Military rank signified by the use of insignias and patches has a history that extends back to Roman times. The Romans were perhaps the first army to make extensive use of emblems and symbols. The Roman Eagle and Winged Victories are two of the most famous emblems of the Roman military.
The American Revolutionary Army developed most of its rank insignia and structure from the British Army, as did the United States Navy from the Royal Navy. During the Revolutionary War, the American Army was very poor and unable to buy uniforms so rank insignias were very important and often designated by colors attached to headgear. In 1780, the first regulations were instituted by Gen. George Washington stipulating that major generals should wear two stars on their shoulders while brigadier generals should wear one star.
By the time of the Civil War (1861-1865), the United States Army was better organized and better equipped. Rank structure was designated not only by insignias and colors but also by uniforms and weapons. By 1836 first lieutenants wore a single silver bar, captains wore double silver bars and majors/ lieutenant colonels wore oak leaves. Second lieutenants were given the “butterbars” in 1917. The classic Chevron V stripes on the sleeves were first used to designate rank at the West Point Academy in 1817 although the use of chevrons was used in Europe before this time. The V was flipped from point down to point up in time for World War I. During World War II the technical grades were introduced. These evolved into the specialist ranks (E-4, etc). These pay grades had nothing to do with rank necessarily, and so began the confusion of having ranks in addition to grades.
Throughout the history of the military, rank has been used to easily and quickly establish seniority in any kind of emergency or combat situation. It is here that rank and insignia have their strength. For any military to be effective, it must work smoothly and efficiently and therein lies the power and importance of rank. By saluting, you are acknowledging this power and by wearing your insignia proudly you are showing that you are part of the military and that you proudly serve and defend the United States of America.