Formerly known as the Distinguished Unit Citation, the US’s Presidential Unit Citation dates from December 7th, 1941, and the attack on Pearl Harbour. It is awarded to a unit—ship, squadron, battalion, etc—for collective combat heroism of the level that would merit a Distinguished Service Cross if the action were performed by an individual. Most such awards are made to American units, but allies fighting alongside Americans are also eligible.
Only once has the Presidential Unit Citation been publicly awarded to a Canadian unit. The 2nd Battalion Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry earned the recognition in April 1951 for their heroics in the Battle of Kapyong. (For more detail, see archived editions of Forces With History.) Presidential Citations were also made to the 3rd Royal Australian Regiment (3RAR) and Company A 72nd Heavy Tank Battalion (A US unit) for their parts in the Kapyong battle.
Rumours of the award reached the Patricias two months after their fight at Kapyong. The 2PPCLI War Diary on 23 Jun 51, on the subject of morale, noted: “Persistent rumours are circulating concerning the award of a Presidential Unit Citation to this battalion for its part in the KAPYONG River battle. There has been no official confirmation of the award as yet and Brigadier Rockingham [Canadian Infantry Brigade commander] has promised to investigate the matter.”
The morale of the battalion soared four days later. According to the War Diary on June 27, “Official confirmation was received today of the award of the Presidential Unit Citation…There was considerable speculation amongst the men and officers as to whether or not we would be permitted to wear the citation as are the surviving members of the 1st Gloster Regt.”
(The Glosters, a British Regiment, had been virtually annihilated by the Chinese in a separate battle a day or so before 2PPCLI’s battle at Kapyong, and had also received the Presidential Unit Citation.)
The excitement among the Patricias, the victors at Kapyong, was a little premature. The award was eventually presented to 2PPCLI’s Commanding Officer on 4 November 1951 by American General James Van Fleet. “Not so fast,” the senior officers in Ottawa must have thought, gritting their teeth.
The “speculation” amongst the men and officers turned out to be just that. The veterans of Kapyong were not allowed to wear the decoration (a modest blue patch on their shoulders) until long after they had left the field and returned to Canada, with many of them no longer in service. The Canadian senior brass and Ottawa establishment dithered, but finally succumbed to pressure to officially accept the award in 1956, an astonishing five years after the battle.
The reasons for the delay are obscure. Some argued that General James Van Fleet didn’t get Canada’s permission before presenting the award, presumably a minor diplomatic faux pas. He was, after all, the commanding general of all the United Nations forces in Korea, which included the Canadians. But neither did he seek advance permission when he awarded the Citation to the Australians or the 1st Glosters. Her Majesty’s relevant governments had no trouble authorizing their awards, or for that matter granting permission for the men of those units to wear it. The holdup was doubtless somewhere in the upper levels of the hidebound Canadian military establishment and DND.
Today the blue patch, a reminder of the Battle of Kapyong and the Presidential Unit Citation, continues to be worn with great pride on the shoulders of every member of 2PPCLI.