Complete with an ornately embroidered eagle with wings spread full, perched atop chevrons that indicate the current rate attained, these insignia are unique to the seafaring service. They are unlike any other U.S. military branch’s shoulder sleeve insignia, as along with the ornamentation and chevrons (supposedly inverted when compared to those of the Army, Air Force and Marines), these insignia include a mark indicating the petty officer-sailor’s specialty or job (not MOS as in the Army).
The specialty marks to the untrained eye may seem random or unintelligible, but their symbology is usually indicative of an aspect of the job performed by the seaman. Sailors carry these marks throughout their career unless they change specialties, advance to the ranks of commissioned officers or the specialties marks change or are discontinued.
The rating badge construction typically consists of an eagle (affectionately referred to as a crow by sailors), the specialty mark and the chevron stripes, all fully embroidered onto the backing material which matches the uniform to which it is subsequently affixed by the sailor. On current uniforms, the badge (also entirely referred to as a crow – which can be confusing), components will vary dependent upon which uniform it will reside. For the service dress blue uniform, the crow will consist of white embroidery for the eagle and specialty mark with red chevrons. Dress white uniform badges will bear a crow entirely embroidered with navy blue stitching. In addition to the convention, there are crows designed to recognize twelve consecutive years of good conduct by utilizing gold chevrons, worn on dress uniforms. these gold crows will also have corresponding gold service stripes (hash marks) on the left sleeve.
Modern crows, while technically consistent with earlier designs, follow Navy regulations that called for standardization, which resulted in a sanitized design that is less aesthetically pleasing than those dating from the 1970s and earlier. These modern designs are not very desirable as they possess few of the design traits of the older crows.
There are many subsets of navy crows where collectors can focus their attention. Rarities exist in ratings that are:
- Decommissioned or possess insignia that no longer in use
- Incorporate bullion thread in their construction
- From time periods where few examples exist (pre-1900)
Again, educate yourself prior to making a purchase, especially if something just doesn’t appear correct. You can refer to John Stacey’s invaluable reference book, United States Navy Rating Badges and Marks 1833-2008: A History of Our Sailors’ Rate and rating Insignia.
In future posts, I will delve into some of the more difficult to find or desirable navy rating badges.