The “Ruptured Duck” in License Plate Topper Form

During the first half of the last century, license plate toppers were a popular way to show pride in things like your profession, club membership, military service, and the places you lived or visited. The topper pictured above is a representation of the army’s WWII honorable discharge insignia, an eagle perched within a wreath; however, many thought it looked more like a duck. The emblem became popularly known as the “ruptured duck” since it denoted leaving the service and there was a popular saying of the day that went something like, “he was out of there like a ruptured duck.” It was a necessity as servicemen left the service wearing their uniforms, and the insignia let MPs and others know they weren’t AWOL.

Emblem was sewn over the left breast pocket of the uniform.

The symbol was sewn on the uniform, but it was also worn as a gold lapel pin. Newspaper stories from 1945 complained that any “grafter or grifter with the cash” could purchase this token of honorable discharge. Stores were required to obtain a license from the U.S. Army Adjutant General’s office to sell the discharge emblems, and salespeople were supposed to see discharge papers before making the sale, but frequently no attempt was made to determine the service status of the buyer. The limiting dates were September 9, 1939, and December 31, 1946, and some individuals did encounter legal problems by wearing the insignia when they were not entitled to.

By 1947, newspapers were reporting that the ruptured duck would soon be extinct; so many were eligible to wear it that it was no longer seen as a badge of distinction. However, they were apparently still seen on college campuses where eligible bachelors would wear them upside down as a signal to co-eds that they were available and unattached. The ruptured duck also made a comeback in 1949 due to a tightening job market with job applicants using the honorable discharge emblems to get an edge with potential employers.

In regard to license plate toppers like the one shown above, they were being manufactured as early as 1946 as evidenced by this advertisement published in the classifieds section of a Valparaiso newspaper in January of that year:


Advertisement. Keene Tire Service. Vidette-Messenger [Valparaiso], 8 Jan 1946, p. 7.

Nial, Major Thomas M. “Ruptured Ducks of Service Men Go Out of Style.” Ogden Standard Examiner, 25 Feb 1949, p, 6A.

“Ruptured Duck in Comeback, DAV Head Says.” Deseret News, 26 Oct 1949, p. A-2.

“Ruptured Duck Wearer Arraigned.” El Paso Times, 1 Mar 1946, p. 11.

“Ruptured Duck Will Soon Be as Extinct as a Dodo.” Newark Advocate, 21 Aug 1947, p. 12.

Whitney, David C. “Non-Vets Join Market for Ruptured Duck. ” Wisconsin State Journal, 16 Dec 1945, p. 12.

1956 Cadillac with a Holdrege, Nebraska topper
1954 Ford with a House of Yesterday (museum) topper