History of the crest
‘Two gold swords, unsheathed, are superimposed on a gold scroll, bearing the official maxim: 'Vigilia Pretium Libertatis' (Vigilance is the Price of Liberty). Two sprays of olive leaves in gold at the bottom of the scroll indicate the dedication of the NATO nations to peace; the swords show the armed strength necessary to preserve peace. The position of the swords produces the letter 'A', representing the Alliance. Within the scroll, and behind the swords, are twelve silver fronds, stemming from the olive sprays, and denoting the original signatories of the North Atlantic Treaty. They produce, by their position, rays of hope. The whole design is superimposed on a shield of dark green, representing the peaceful woods and fields of Europe.
General of the Army Dwight D. Eisenhower, the first Supreme Allied Commander Europe (SACEUR), asked members of the early SHAPE Planning Group to suggest ideas for a distinctive SHAPE insignia to symbolize the purposes and objectives of the NATO nations. The Secretary of the Staff, Colonel Robert J. Wood, United States Army, who was charged with preparation of the insignia, described its evolution as follows:
It would be difficult to credit anyone individual. The basic idea came from the sketch submitted by Mr. Arthus Bertrand (a designer in Paris). This consisted of a circle around the map of the Western hemisphere and included the two swords as used in the final design. The suggested inscription, however, was 'Si Vis Pacem Para Bellum.' (If you wish for peace, prepare for war.) We had to reject this maxim as it did not reflect SHAPE's purposes. But this design did furnish our starting point. The idea of the twelve 'fronds' was suggested by Mr. Arthur Du Bois, the United States Army heraldic expert in Washington. He also suggested the olive leaves.
Mrs. Robert J. Wood, wife of the SHAPE Secretary of the Staff, suggested the motto from John Philpot Curran's speech in 1790 on the right of election: "Vigilia Pretium Libertatis,” vigilance is the price of liberty. General Eisenhower personally added the shield, and Colonel Wood determined the colours to be used.