After the United States' declaration of war in 1941, the War Department had difficulty recruiting infantry branch volunteers, namely due to the fact that "of all Soldiers, it was recognized that the infantryman continuously operated under the worst conditions and performed a mission that was not assigned to any other Soldier or unit ... the infantry, a small portion of the total Armed Forces, was suffering the most casualties while receiving the least public recognition."
On 27 October 1943, the War Department formally established the Combat Infantryman Badge (CIB) and the Expert Infantryman Badge (EIB) awards in Section I, War Department Circular 269 (27 October 1943):
The present war has demonstrated the importance of highly-proficient, tough, hard, and aggressive infantry, which can be obtained only by developing a high degree of individual all-around proficiency on the part of every infantryman. As a means of attaining the high standards desired and to foster esprit de corps in infantry units; the Expert Infantryman and the Combat Infantryman badges are established for infantry personnel.
Moreover, War Department Circular 269 stipulated: "…only one of these badges will be worn at one time" and "the Combat Infantryman badge is the highest award"; the awarding of the CIB was officially authorized with an executive order dated 15 November 1943; later, on 10 June 1944, the U.S. Congress approved an extra ten dollars in monthly pay to every infantryman awarded the CIB—excepting commissioned officers. The WWII regulations did not formally prescribe a specific combat service period establishing the infantryman’s eligibility for being awarded a Combat Infantryman Badge, thus, in 1947, the U.S. Government implemented a policy authorizing the retroactive awarding of the Bronze Star Medal to World War II veteran soldiers who had been awarded the Combat Infantryman Badge, because the CIB was awarded only to soldiers who had borne combat duties befitting the recognition conferred by a Bronze Star Medal. Both awards required a commander’s recommendation and a citation in the pertinent orders. General Marshall initiated this after Medal of Honor-recipient Major Charles W. Davis noted to him that: "It would be wonderful, if someone could design a badge for every infantryman who faces the enemy, every day and every night, with so little recognition".
War Department Circular 105, dated 13 March 1944 amended WD Circular 269. Page 2, paragraph IV. BADGE – Section 1, Circular No. 269 War Department, 1943, is amended by adding paragraph 8 as follows:
8. Retroactive award of Expert and Combat Infantryman badges may be awarded to any infantryman who, on or after 6 December 1941, has established eligibility and been recommended for such award under the provisions of paragraph 2b or paragraph 3b. The Expert Infantryman badge may be awarded under paragraph 2a, only to those infantryman who have established eligibility and been recommended for such award on or after 27 October 1943.
From the beginning, Army leaders have taken care to retain the badge for the unique purpose for which it was established and to prevent the adoption of any other badge which would lower its prestige. At the close of World War II, the largest war in which armor and artillery played key roles in the ground campaigns, a review was conducted of the CIB criteria with consideration being given to creating either additional badges or authorizing the badge to cavalry and armor units. The review noted that any change in policy would detract from the prestige of the badge.
The design inspiration of the U.S. Army’s Combat Infantryman Badge derives from two Wehrmacht infantry combat service recognition decorations: the Infantry Assault Badge (Infanterie Sturmabzeichen), featuring a service rifle enclosed in an oak-leaf wreath, and the Close Combat Clasp (Nahkampfspange).
The original, World War II-model CIB was a silver and enamel badge, consisting of a 3-inch-wide (76 mm) rectangular bar with an infantry-blue field upon which is superimposed a Springfield Arsenal Musket, Model 1795. The composite device is superimposed to an elliptic oak-leaf wreath, symbolizing steadfast character, strength, and loyalty. During World War II, there existed metallic, composite models of the CIB composed of a separate EIB rectangle-badge and oak-leaf wreath that then was pinned to the blouse, as a Combat Infantryman Badge. Later, a matte-black subdued metal badge was created for wearing on the fatigues in the field. Since World War II, the CIB has been made in cloth (colored and subdued) for wear, like the matte-metal model, on the fatigue field uniform, and, a miniature (1.25 inches long) lacquered-metal CIB model is available for wearing on the mess dress uniform and civilian clothes.
On 8 February 1952, the Army approved the addition of stars to the CIB indicating the soldier’s having fought in more than one war. The first was the second-award CIB recognizing Korean War combat operations; in that time, the U.S. Army’s Institute of Heraldry also had created eighth-award CIB designs. The second- through fourth-award CIB awards were indicated with silver five-point stars, one to three stars centered, at badge’s top, between the tips of the oak-leaf wreath; the fifth- through eighth-awards of the CIB were indicated with gold stars. However, Army Regulation 600-8-22 (Military Awards) only authorizes up to three awards of the CIB. There are four periods for which an award of the badge can be made:
- World War II (7 December 1941 to 3 September 1945)
- Korea (27 June 1950 to 27 July 1953)