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R.W. "Dick" Gaines
GySgt USMC (Ret.)

The Old Slouch Hat

I like the book, Soldiers Of The Sea, by Robert Debs Heinl, Jr., Colonel, USMC, for many reasons. I personally consider it to be the most thorough and detailed account of the Marine Corps as it was. And, I also like it, if for no other reason, the opening pages contain the photograph by Lou Lowery of the actual flag raising at Mount Suribachi, Iwo Jima on 23 February 1945--not, mind you, the photograph by Joe Rosenthal of the "replacement" flag raising which occurred later that same morning. And, the scope of Heinl's book is from 1775 thru 1962--just as well, after 1962...well, things began to change in many ways for the old Corps soon after that. In any case, this author presents a most thorough and detailed account of Corps history with information on topics of interest that I've seen in no other writings.

I was surprised to read that Colonel Heinl referred to the service hat, or campaign hat as it is  more popularly known, as the "old slouch hat." Prior to my reading of that I had thought of that term soley as a reference to the Australian campaign-type hat; and this caused me to look into the matter a bit further. But then I recalled that there was that old song by Hank Snow, from back in the 1950s... 
"Just a-Bummin' Around
(Pete Graves)

Got an old slouch hat, got my roll on my shoulder
I'm as free as the breeze, and I'll do as I please
Just a-bummin' around.
I got a million friends, don't feel any older
I've got nothin' to lose, not even the blues
Just a-bummin' around..
Whenever worries start to botherin' me
I grab my coat, my old slouch hat
And hit the trail again, you see.
I ain't got a dime, don't care where I'm goin'
I'm as free as the breeze and I'll do as I please
Just a-bummin' around.

From Sing Your Heart Out Counry Boy
Recorded by T. Texas Tyler;
Jimmy Dean and many others.
Copyright Pete Graves
"The word slouch refers to a hat with a brim that droops down all the way around unless rolled or held .The slouch hat was worn a lot during the American Civil War.Many soldiers, even up to General rank, turned up one leaf and wore some sort of feather, cockade or embellishment."

The Campaign Hat, M1911

Col. Heinl writes of WW II and that Marine officers were urged to contribute their swords to the nation's scap-metal drive. He continues, "Close on the heels of the sword's departure came that of the Sam Browne belt. Still another casualty was the field hat. The old slouch hat, which had sheltered American Marines ever since the Spanish-American War, gave way to stamped cardboard sun helmets, which the troops nicknamed 'elephant hats.'"

Interestingly, he relates that, "But the major change in the Marine family of uniforms was the retirement of khaki from the time-honored status as a field uniform to garrison duty. Although the 4th Marines, some troops on Guadalcanal, and some of the senior defense battalions fought in khaki, the greeen utility clothing, or 'dungarees,' adopted in 1942, became the combat uniform of Marines. With the new dungarees came the shapeless utility cap, an unsightly nuisance destined to plague the Corps for years to come."

 1.  I know that some of Carlson's Raiders went ashore on Makin Island wearing khakis dyed black.
2. My DIs in 1952, and a few others thereafter, always referred to the dungaree cap as a "Gung-Ho Cap.") -RWG

"Still another change in headgear was the new steel helmet, more practical and better protection than World War I's 'tin helmets,' in which Marines fought the early actions of 1941-42. To put a proper Marine imprint on the new helmet came the camouflaged cloth helmet-cover, worn by Marines but by no other Service; often seen in the most desperate fighting in the Pacific, this simple cloth cover came to distinguish and symbolize the assault Marine for years to come, until plagiarized by others..."

Heinl goes on to indicate that in the field of administration there were many changes--company administration moved up to battalion level, this created a specialized group dubbed  "administrative  Brahmins" as specialized administartors to fill the gaps. Rules became so complex and fast-changing that the one time slim leaflet, Hooper's First Sergeant's Guide, outgrew the Marine Corps Manual in bulk and frequently in authority. In 1943 a joint agreement between the War and Navy Departments allowed military police or shore patrols to exercise cross-service authority/jurisdiction, much to the disdain of Marines.

In 1942 a new innovation--personal identification cards for each service-member. Heinl cites a story that goes like this...
"On one ocassion in 1942, when identification cards were new, a Marine sentry on watch at 'Main Navy' detained Admiral King for some minutes (in strict compliance with orders) until the fuming admiral produced his ID card. When King complained to Holcomb, the Major General Commandant sent for the sentry in person--and promoted him to corporal."

"Like all wars, World War II was a killer of traditions...

...A more fundamental lapse was the separation of the Marine from his rifle. Until the war, the rifle issued to each Marine on first enlistment stayed with him until he died, retired, or made sergeant major; under the pressure of wartime supply exigencies, rifles became organizational property like tent pins and mess gear...

...More damaging, however, than any loss of tradition was the loss of a great and loyal friend: when President Roosevelt died in 1945 the Marine Corps lost a supporter whose enthusiasm and pride in the Corps never wavered. With his death ended an era of smooth sailing and warm regard for the Marine Corps (and for the Navy, too) within the executive branch of the government."

There, so you thought this was a webpage soley on the campaign hat. I've touched on a number of topics as brought to light by Col. Heinl; but make no mistake, all these topics are related one way or another. It is  tradition all strung together by an invisible cord of pride,dedication, and facts blended with legend.

Excerpt: "LtCol R.W. HUNTINGTON'S Marine battalion landed at Guantanamo Bay 10 June 1898 wearing linen uniforms, canvas leggings, and frame caps, according to sketches made at the time. Campaign hats, as they were then called, were procured later in the year. By the time the battalion left Cuba, photographs show the officers wearing the new fore-and-aft creased hats with 1875 fatigue jackets, blue trousers, and leggings, and this is the uniform depicted in the print.

A large Marine Corps insignia was worn on the left side of the hat crown and small insignia and captains' bars on the jacket collar. Officers also carried the Mameluke hilted officers' sword, returned to use in 1875 and continued to this day."

Text from "Uniforms of American Marines" ~ The Marine Corps Association.
Reference: Heritage Studio: Marine Corps Gazette Cover
See photos above!

Marine Corps Drill Instructors, PI/SD,Boot Camp, etc. (See "The Smokey")

Note: The hat--creased down the middle fore and aft, was regulation in the Marine Corps from 1898 until 1912 (in 1904 the Marine Corps emblem moved from the left side to front).
Ref: The Marines, Marine Corps heritage Foundation, Simmons/Moskin, 1998

Regarding the campaign hat itself, I personally would have liked to have seen it again re-issued to all Marines again after World War II. Just something about it that spells class. True, it is still worn by shooters and range personnel; and then issued to DIs, subsequent to the Ribbon Creek Incident of 1956. Here is a case where the Marine Corps revived the hat for a group of Marines to asist/reward in their being recognized as the elite.

Conversely, the US Army, a few years ago, took away the Black Beret from one of their own elite units, and gave it to all Soldiers in the US Army. Something to think about.

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