Resident veterans at the Ventura Veterans Home wearing their gold pins on red shirts.
Art and Mack proudly wearing their “Ruptured Duck” pins.

A few weeks ago, the Veterans Home of California-Ventura received a phone call from Lou Zayas, junior commander of the Military Order of the Purple Heart chapter in Georgia.

Zayas wanted to know the number of World War II veterans living at the Ventura Home. He wanted to send each one a “Ruptured Duck” lapel pin that represents an honorable discharge. Zayas made the same call to the other seven Veterans Homes in the CalVet system.

Of course, the Ventura staff accepted his gracious gesture. When the pins arrived soon thereafter, the Home’s seven resident WWII veterans received theirs individually because current COVID-19 safety protocol discourages grander gatherings and ceremonies. No matter. They were thrilled to get them. In fact, one resident – Marine veteran Art P. – recalled receiving one long ago, but has no idea what happened to it over time. He now wears the replacement pin proudly as do all of the other World War II veterans at the Home.

“Honoring our veterans symbolizes the bond that many of us had on the battlefields,” said Ventura Home Administrator and Army veteran Julian Bond. “That includes remembering the past and honoring the present. Mr. Zayas’ generosity brought smiles and tears of gratitude to our WWII veterans.”

How did the “Ruptured Duck” pin get its name? The abbreviated backstory, according to the American War Library and other sources:

Resident at the Ventura Veterans Home proudly wears his gold pin on his red CalVet Ventura shirt.
Marine Corps veteran George proudly wears his “Ruptured Duck” pin.

Following World War I, the idea of a universal honorable discharge emblem surfaced, first as a patch, then as a lapel pin. Both allowed honorably discharged personnel to show their former military status as they applied for civilian jobs or veterans’ benefits. The pins continue to be the only official all-military honorable discharge emblems. They are made by official U.S military suppliers, and though they can be worn by honorably discharged veterans of any era, they tend to be associated with World War II veterans.

The emblems bear an image intended to resemble an eagle.

The “Ruptured Duck” moniker came from an unlikely source: Hollywood actress Hedy Lamarr. Born in Austria of Jewish ancestry, she married an arms manufacturer who did business with Nazi Germany. A brilliant scientist and designer herself, it became known that she – not her husband – had actually designed or redesigned some of the weaponry. She learned her husband planned to kill her, and with the help of the Jewish Underground fled first to London in 1937, then to the United States. Here, while building her career as an American movie star, she also developed a secret communications system designed to prevent the Nazis from intercepting Allied radio transmissions. Her technology would later “blossom into some of today’s most ubiquitous technology, including Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, GPS, cordless phones, and cell phones,” according to Smithsonian Magazine.

Lamarr’s escape from the Nazis, she said, began with a flight on a “broken bird,” meaning a rickety airplane. In German, she referred to it as “segeltuch gebrochen,” which translates to “ruptured duck” in English.

Women who made the pins in American plants weren’t too impressed with the artistry of the eagle. Hearing Lamarr’s comment, they dubbed it the “Ruptured Duck.” They even used the term to label the packaging, following the practice of disguising the labeling so as not to tip off any enemy agents to its contents.

The nickname stuck, even after General George C. Marshall decided that the term “ruptured” was bad for morale. In 1944, he ordered the destruction of any documents or materials bearing the “Ruptured Duck” name. More than 50 years later, the real reason for banning it became declassified: the “Ruptured Duck” moniker apparently was too close to “Duckpin,” the codename for General Dwight D. Eisenhower.

Zayas said the Department of Georgia Purple Heart organization received a batch of the Ruptured Duck pins from another veterans organization. Zayas then purchased 50 pins, taking them to nursing homes where veterans lived, and pinning them on the veterans himself. It became a personal crusade.

“I started researching and found 162 veterans’ homes (in the U.S),” Zayas said. He’s contacted 145 thus far. “I kept buying pins (out of pocket) and I’ve sent 1,600 of them. I’ll keep going until the last 17 are done.”

Count the Ventura Home among those already in the books. Last week, seven “Ruptured Duck” pins arrived at Ventura. They were presented to Marine veterans Art P. and George D., 101-year-old Army veteran Edward, Air Force veteran Claude A., Navy veterans John B. and Richard D., and Leland R., who served in both the Air Force and Coast Guard.

The Veterans Home of California-Redding has 22 veterans who will receive their pins when a formal ceremony can take place safely. Each of the other Homes will handle its respective ceremony as COVID-19 safety protocols allow.

Regardless, one might say honorably discharged World War II veterans living in CalVet’s Homes are pretty easy to pin down.

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