Logos are not just for corporations and sports teams. During World War II, virtually every unit in the U.S. military adopted logos that they emblazoned on aircraft, ships, boats, jeeps, tanks, bomber jackets, trinkets, and bombs and torpedos. The main provider of such insignias was the Disney Studios in Burbank.
First asked to create a humorous logo for a Naval Reserve Squadron stationed at Floyd Bennett Field in New York, the Disney Studios quickly found itself inundated with requests to draw emblems for other military units as well. Disney had to assign five artists full-time to the task, but never charged a dime. “The insignia meant a lot to the men who were fighting…I had to do it…I owed it to them,” Walt Disney explained later.
Before the war had ended, Disney had created some 1,200 cartoon insignias for all of the branches of the U.S. Armed Forces, as well as for many Allied troops. Reflecting the esprit de corps and bravado of the unit, the cartoon character patches were worn with pride. With the exception of Bambi, virtually every Disney character appeared at least once on a logo. The most requested character was Donald Duck, beloved by troops for his quick temper and fighting spirit. Pluto and Goofy and even Grumpy of the Seven Dwarfs appeared on decals. Mickey Mouse was never linked to a combat unit. His affable, nice guy image made him better suited for the home front defense industry. Snow White appeared as a military nurse, and Flower the Skunk was on the emblem of three chemical warfare units. Dumbo the Flying Elephant appeared on bomber planes and bombs, and Jiminy Cricket, the wise conscience of Pinocchio, represented military chaplains. In cases where Disney characters seemed out of place, the studio created new mascots, as it did for the Mosquito Fleet, the Flying Tigers and the Seabees.
As incongruous as Disney characters are to the horrors of war, these cartoon military patches embodied pop culture, innocence, American values, and everything the troops loved about home – a much more fitting emblem than a heraldic pompous symbol with no sentimental significance.