Navy SEALS, Army Green Berets, and Marine Reconnaissance are just of the few forces in the U.S. military that are considered the best of the best. The Navy SEALS earn their beloved Trident, Army Green Berets proudly wear their unique headgear, and Marine Recon team members usually get their insignia tattooed onto themselves.
Each of these symbols are considered the marks of a powerful and well-trained instrument of war. But back in the World War I era, German troops had a different idea. They’d travel high up in the Alps, far above the tree line, just to pick a very small flower — one that would show others that they were true warriors.
The edelweiss, otherwise known as Leontopodium alpinum, is a flower native to the Alps and is a national icon in Switzerland. The name, in German, is a combining of the words for ‘noble’ and ‘white.’ It’s beautiful, unique, and it grows more than 10,000 feet above sea level, so finding one means you’ve made quite the hike.
Daring German troops would haul their gear straight up the mountain, reach the top of the tree line, and search for the precious little, white flower. If you saw someone who managed to bring one back down, you know they’d climbed mountains for it.
This prestigious act wasn’t for soldiers alone. Reportedly, in the 19th century, the edelweiss was associated with purity and Swiss patriotism. In fact, countless young men would risk their lives in attempts to retrieve the unique little flower and give it to their brides.
In 2001, HBO’s classic mini-series Band of Brothers featured the small flower:
Today, the edelweiss flower is still worn by various Austrian, Swiss, Polish, and German troops.