The Chemical Corps Regimental Distinctive Insignia (unit crest) borrows a scarred tree from the 1st Chemical Regiment's coat of arms; it is a reference to the fact that these sorts of trees were often the only reference points for chemical mortar teams in the devastated landscapes that made up No Man's Land in World War I. A fire-breathing dragon symbolizes the use of chlorine gas in the first chemical attacks of World War I, while the Latin phrase "ELEMENTIS REGAMUS PROELIUM" roughly translates to "We will rule the battle by means of the elements."

The early evolution of the Chemical Corps during World War I can be followed by the actions taken by the American Expeditionary Force in France to address the immediate need to develop defensive equipment and techniques against gas attacks and the War Department’s efforts to coordinate and consolidate the efforts of a diverse group of agencies who were involved in chemical and gas warfare.

In France, the AEF established the Gas Service on 2 September 1917, which was superseded by the Chemical Warfare Service (CWS) on 28 June 1918. One of the signal achievements of the CWS was the development of a portable demustardizing system troops could enter while still wearing their gas masks; another was a motorized hot-water bath system for up to 700 soldiers that could be deployed in the field in case of mustard-gas exposure to skin.

Back in the United States, the declaration of war in April 1917 had brought with it the realization that the military had done no work on how to defend against chemical warfare attacks, much less how to use gas or chemicals in an offensive manner. Several agencies set about researching the problem, including the Bureau of Mines (familiar with gases inside mining areas), U.S. Army Ordnance Corps (to develop munitions), Corps of Engineers (weapon delivery), Army Medical Department (defensive measures) and Signal Corps (alarm systems for chemical attacks).

With the establishment of the Chemical Service Section on 16 October 1917, these efforts were brought under one bailiwick, marking the first time that chemistry was recognized as a distinct branch of military service. Less than a year later, the creation of the Chemical Warfare Service combined the efforts of the AEF’s organizations with those being performed stateside, and in 1920 the CWS was cemented as an official branch with the passage of the National Defense Act of 1920. On 2 August 1946, the branch became a Corps through Congressional legislation.

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