AAAO : The story of a warrior slogan!

If you have an interest in the history of the 9th Infantry Division during World War II, you have surely heard of the 39th Infantry Regiment slogan: AAAO. “Anything, Anytime, Anywhere – Bar Nothing” has officially been chosen by the colorful Colonel Harry A. Flint while he was the Regimental commanding officer in Sicily, 1943.

 Colonel Harry A. Flint in front of the Regimental HQ sign. When the vast majority of the infantry regiments have signs showing their regimental number, the 39th Infantry Regiment only has their motto to identify them!

This slogan became the regiment members ‘pride thorough the War and well after the end of the World War II. Still today, the 39th Infantry Regiment (which is a training unit) shows its pride in writing this historical slogan on doors, rooms, insignia at their barracks.

This use of helmet markings were ten seen on the ETO: paratroopers of the 101st Airborne Division are to most famous for the use of regimental/battalion markings, 82nd Airborne Division as well in less numbers. The 1st Armored Division might have been one of the very first unit at the division scale to use helmet unit markings as well! But such a trend, if quite appreciated by the soldiers to show their pride and faith they had in their unit, was against all regulations and camouflage rules. Moreover, the AAAO marking was probably one of the biggest helmet markings seen, and such unit markings could have given away valuable intelligence to the enemy, concerning the unit they were facing.

We can clearly see the AAAO stencil on Pvt Nicholas Pappas ‘helmet. This marking is the second pattern stencil which is sightly bigger than e first pattern.

The legend of the AAAO started in Sicily, when “Paddy” Flint painted on his own helmet a first marking of a small AAAO, and when he was asked if such a marking wasn’t too risky, he replied that “the enemy who sees our regiment in combat, if they live through the battle, will know to run the next time they see us coming.” Nobody can say if that statement was true after the AAAO became an informal rule, but it was clear that the arrival of Flint as commander changed the regiment and its reputation within the U.S. Army in Europe: that slogan, and particularly the spirit initiated by Flint into the regiment, transformed an average infantry outfit with poor results in combat, into a formidable fighting unit as from the Sicily campaign.

During the Normandy campaign, these two aidmen of the 39th Infantry Regiment are taking care of a German wounded soldier. The right-hand man’s helmet shows a nice marking beneath the camouflage net (Note: as from June 1944, the entire 9th Division’s photographs show only the use of the British Made helmet net use for more than 90% among the Niners).

Major General George B. Pickett Jr. (Pickett served in the 3rd Army and therefore, has never dealt with the 9th Infantry Division directly) has written in a university paper regarding military leadership these following words:

The best example of useful gimmickry during World War II was the « AAA-O » of Paddy Flint. When Colonel Flint assumed command of the 39th Infantry in Sicily in 1943, it was not a good fighting outfit. Paddy immediately had « AAA-O » stenciled on the helmet of every man in the regiment.

When questioned by his corps commander, who had issued orders against such stenciling on helmets, Paddy explained, « That means anything, anywhere, anytime bar nothing. » It was so-explained by General Omar N. Bradley in A Soldier’s Story, but junior officers in the 39th, said they could lick, « Anybody, anyplace, any time bar none. » Regardless of the version, it worked, and Flint made the 39th one of the best-fighting outfits in Europe. (Major General George B. Pickett, Jr.)

This stencil that Paddy accomplished as soon as he took over the regiment was an idea that had to do with demonstrating his “characterlike” leadership techniques in order to build his own new brand of confidence and esprit de corps in the Regiment.

Even the lhelmet’s liners were marked ! When off the front line, it wasn’t unusual to be on duty that required the wear of the helmet liner only, sand everyone seeing these soldiers should know that they were part of « Paddy’s Gang » (Liner courtesy of A. Conreur). 

Technically, I consider three different types of stencil (this is only my own theory from the experience I have. I do not possess all the helmets nor the pictures and based my theory only on what I have and have seen. I might be wrong, or it might be that others stencils exist. If so, please contact me to share your information and to allow me to correct this article):

The first pattern is the early one, made in Sicily: this stencil is a small AAAO painted in thin white lines. At that time, the use of this stencil wasn’t generalized within the 39th Infantry men, but as the regiment arrived in England to prepare the Normandy invasion, the regimental headquarters decided of a new stencil, which basically will be the very same for all the men of the regiment. Then, a third pattern exists, and is quite rare: it is the combination of two stencils that are the same, but one bigger than the other, I called it the “double-markings” stencils.

Finally, a fourth but unique stencil exists: Paddy’s helmet. In order to create a stencil, you cannot make the letter O without cutting into the circle, hence why the ‘O’ of the stencil has three holes in the circle. But Paddy’s helmet was unique in the sense that it had a plain ‘O’, most likely hand-painted! But could we consider it as a fourth pattern? No, since it was only for one helmet!

All the photographs of helmets above show original painted helmets or original photographs. The hereunder photographs shows reproduction painted helmets, to allow the interested reader to recognize an original helmet and not being gouged.

Note on aidman helmet : the 39th Inf. Rgt. (and the 9th Inf. Div. extended) didn’t use any medical markings on their helmet such red or white crosses, of any kind. That tip can help you to find out the fake helmets from the originals