Commission says 29th Infantry Division should be allowed to keep blue-and-gray patch

Jonathan M. Pitts
The Baltimore Sun

A commission tasked with reviewing the names of military bases and symbols that can be perceived as commemorating the Confederate States of America is recommending that the 29th Infantry Division — a legendary force with Maryland ties that was among the first to hit Omaha Beach on D-Day — be allowed to keep its iconic blue-and-gray patch, all but ending a debate that evoked strong emotions over the past six months.

According to a news release from the Naming Commission, the chair of the eight-member panel, retired Navy Adm. Michelle J. Howard, sent a letter last month to members of the House and Senate Armed Services committees recommending that the Army allow the division to keep the symbol. It’s a round insignia in a yin-and-yang pattern whose blue half evokes constituent units originally formed in the nation’s northern regions and whose gray half evokes units born in the South.

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The commission also gave notice that it would recommend that the Army’s official description of 29th Infantry Division heraldry be changed to remove language that can be viewed as suggesting that the symbol implies Confederate service, according to its release, issued Monday.

Howard wrote in the letter that feedback from the 29th Infantry Division community played a role in its decision. The commission received hundreds of letters from division supporters urging that the patch be kept intact. Political leaders from both sides of the aisle – including former Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam, a Democrat, and his successor, Republican Gov. Glenn Youngkin – took the same position.

“The Community of the 29th Infantry Division indicates that they view the symbol as a unifying symbol for America and is imbued with the sacrifices and service of past 29th ID members,” Howard wrote.

Various patches designed following the 29th Infantry Division's original blue-and-gray insignia rest May 25, 2022, inside a display frame at the Fifth Regiment Armory's Maryland Museum of Military History in Baltimore. (Karl Merton Ferron/Baltimore Sun/TNS)

The commission, created as part of the 2021 National Defense Authorization Act, is to submit its final report to Congress by Oct. 1 with recommendations to remove, rename or modify “names, symbols, displays, monuments and paraphernalia” within the Department of Defense that commemorate the Confederacy.

It will then be up to Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin to approve or reject the recommendations.

The commission recommended in May that nine military bases be renamed, in each case suggesting names to replace those of Confederate officers.