Although the 4 Pocket tunic was worn by many of the members of 101st Airborne, these were all replaced in early 1945 by the Ike Jacket. This saved the need to have two types of jacket, the officers and enlisted-men now shared the same jacket. It was simpler, cheaper and required less cloth to make. Despite the almost identical look of each jacket made by different manufacturers, once a soldiers medals, awards, overseas stripes, hash marks, awards, rank and unit patches, almost no two jackets looked the same. Even if all this happened to match, some soldiers added DI's (Divisional Insignia), the cords issued by foreign countries were optional and only two were supposed to be worn, although in some soldiers cases they were issued three... some choose two. Others ignored the rules and wore all three! So expect to see a huge variety of variations in jackets.
Enistedmen should choose the 4 pocket over the IKE, the 4 pocket can be worn the enitre war, with the IKE only being later on. The awards kept to a bare minimum when doing Normandy. In fact the average enlistedman would only have his marksman qualifications and parachute wings at this point. No WW2 medal ribbons would have been earnt yet.
When you look at lots of troopers in A-Class uniforms, almost all the ones wearing 4 Pockets were all killed in 1944 and have the bare minimum of insignia, they can look very bare!
The PFC on the right wears the 4 pocket tunic, he has the early style parachute patch on his garrison cap. His jacket is as simply as any 101st Paratroopers can be. He has his Paratroopers Wing (PWings) and the 101st Infantry Division Patch. To have much more than this on 4 pocket would be a little off for an enlisted-man. Another interesting point is that it doesn't look like he is wearing the Presidential Unit Citation (PUC), so this would probably be pre-June 1944
Left, another enlisted-mans unit, this time the IKE jacket. Lets start looking at placement of the PWings and the Combat Infantry-mans Badge (CIB). This is the most common layout. PWings above the medal ribbon that sits on the top of the pocket. The CIB on the centre flap of the pocket and any then any marksman awards on the centre of the pocket itself.
This is a great text book example of an late war IKE jacket.
The top IKE jackets above both have the same style layout of our textbook example. Note the one on the left has a rather sloppy Victory Medal ribbon, placed not only completely out of sequence, but also attached rather messily really close to the PWings. Also note the regulation way that the 'ruptured duck' award for honourable discharge goes under the PUC. Again, it has rather a messy look to it.
The one on the right has some interesting and noteworthy features. This one has all three of the foreign shoulder cords. Orange for Netherlands, bright red for France, Reg/Green for Belgium. Now as stated before, your only supposed to wear two of these, one on each arm. However the probably came from when these were issued, they came with no instructions on how to wear them or even where. The French one doesn't even go around the arm. Of course the arm could have been pulled through the cord, but why?
Previous units. This is an interesting feature that can lead to a totally unique jacket. Most commonly a soldier would come from a similar unit, like this CPL's jacket. He came from the 82nd and went into the 101st. However, in regards to your own jacket, you could either have the patch of a previous unit you reenacted with, or a unit that would be commonly paired with or a unit which you have an interest in.
Above left - Another common and good looking patch to have on the previous unit is the 1st Allied Airborne patch. The PWings are off centre which is a little weird. Another thing to note is the weird way the Netherlands shoulder cord is attached to the pocket, weirdly it is done the same way on the jacket on the right.
Above right - Again another nice patch to wear could be the red Airborne patch. As well as having the Netherlands cord worn in an unusual way the cords for France are worn sort of over the arm. Although a bit of a mess, an important thing to note here is that this is an officers IKE jacket! Even the officers had no idea what they were doing with these cords. As there is no PWings on the jacket, the CIB has been placed above the medal bars.
Despite being a weird layout with the PWings on the pocket flap and the CIB over the medal bars, the really odd thing to note is the patches. The current unit is 17th Infantry with Airborne tab; the previous unit was the 17th Infantry with no Airborne tab? Was it a separate tab and it was lost, did he just not want to add it to the jacket for some reason? So possibly wearing another 101st patch on the other-side could also be an option!
The two jackets above were worn by 101st Glider Troops (death crates!) spot the Glider Badge in place of the PWings. The last medal bar is either the French or Belgian Croix-de-Guerre. On the pocket is an interesting feature, two marksman awards, the one on the left is Expert level with 3 bars and the one of the right is Advanced, Proving again that you can have more than one marksman award. Expect everyone to tell you "nobody ever did that...." The collar dog has the crossed cannons, signifying that this SGT was in the Gliderborne Field Artillery.
Divisional Insignia (DIs) - the two enlisted soldiers jackets above both have added DIs. The soldier on the left has added two DI's that match his 82nd Inf Div shoulder patch.
Jacket on the right has a 1st Allied Airborne DI on one side and a 101st Inf Div on the other, both corresponding with the patch on the same shoulder. Another interesting note is the green stripe under the rank, this indicates that this Sgt was a combat leader. Another interesting touch to make your jacket more individual.
This fantastic Top Sgts IKE jacket on the right is pretty much perfect. The foreign cords are worn correctly and there is only two. The medal bards and neat and level and in order. The PWings and CIB and bang on centre as well. This Sgt certainly went through the ringer and back, being awarded both the Silver Star and the Bronze Star as well as two Purple Hearts. The ETO Medal getting 3 stars and the invasion arrow head!
On top of all this bling, he has added two 506th PIR DI's and is wearing them under the collar dogs.
Also, note the early paratroopers garrison cap patch that is in the unusual dark blue colour.
However for us, the most amazing thing to see here is the seldom seen Pathfinder patch, neatly trimmed out and sewn above the overseas stripes.
Buying an A-Class involved finding lots of pieces from lots of different locations. You can find a few companies like Soldier of Fortune who offer A-Class packages of everything included... but... the jackets are pretty ugly and are not great quality. The insignia and patches are all reproduction and again poor quality. Which is a shame as originals of some of these are the same sorts of prices as these crappy looking reproductions.
Now for those ladies who want a challenge in re-enacting, there is a way to wear those pretty jump wings on your A-Class. However, be expected to be told its wrong by so many people, fellow re-enactors as well as the public.
This wartime photograph from 1944 is of a Woman's Army Corps (WAC) Rigger. There is a mountain of information on her from before the war as her history is very interesting. She was already an expert in civilian parachuting before the war and so this was a natural calling for her.
There is a whole page of information on this subject written by Poppy Mercier who has become extremely knowledgeable in this area, which she kindly agreed to write for us. She took up this as one of her impressions for reenacting and as you can imagine, gets plenty of comments about those "jump wings".
Click the photo left or the button below, to learn more.
A simply one, buy original, these can be obtained from almost every militaria fair in the world. One 'US' and one 'Crossed rifles, remember to get the disc types if you are an enlisted-man; cut out type if your an officer.
Sadly, almost no original DI's of Paratrooper Units come up for sale and if they did you will rarely find a matching pair and that's not even considering the cost! Reproductions of these is the only option if you want them. Its easy to find 502nd or 101st DIs. Enlisted-men wear these under the collar dogs on the other tab, officers on the shoulders between the button and the rank.
The enlisted-mans rank on the A-Class should always be the green chevrons, either wool or sewn in green thread. Originals of these are easy to find, again at any militaria show or online. Avoid the reproductions, most are fairly crappy.
I have covered 101st patches on the 'patches' page, you can almost forget the idea of an original 101st patch now. The price is usually ridiculous and there are far too many near identical fakes out there to fool collectors. So a reproduction 101st patch is the only sensible option. However, for your 'previous unit' patch an original could be an option, depending on which unit you opt for. Lots of original World War 2 US Infantry Division patches only sell for a few pounds.
There arn't really reproductions of these as they are modern made ribbons, these can be obtained easily for not much money. Originals are also fairly easy to obtain, lots of these can be faded and frayed, but some are in fantastic conditio and usually don't go for a lot.
As a group, we have decided that no gallantry medals will ever be worn; with the exception that if you served in the military and were awarded a gallantry medal than an American WW2 ribbon of similar award could be worn. No purple hearts, no campaign medals to be worn that couldn't have been awarded at the time peroid we are portraying. For example, if we're portaying Normandy then an ETO ribbon cannot be worn.
There are two types to consider, firstly the standard metal version. These can be worn over a cloth backing oval that designates the unit. There are lots of originals out there to purchase, these range in price depending on the maker and condition. But, modern jump wings are so cheap compared to the World War 2 originals, so these are a much more viable option.
There are complete cloth sewn versions, I recently saw a lovely original 502nd cloth version for $109. Shown left.
Just like the PWings, the CIB is still around now and therefore there are plenty of more modern versions that are far cheaper than a World War 2 example. Even when they look old, these are usually examples from Korea or Vietnam Wars. There are plenty of reproductions too, although why, I'm not certain as a more modern CIB can be purchased for the same money as a reproduction. Almost all A-Class jackets to whose owners saw any combat would have all worn the CIB. However, when you see the jackets from pre-Normandy invasion, they would not have had chance to earn the CIB yet, so like most things, this shouldn't be on your jacket either!