Carl’s Buckle and DI Collection

I am not an expert on the Buckles and Distinctive Unit Insignia pins of the 9th Infantry Manchu Regiment nor do I consider myself A True Collector. My only goal was to find a replacement buckle like I wore in Vietnam and what I ended up with a small collection of buckles and pins. I guess I got a little carried away. During my search I finally found the buckle I needed, plus others I just had to have, and the pins--must have those as well--and some interesting information and facts about these unique buckles and pins (DUIs or DIs). Unique for as many of you know the buckle was officially authorized by the War Department issuing General Order Number 5 on 25 June 1926. However the 9th Infantry Regiment does not stand alone in having been granted a unique recognition, although the Manchus are the only unit to be authorized their own belt buckle. The following units were authorized special recognition unique to that unit.

The 3rd Infantry (The Old Guard):
(a) The knapsack strap, a black leather strap woven with a narrower buff strap and worn on the left shoulder, is authorized for 3rd Infantry, which is the oldest Regular Army regiment, to recall the special markings on the regimental uniform of the eighteenth century. The Secretary of War authorized the knapsack straps as part the regiment's heraldic items in the 1920s.
(b) The regiment traditionally marches in review with bayonets fixed. At the battle of Cerro Gordo during the Mexican War the 3rd Infantry led a brilliant bayonet charge, and in 1922 the regiment requested permission to pass in review for ceremonies and parades with bayonets fixed. Although the regimental history reports the request was granted by the War Department, there is no record on file of the approval. It was the usual practice in the nineteenth century to have fixed bayonets at dress parades.

The 4th Infantry: The 4th Infantry is the only regiment authorized to wear a distinctive insignia made of cloth. It consists of one green and two red stripes with the green in the middle. The insignia commemorates the heroic actions of regimental band during the Mexican War. At Monterey in 1846 the band turned a captured Mexican battery on the enemy with great effect. In 1923 the regimental commander requested that the distinctive insignia recall the action of the band members, who had been authorized to wear scarlet piping on their chevrons and trouser stripes. The Secretary of War approved the red and green cloth insignia on 19 February 1925. The metal and enamel distinctive unit insignia was originally approved on 21 DEC 1987. It was amended on 14 Sept 1989 to revise the description and clarify the symbolism.

The 14th Major Port: In recognition of the unit's outstanding achievement between "D" Day and "V-E" Day, the port was granted the privilege of marching through the streets of the town and county of Southampton with bayonets fixed, drums beating, and colors flying. Nearly two million men had departed through Southampton, England. The port is perpetuated by the 374th Transportation Command.

Regimental badges: The 10th Infantry, 10th Cavalry, and the 13th Armor have regimental badges rather than coats of arms as authorized other Regular Army regiments. Coats of arms evolved from the practice of placing heraldic bearings on the surcoat worn over a soldier's armor, while badges developed from honorary decorations. When the Army began to approve heraldic items after World War I, a regiment could request either a badge or coat of arms.

I have a nice little collection, but like most collections of anything, I doubt if mine will ever be complete. There are more examples of Manchu buckles and pins to be found and added to the collection, and I'm always on the hunt for the ones I don't have. I only collect the Manchu related items, mostly buckles and pins.

Where to search for them? I search all the obvious places, and places you might not expect to find them. I just keep at it, searching at yard/garage/moving sales, estate sales/auctions, online auctions, antique shops, pawn shops, gun/militaria shows, other militaria collectors, and of course flea markets. You never know what might be at the bottom of that old shoe box full of junk you just walked past at the yard sale last Saturday.

The older buckles, such as the 1926 Buckle, are getting really hard to find. Militaria collectors have spent years searching for an original 1926 buckle. Several thousand of these buckles must have been made and issued. The original 1926 buckles (made and worn between 1926 till about 1943) were made out of stamped brass sheet metal/plate (about 1/16 inch thick) for wear on the leather uniform belt. These buckles were gilt in gold. The ones I have only have some of the gold present on the backside of the buckles. Maybe the previous owners just shined away the original gold or it has worn away with use and time.

What I refer to as the Vietnam era buckle (B 3), and is mistakenly refereed to by many Manchus as the 'original' Manchu buckle, is still the most sought after by many Manchus who served in Vietnam and Korea. Actually this buckle has been around since the early-mid 1950s, made in Korea, and was in use till the current buckle started being issued about 1968-69. Just mentioning one of these Vietnam era buckles brings back memories to many Manchus of how they first received theirs, lost it, never got one (Willy, you can't really say that just had to wait a few years to get yours!) ), or even traded it or gave it away, still have it, or found a replacement, or didn't know the Manchus had a buckle. This Manchu buckle is really impressive all shined up. Ask any Manchu who has one and he will tell you it is one of his most prized possessions.

Two more examples are B 2 & B 4. Local commanders awarded similar buckles to a Manchu for special achievements, etc. This type buckle was also made locally for sale to troops, and sometimes made by Manchus who wanted a buckle that was a little different. Some insignia manufacturing companies also made this type buckle (from WWII till now) for many units of the Army and the other armed services. Easy and inexpensive, simply a standard uniform buckle with the insignia of choice attached (screwed in, pinned, soldered or glued etc.) to the buckle. Many units of the Army have a buckle with their unit insignia on it, but The Manchus are the only unit authorized to wear theirs while in uniform, but it must be the authorized current issue buckle of the time.

The current issue buckle (B6, B8, B11) has been around since about late 1968 made by several companies and is the authorized buckle of today. Present day Manchus must earn the right to wear the Manchu belt buckle by completing a Manchu Mile, a 25 mile overnight road march. This requirement gives the Manchu belt buckle an enhanced value and instills immense pride in those who have earned it. Those who complete the Manchu Mile for the first time receive their buckles. Second completion the soldier receives a Certificate of Achievement. Third timers are awarded the Army Achievement Medal. Four completions earns the soldier a Special Larger Manchu Buckle.

The Web Pistol Belt & Buckle is what might be referred to as a special occasions or parade buckle made for wear on the web pistol belt. I have talked to several Manchus from different eras (early 50s till now) that remember seeing similar rigs worn by Color Guards, Honor Details, at special ceremonies, etc. The buckle is heavy cast brass, and sometimes 'gold' plated. The design of the buckle is a close reproduction of the original 1926 buckle with slight differences in the details of the dragon. I have not been able to determine when my example was made (most likely from the 1960s till present), and the one I have is attached to a 1982-dated LC2 belt and both the belt and buckle have seen use but are in excellent condition. When worn with the dress uniform the white pistol belt is used. Over the last few years these rigs seem to be easier to find, and I have seen several for sale at various places and are usually snatched up very quickly. A Cartridge Belt Buckle was also made for wear on the various types of cartridge/ammo belts used from the 1920's through the early 1940's.

Several versions of Manchu buckles exist that were made for wear with civilian clothes and not authorized for wear on uniforms. These include several design variations of the 1926 buckle (slight differences in the details of the dragons head, mouth, scales, etc.) made of brass (sometimes gold plated) for wear on a leather belt. The buckle identified as B10 in my collection is a nicely detailed brass buckle about 1 7/8 inches by 3 inches also made for wear on a civilian leather belt and looks nothing like the other buckles. About the time the current issue buckles were first made and issued (in 1968-69), Korean made versions of the buckle started to appear. These buckles are not as detailed as the authorized buckles and the Indian teepees and suns are not well represented. Also a Korean made version (B 5) of the current issue type buckle is a little oversize and very nice looking but again lacking in the details of the teepees and the suns.

DI pins are difficult to determine when they were made. It seems the design of the pins changed about the same time the current issue buckle was authorized (1968-69) or a little earlier. In the mid 60s The Institute of Heraldry required all insignia makers to standardize the way they made their insignia. Thus all insignia for a particular unit should (in theory) be the same no matter who made it. All designs, materials, color, size, etc, should be the same. Based on this info I have broken down the pins into two groups; those made from the mid 1960s (and possibly as late as 1968-9) through current issue, and those made before the mid 1960s. Design differences may still be found within each group type. The first design type, the dragons head is facing almost straight to its right. Research leads me to believe the first type was made before the mid 1960s time frame and as far back as the 1920s. Some of the older ones have the screwback (spinner disc) and the pinback (safety pin style) fastening devices (generally made before 1943, although some clutchbacks were made during the 1920s). About 1941-43 the clutchback style fastener began replacing all other fastening devices as they became easier and less costly to produce, and are still used today. Some of the earliest pins were gilt in gold and were made from 1920s through WWII. Most of the companies that made the older pins have long since gone out of business, or no longer make them so little information is available. The second design type, the dragons head is facing slightly down and to its right, this is the current style pin. From mid 1960s through current issue these pins are clutch back. Some pins are maker marked others are not. Some of the pre current issue pins were still issued and sold until existing stocks were exhausted. Some maker marked pins are very difficult to find. Other pins are even harder to find, such as a Vietnam era "Beercan" DIs, which were made by local craftsmen. Called "beercan" because of the thin metal they are made of (about the thickness of the metal the old beer cans were made of or even made from beer cans), these pins are highly sought after by militaria collectors. On most beercan DIs the insignia is painted on the metal. The one in my collection is a very thin brass or copper and very nicely detailed, although a little bigger than a standard size pin and is a clutchback. The last time I saw a Manchu beercan DI was in Vietnam in 1968 when I wore one on my jungle hat. I was fortunate to find a fine example a few months ago.

I have been asked, "What to pay for a pin or buckle?" Answer..Who can say??... What is it worth to you??... What are you willing to pay?? Set your limit you are willing to pay. When going to a flea market or yard sale, have cash, carry small bills/change. It never hurts to haggle over an asking price. The old saying "Money talks and B.S. walks," holds true, so I always carry a stash earmarked just for that 'special' buckle or pin I might find. At an auction, whether at one in person or at one of the online types, you're on your own. Maybe no one will bid against you, or maybe another person is willing to pay more than you. You may have to consider buying a 'group lot' or 'box full of stuff' just to get the one item you want. I've been told, " I would never pay that much for a buckle or pin!" But then again that buckle or pin may not mean as much to them as it does to you or me. It took me over 20 years to find a replacement buckle (like the one I wore in Vietnam) that I had lost in a house fire! The price wasn't too high, at least to me, and well worth it! What is its value? To me it is priceless. So if you are looking for that special buckle or pin, stick with it and good luck!