranked Colonel and below) who performed their duties while serving in an assigned infantry, ranger or Special Forces capacity while engaged in active ground combat with direct fires.
Two other variants of the CIB exist to denote individuals who met the criteria in different conflicts, allowing one to to stars between the wreath to denote the second and third award. The third award is so rare that it actually has its own exhibit at Fort Benning’s National Infantry Museum, with only 324 reported recipients since World War II.
The design of the CIB was actually inspired by two German army designs from World War II, albeit with an American twist of infantry blue and an American Springfield Arsenal Model 1795 musket, which was used from the War of 1812 to the Civil War.
Even in an era such as our own where the CIB is fairly commonplace for a country that has spent over fifteen years at war, the award holds a certain amount of prestige and reverent respect. While some men faced more challenging combat conditions than others, they are all brothers who met the criteria required to earned the coveted badge
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