Ruptured Duck

On a recent visit to the Laurel County History Museum and Genealogy Center, I was impressed by the number and quality of World War II artifacts and information at the facility.

Shirley Landen, one of the volunteers who keeps the facility open and running like a well-oiled machine, pointed out one item in particular and told me the fascinating story behind it, which she had only recently learned herself.

The artifact is a long wool winter coat in Army green. On the lapel is sewn an insignia known as a “Ruptured Duck.”ruptured duck patch

Shirley said that the insignia was given to soldiers who were honorably discharged. Because military personnel were not allowed to wear their uniforms after they were discharged, and because many were unable to purchase civilian clothing due to rationing and clothing shortages, anyone honorably discharged who wore the “Ruptured Duck” on their lapel were allowed to wear their uniforms after they were discharged after their service in World War II.

I was fascinated by this information and wanted to know more. So I turned to the source of all things worth knowing (and many things not worth knowing), the Internet.

I found several articles about the “Ruptured Duck,” including other reasons the insignia was worn by recently honorably discharged military personnel.

Veterans often went home in uniform wearing a sewn-on version of the emblem like the one in the museum so military police wouldn’t think they were AWOL.

The “Ruptured Duck” was also used to identify honorably discharged veterans to railroad, bus, and other transportation companies who offered free or subsidized transportation to returning veterans.

I also found a number of different versions of how the insignia, formally known as the Honorable Service Lapel Button (or Patch, depending on the format of the insignia), got its colorful nickname.

One version says that Hollywood movie star Hedy Lamarr, who escaped from Nazi Germany during the war, was the origin of the nickname. After arriving in the U.S.,  Lamarr was quoted as saying that her terrible and hazardous flight originated — in her words — on a ‘broken bird’… (“segeltuch gebrochen”). In English, the German “segeltuch gebrochen” spoken by Lamarr translates to “Ruptured Duck.”

The term was reportedly picked up by the movie-star crazed female employees of the manufacturing plant that produced the insignia. The workers labeled their shipping boxes “Ruptured Ducks” because it was common practice during WWII to label shipments going to the military as something other than their true contents so enemy agents would not know what the packages actually contained.

Another version of the origin of the nickname says that the bird looks more like a duck than an eagle. Since the bird is looking to his right – as if a doctor might have told it to turn its head and cough – veterans imagined he might have a hernia. Thus the nickname, the “Ruptured Duck,” seemed appropriate.

I also learned that in 1944, Army Chief of Staff George C. Marshall issued classified Special Order #131 directing that all historical information contained in any medium, “… paper, microfilm, acetate, film, etc…” on the Honorable Discharge Lapel Pin,“…commonly referred to as ‘The Ruptured Duck’… currently residing in any command be immediately destroyed.

The General’s order was given to supposedly prevent “…possible serious and severe reduction in troop morale”… should the continued use of what he considered a “…disparaging term…”, “Ruptured,” be applied to the Honorable Discharge lapel pin.

However, declassified reports later revealed the real reason for General Marshall’s eradicating the history of the “Ruptured Duck.”  It seems that in 1942 the Top Secret Code Name, “Duckpin,” was designated to General Dwight David Eisenhower!

And I learned all that from a visit to the Laurel County History Museum and Genealogy Center.

What will YOU learn when you visit?

Guest Blogger, Danna C. Estridge



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