Prestige of the Soldier
By MAJOR A. M. KAMP, JR.
The Quartermaster Review – May/June 1954
The man was wearing the uniform of a soldier. He sauntered about the bus terminal with no apparent objective but to mingle with the people coming and going, and to stand in front of the magazine and newsstand, ogling the pictures of half-nude females.
Occasionally, he would enter a room bearing a sign over the door marked ”Gentlemen.” Each time he reappeared carrying a wire-net basket of soiled paper hand towels, which he dumped into a large canvas bag in the rear of the terminal.
A smartly dressed soldier standing at the ticket counter asked the agent, “who is that character in the soiled OD’s, with not hat, wandering around here? He’s a disgrace to the uniform and should be picked up by the MP’s. The ticket agent looked up, laughed, and said, ”He’s no soldier. He just Cleans up around here, and empties the trash cans. He was never in the Army in his life.”
As early as 1946, short months after millions of veterans returned to civilian life from fighting World War II, street cleaners, trashmen, garbage collectors, and tramps began to appear dressed in parts of uniforms, the type still being worn by our soldiers. Some of these individuals were veterans wearing out their Army clothing on the job. In many other cases the uniforms were discarded by veterans to be picked up by some tramp or derelict who at once adopted the new clothing as his Sunday-best.
Because Army clothing was inexpensive, easy to obtain, and most suitable for wear in the elements, anyone who spent a great deal of his time outdoors made it a point to visit the local surplus sales store for his clothing needs. Hunters, fishermen, construction workers, and other classes of outside workers took on the appearance of soldiers equipped for field duty.
A farmer in Fairfax, Va., purchased complete uniforms for his hired help so that they would be comfortably and warmly dressed to do the chores and other labors about his farm. One of the farm hands was arrested by the Armed Forces Police for not being in proper uniform. He was released with an apology after it was ascertained that he was not a member of the Army.
Lieutenant George F. Corrigan, Adjutant of the Armed Forces Police in the Military District of Washington, says, ”Our men have a tough job. They are often embarrassed and criticized for seemingly overstepping their authority when civilians have been mistakenly picked up as improperly dressed soldiers. It is an awkward situation, and cannot be coped with unless there is a law passed to stop this business.”
Tremendous stocks of surplus clothing and equipment were dumped on the civilian market by the War Assets Corporation for consumer, capital, and producer goods. The War Department announced in February of 1946 that the Surplus Property Administration had directed some $40,000,000 worth of clothing and materials, which had been declared surplus be turned over to the War Assets Corporation for disposal in this way.
Prisons and workhouses purchased great quantities of shoes, trousers, shirts, sweaters, and dungarees for their inmates at great savings. Road gangs from these institutions seen repairing the highways took on the appearance of Army fatigue details under armed guard, which in many instances required explanation to irate citizens who witnessed such scenes.
Much discredit has been heaped upon the Army as a result of pictures of apprehended thugs or bandits wearing some part of an Army uniform. The immediate conclusion of the public is that another ex-soldier has gone bad-the fault of the Army. Insult is sometimes added to injury when a local ”badboy,” after being incarcerated for robbing some rich widow, is pictured in an ”Ike” jacket and has never been in the Army, but is identified as an ex-GI.
Police teletype lookout reports, of which there are approximately 100 per day received by police headquarters in the Washington area, indicate that one out of every eight descriptions of a male thug to be picked up describes him as wearing some item of an Army uniform-an implication that the individual was, or is, a soldier.
The soldier, being constantly confronted with the debauching of his uniform-a court-martial offense in his case-soon loses pride in wearing it. His prestige is gradually being degraded because of the contempt shown the uniform.
The uniform has taken on all the aspects of a football. Modifications and changes have been kicked around so much and for so long that a soldier develops mental anguish whenever he must decide whether or not to purchase a new one. His problem-how much wear will he get out of his new outfit before a change requires him to purchase another one.
After World War II the Army had a problem. The Ike’ jacket was designed for field wear, to be worn beneath a field jacket. A blouse, similar in design to those worn by officers, was authorized but never was manufactured. Therefore it became necessary to consider ways and means of making the present uniform more attractive for general service and dress wear.
A series of War Department circulars directed that jackets be tailored to fit more snugly, and waist lines shortened to eliminate wrinkling. Chevrons, collar ornaments, service stripes, and decorations were added, completing the dress-up plan.
Although this program did tend to improve the appearance of the uniform, an enlisted reservist who came back on active duty for a short period as a military escort for returning war dead remarked, “This is all very fine, but no matter what you do to this outfit, it’s still like trying to make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear.”
The reservist was not the only one who realized that more than just a little tailoring and trimming was required to improve the appearance of the soldier. In August of 1946 the Army started scrimmage again; this time to kick around the idea of adopting a blue uniform for all troops, which would replace the olive drab service uniform for general service and dress.
The War Department began a survey throughout the Army to learn what the individual soldier would like in the way of a blue uniform. Six teams, of six men and two WAC’s each, were selected to model several combinations of the proposed uniforms before large groups of soldiers stationed at post all over the world. A questionnaire was distributed during the modeling sessions, and the soldiers made their selections.
Before the program could be completed, the models and their experimental uniforms were ordered home. Because of large appropriation cuts the adoption of new uniforms for the Army had to be shelved. Relatively few soldiers were given the opportunity to view the new blues.
In the meantime the soldier had to be content with wearing his OD uniform, sharing it with bums, derelicts, and criminals. Besides, the stock of ”Ike” jackets was still plentiful and had to be used up.
After the Korean War began, the Department of the Army concluded that to raise the prestige of the infantry soldier, something had to be done about making him a little more outstanding. Realizing that a touchdown was out of the question, a field goal was attempted.
Another circular was distributed, announcing that to the same old OD uniform could be added a light blue scarf, light-blue plastic discs as backing for collar ornaments and cap insignia, and light-blue brocaded shoulder cords. This attempt to improve the appearance of the uniform was not very enthusiastically received.
A Korean veteran being confronted with a soldier dressed in one of these new ”get-ups” said, ”Migawd, he looks like the doorman at the Waldorf Astoria dressed up in olive drab.”
While the Korean conflict was at its peak, another attempt was made by the Army to adopt a completely new uniform, this time of gray-green color, and trimmed in gold. The entire 3rd Infantry Regiment was equipped with the new-look uniforms to test them for a period of one year.
Soldiers of the regiment apparently approved of the uniform outside of the complaint that the material would not withstand normal wear. One soldier said.” This outfit has that ‘Ike’ jacket beat a dozen different ways. Outside of wrinklin’ up fast and baggin’ at the knees, it feels comfortable and looks good. We get lots of complements on it.”
Although it appeared to be a step in the right direction, particularly because it was a complete change from the drab OD, plans to adopt it were cancelled because the material did not wear well. However, General J. Lawlon Collins, before he left the Department of the Army as Chief of Staff, approved for wear after regular duty hours, a dress blue uniform for enlisted men.
The blue uniform will not be issued, but can be purchased at the option of the individual. Many enlisted men have indicated approval of the new blues but few if any will want to purchase one at a cost of approximately eighty dollars.
A proposal to adopt a uniform similar in cut and color to the officer semi-dress uniform for general service wear by all personnel was studied recently. The uniform if approved would have consisted of a dark-green blouse, and light-gray, or ”pink” trousers. The proposal was disapproved and the football game is once again in progress.
The large number of men who have entered and left the Army since World War II and the Korean War indicates that much of our uniform stocks have been depleted. Soon more uniforms will be required. Prestige and morale of the soldier can be upgraded considerably if a new uniform, which is attractive and military looking, is selected and manufactured in place of the present drab OD’s.
Prestige of the soldier reflects on the service as a whole. During national emergencies he is held in the greatest esteem by the public and Congress. But when his country seems to be out of crucial and immediate danger, and budgets must be trimmed, he becomes a target for the knife wielders.
Since 1946 this has been one of the biggest stopgaps to the adoption of a new uniform for the Army. Prestige and morale, the basis for building and maintaining a spirited, well-trained Army, have suffered as a result, in addition to the fact that the Army apparently has no exclusive rights to the wearing of the uniform.
Private Maurice Wisel, who lives in Arlington, Va., reported that, “I thought the Army took over the building of the underpass at Glebe Road and Arlington Boulevard. Several of the men working on the project were wearing ‘Ike’ jackets, combat boots, and overseas caps. I saw one guy with the Seventh Army shoulder patch on his sleeve.”
A new uniform of different style and color would tend to correct the misuse of the present one, because troops would no longer wear the same items of clothing released to the public through surplus sales. However, this would be but a temporary respite until such time as released servicemen either discarded the new uniform or used it for gardening, fishing, hunting, or as work clothes.
Debauchery of the uniform has become easy. Existing laws require only that distinctive insignia be removed in order to change it from a uniform to an item of clothing that can be worn by anyone not connected with the Army. The individual soldier dare not consider using any part of his uniform for civilian wear–he would be charged with violating uniform regulations.
The law is clear, but what person can conclude that someone dressed in an Army uniform without insignia is not a soldier when even our Armed Forces Police are sometimes confused.
Solution of the problem would require the passage of a law, setting forth additional restrictions which would apply to the civilian populace who purchase surplus uniforms as well as released servicemen who take their uniforms with them.
The law should simply provide that in addition to the removal of distinctive insignia a further restriction should be imposed that would require the color to be changed. This is the crux of the entire problem.
There is nothing more distinctive about an Army uniform than its color. Alter the color and the whole appearance is different. Dye it black, brown, green, or any other color and it no longer looks like a uniform.
Until steps are taken to correct this situation, the prestige of the soldier will be parallel to that of the type of character we read about in the newspapers ”Man wearing GI clothing arrested.”