Manchu Belt Buckles
by Carl E. Sorenson
HHC and Echo Co. 2-68 2-69
The Ninth Infantry Regiment has the distinction of being authorized a unique belt buckle as well as a distinctive insignia (DI) pin. And as most Manchus know this authority originally came from General Order Number 5, dated 25 June 1926, 9th Infantry, Fort Sam Houston, Texas. It states in part the following;
An imperial five-toed dragon head to chief facing the dexter, encircling a disk bearing the numeral "9" all of-Motto- "Keep Up The Fire" around the edge of the disk. . . .
TO BE WORN:
- By Officers: On the Sam Brown (sic) Belt as waist buckle.
- By Enlisted Personnel: On leather waist belt as waist buckle.
- A miniature of the above described buckle will be worn as follows:
- By Officers: On the front of the service (Campaign) hat midway between band and crease. On mess jacket on both lapels above line of miniature medals.
- By Enlisted Personnel: On the front of the service (Campaign) hat midway between band and crease....
About a year ago, I started wondering about a few things. There had to be more to this story than GO# 5. Who had the idea for the buckle? What did the first one look like? I needed some answers. I wrote letters, sent emails and made calls to various groups and organizations, collectors, etc. All to no avail. I did get replies mentioning GO# 5 but little else. About two months ago I received a reply that answered all my questions and a lot more. Here then is the rest of the story.
War Department Circular 244, 16 September 1921, originally authorized distinctive insignia and trimmings. Former commander of the Services of Supply, Major General James G. Harbord, originated the distinctive insignia policy. Observing the British uniforms in World War I, his idea was to have something truly distinctive replace or supplement the US ARMY uniforms. Replacing the letters "US," the crossed rifles, or other existing insignia, or even adding special portions to the uniform were expressed. Policy was established on 3 March 1923, that regimental insignia would be supplementary to the uniform and would not be substituted for any uniform item. Brigadier General Preston Brown, a brigade commander in the 2nd Division, had already requested General of the Armies Pershing to authorize a distinctive buckle for the 9th Infantry for wear on the enlisted leather waist belt and the officers Sam Browne belt in accordance with General Harbord's original concept.
The Adjutant General approved a distinctive buckle for the 9th Infantry, on 2 December 1923. The design commemorated the regiment's participation in the China Relief Expedition during the Boxer Rebellion. Initial approval was for a yellow or gold disk bearing a "9," surrounded by an imperial 5-toed dragon, with its head at the top and facing the wearer's right. The "9" and the high relief of the buckle were to be polished, the low relief to be oxidized or to be of other contrasting finish. Officers and enlisted men were to wear identical buckles. A sample buckle was to be submitted to and approved by, the War Department, before it would be authorized for issue to 9th Regiment soldiers.
Approval of this first sample was denied. A letter dated 19 April 1924, to the Adjutant General, disapproved the wearing of the distinctive belt buckle. The letter stated only that disapproval was by direction of the Chief of Staff. However, Chief of Staff office records show that disapproval was for "non compliance of the policy dated 3 March 1923, that regimental devices would only be supplementary to the uniform."
Two more years of correspondence followed and on 22 December 1925, a buckle was again approved with the following instructions: that the design be all gold in color, polished, convex, and not over 2 1/2 inches high. This letter also approved a miniature distinctive insignia, not to exceed 1 1/2 inches high. Miniature DI to be worn on the service (campaign) hat. Similar to the earlier buckle design, the new design also required the addition of the motto, "Keep Up The Fire," around the edge of the disc. These words refer to the last order, the dying words of the regimental commander, Colonel Emerson H. Liscum, during the 9th Infantry's assault on Tientsin, China, on 13 July 1900.
On 1 June 1926, the War Department approved a sample of the belt buckle, and General Order Number 5, 25 June 1926 was issued.
The approved buckle was a full 2 1/2 inches high and included a cam on the back for fastening the buckle to the belts. Several examples of these original buckles still exist. At least two variations of the buckle were made. Different manufacturers and dies used resulted in one being convex as required and the other is a flat design. Both types were authorized and worn by 9th Infantry members. The "miniature buckle" (what we call the DI Pin) was 1 1/10 inches high.
These buckles were worn by members of the 9th Regiment from 1926 through the early part of WW2. This buckle belongs to Mr. William K. Emerson, whose father Kary C. Emerson, was a Manchu from 1939-40.
This picture was taken in May 1942 at Fort Sam Houston, Texas. PFC Hadaway was a member of Company I, 9th Infantry Regiment. This picture was taken as a possible recruiting poster. Now that would have been one great poster.
As the uniforms with the Sam Browne belt were phased out, it was replaced by the coat with the cloth belt and open faced buckle. The first 9th Infantry officers to purchase these new uniforms bought them in the winter of 1940-41 and immediately ran into a problem. The distinctive insignia 2 1/2 inch buckle would not fit on the new style uniform belt. Troops were instructed to wear the 1 1/10 inch "miniature buckle" on their coats as other units did. This led to the discarding of the large 2 1/2 inch belt buckle insignia. The last time anyone wore the 2 1/2 inch buckle was during the winter of 1942-43. When the 9th Regiment left for Europe shortly afterwards, members wore the officially designated "miniature buckle" on their coats as if it were the proper distinctive insignia. Officers wore the "miniature buckle" or DI's on the shoulder loops of the coat. Enlisted men wore DI's on the lapels of the coat from 1926 through about 1947, when the DI's also went on the shoulder loops of the enlisted members coat.
The office of the Quartermaster General, on 17 November 1954, amended the letter of 22 December 1925. This amendment stated that the distinctive insignia of the 9th Infantry would be worn officially on the shoulder loops of the coat. No size was specified. This amendment eliminated the belt buckle. And what had been the official "miniature buckle" became the approved distinctive insignia (DI ).
For a period of time, the Manchus didn't have an official or authorized belt buckle. But, that didn't stop the Manchus. Shortly after the Korean War, 9th Infantry members serving in Korea began wearing a new buckle (Buckle # 2 on the "Examples" linked below). This is the buckle most 50's through 60's Manchus (Korea and Vietnam) are familiar with, and mistakenly refer to as the original "Manchu Buckle." There is little information on this buckle. But all information seems to indicate it was originally made in Korea by local craftsmen for sale to 9th Infantry Regiment Manchus stationed there. These buckles found their way to the Manchus in Vietnam from the 9th Infantry Regiment units serving in Korea. Stories abound of how Manchus received this buckle (assistant gunner gave me mine) and still have it or never got one, or; lost it (lost mine in a house fire), found it again, acquired another one, someone borrowed/stole it, or (gasp) gave/traded it away! But because this buckle was not official or authorized may be the explanation why not all Manchus during this time received this buckle. Also supply and demand, and logistics may have prevented every Manchu getting one of these buckles. Official or not, these buckles are highly prized by their owners and coveted by many others including collectors.
In 1965, Chief to The Institute of Heraldry, Colonel Harry A. Temple, became interested in restoring the 9th Infantry's distinctive buckle. The battalions of the 9th Infantry Regiment supported Col. Temple in his quest. His initiative lead to the approval by The Institute of Heraldry of the current buckle design. This buckle was approved on 5 March 1968, retroactive to 15 April 1966. The current buckle design uses the Dragon, the '9,' the "Keep Up The Fire" motto and adds the following; the wigwams commemorate the numerous Indian campaigns in which the regiment participated, and the sun represents service in the Philippines. These buckles are made of a metal plate stamped with the insignia and the plate is then attached to the face of a standard brass web uniform buckle. These buckles were distributed to units starting sometime in 1969 and are still in use today.
So far I have mentioned the buckles and insignia that were authorized to be worn by all Manchus and one not so authorized buckle. There were also some small buckles given out as awards for various competitions or gifts to parting members of the 9th Regiment. Some of these buckles date back as far as 1934. These appeared to be a standard brass uniform buckle with a "miniature buckle" (DI) attached to it. These buckles were only awarded, given to a select few. Colonel Charles H. Mason, Regimental Commander, in August 1934 , instituted this type of 9th Infantry buckle as an award for outstanding performance. No official statement was published on the authorization of the award until this buckle was mentioned in a booklet published 23 February 1935. The untitled booklet, written to officially establish customs. stated:
1. Customs Made Official: The customs ceremonies, etc., set forth in the following paragraphs and which have been in use and practice within and by the 9th Infantry, are hereby officially recognized and adopted as customs of the 9th United States Infantry and are published for the information and guidance of all concerned
15. Prizes for Regimental Events. Prizes for athletic, military and swimming events, horse and transportation shows, etc., will consist of the following:
a. For individuals:
Regimental Insignia (Belt Buckle)
Other Appropriate Prizes
BY ORDER OF COLONEL MASON
J. E. BRANNAN
Captain, 9th Infantry
J. E. BRANNAN
During WW 2 the award buckle fell into disuse until 1947 when Regimental Commander, Colonel Kerman, reinstated the award of this buckle. Sometime during the Korean war the award buckle again fell into disuse, and I can find no confirmation that it has been used since.
The buckle worn by todays Manchus could be considered an award buckle of sorts. Manchus must earn the right to wear the buckle. To earn this right a Manchu must complete the Manchu Mile, an overnight 25 mile tactical march, with full gear and weapon. This Manchu Mile commemorates the 85 mile march the 9th regiment completed in early July 1900, from Taku Bar to Tientsin for their assault on Tientsin on July 13, 1900. Those Manchus who complete this march receive and are authorized to wear the Manchu buckle. If a soldier completes three Manchu Miles during his tour of duty in Korea, he is awarded the Army Achievement Medal as well. The Manchu Mile is held about once a quarter, depending on unit operations other commitments etc. Those personnel who are attached to or work with the Manchus (such as Air Force "TACP," Tactical Air Control Party, and members of the "ROMAD," Recon Mark and Destroy), may also take part in the Manchu Mile and win the Manchu Buckle. Todays Manchus will proudly tell you they have walked the "Manchu Mile," and earned their buckle.
The design of the 'miniature buckle' or DI worn on the uniform and hats has basically remained the same over the years. Slight differences in the design on the pins can be noticed. Several different companies have made the DI pins. Some are maker marked, some not. A few Korean made variations of the DI pin can be found.
I have also seen several 'unique' versions of Manchu Buckles. Some are civilian models, and have a stylized dragon with the KUTF motto written across the bottom. A close copy of the 1926 buckles can still be found. There are also at least two Korean made versions of the official 1968 Buckle and are not authorized, one of these being oversized and the detail of the design of both is not very good. The only authorized Buckle today is the design authorized in 1968. Ira Green Inc. is among one of several makers of Manchu Buckles and DI's today. Some examples of the different buckles can be seen at the examples link below.
After 75 years the Manchu insignia is going strong. During the last 50 plus years various units have had their own unofficial belt buckles. Most of these are a standard brass buckle with a DI attached to the front. The Manchus still have the only officially authorized buckle. The buckles represent a small part of the history of the 9th Infantry Regiment, but these buckles have their own unique history.
I would like to express my thanks to LTC William K. Emerson (US Army Ret.), for supplying much of the information I used with his permission. The information Mr. Emerson supplied is from articles he wrote for "Military Collector & Historian, Journal of the Military Historians" Vol. XXIII, No. 2, Summer 1971, and "The Trading Post, The American Society of Military Insignia Collectors" ( October-December 1998.) The pictures of the Manchu Buckle that belonged to his father and the picture of PFC Hadaway are also from these articles. I would also like to thank Senior Airman Mark Gilbertson (Son of John Gilbertson, CO. D, 69-70) of the 604 ASOS, USAF, for the information about the TACP and the ROMAD serving with the Manchus in Korea. And congratulations to Mark on completing the Manchu Mile on 01 December 2000.