My Uncle Carl Maffia was born on New Year’s Eve 1926 in Chicago. A graduate of Crane Tech High School, he entered the Army in March 1945. As an 18-year-old draftee, he was destined for the infantry, to be used in the final drive to defeat Germany and Japan. Before heading overseas, Maffia joined the ranks of a small group of elite Soldiers qualified to receive the newly created Expert Infantryman Badge.
The badge was created in 1943 to recognize those who mastered the skills of infantry warfare. It also served as special recognition of the hardships and high casualty rate endured by the infantry. In 1944, the first class of 100 Noncommissioned Officers underwent intensive testing, facing physical and mental challenges, to determine who would receive the Army’s first Expert Infantryman Badges. Of those 100, only 10 completed the course!
With a washout rate of 90 percent, it was one of the toughest courses in the Army. As the war continued, the Expert Infantryman Badge was overshadowed by the Combat Infantryman Badge. Also created in 1943, it was awarded only to infantrymen engaged in combat against an armed enemy. Often it was awarded en masse to entire units regardless of one’s individual skill level. For those entitled to both badges, the Combat Infantryman Badge takes precedence because it is for combat action as opposed to training excellence. The two are never worn together. Both badges are so coveted, they are worn above all other decorations, medals and badges on the Army uniform.
Maffia was sent to Germany rather than the Pacific. By the time he arrived, the war in Europe was over. He became part of the Army of Occupation until his discharge in November 1946. To this day, professional soldiers in the United States Army Infantry strive to earn the Expert Infantryman Badge. It confirms commitment to their craft, mastering the unique challenges faced by the infantry and is often essential for promotion to a higher rank and position of responsibility.