The United States Navy has always placed importance on meeting the spiritual needs of its Sailors can be seen in the appointment of William Balch, its first Chaplain, in the year after the Department of the Navy was established in 1798. But the Navy moved considerably slower when it came to providing recognition to the position in terms of uniforms and, in later years, insignias such as the the Buddhist Chaplain Corp’s collar and sleeve devices.

The 1852 Regulations for Uniform and Dress of the Navy and Marine Corps of the United States specified that the uniforms for a Chaplain was to be the same as for a Surgeon, except it was to be single-breasted featuring a single row of nine large buttons and plain (no embroidery) black velvet collars and cuffs. (Chaplains were given the option of wearing a black gown when performing “Divine Services.”) A year after the Chaplain Corps was established in 1863, they were authorized to wear the same uniform as other staff officers, with a silver cross serving as the Corps device.

Between 1869 and 1876, sleeve lace was removed from Chaplain uniforms, and only a Latin cross could be worn on the epaulets and passant. Chaplains were considered offices during this period, but without grades. Surprisingly, the Navy abolished Chaplin uniforms in 1876, replacing them with orders to wear either vestments associated with their faith or simply tasteful civilian clothing. The option to wear a uniform returned in 1883, but only with the cross insignia—no indication of grade appeared on it. Then, in 1894, the Navy’s wavering attitude on Chaplain uniforms hit either its acme or its nadir: epaulets, passants, and even the Latin cross were removed, leaving it bereft of any insignia whatsoever.

In 1905, things finally turned around for Chaplains, at least in the sartorial arena, when they were given the same titles as other line officers and wore the same uniforms, but with a distinctive “lustrous black” sleeve braid. Their uniforms also featured both appropriate grade insignia devices and the Latin Cross corps device.

The last major changes came in 1918, during World War II, and in the mid-1990s. In the final year of the First World War, the black sleeve braid was replaced with the same braid employed on all officers’ uniforms, with the Latin Cross over the stripes on the sleeve. That same year, Jewish Chaplain David Goldberg was authorized to wear a Shepherd’s Crook as a corps device. In 1941, the Shepherd’s Crook was replaced by an insignia featuring the two tablets of Mosaic Law and the Star of David. 1944 saw the authorization of two other denominations—Islam and Buddhism—the creation of insignias for them.

The corps device for Buddhist Chaplains is the dharmachakra, which translates to "Dharma Wheel." It was created by The Institute of Heraldry in 1990 and first used in the Navy in 2004 with the commissioning of the service's first Buddhist Chaplain.

Related Items
Buddhist Chaplain Corps Hard Shoulder Boards
Buddhist Chaplain Corps Soft Epaulets
Buddhist Chaplain Corps Collar Device
Black (for SDB and DDB Jackets)

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