By R.W. "Dick"
Gaines GySgt USMC
(Ret.) 1952-72 ALL RIGHTS
RESERVED! 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
Mount Suribachi, Iwo Jima on 23 February 1945--not, mind you, the
photograph by Joe Rosenthal of the "replacement" flag raising which
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
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 GG APR99"
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."
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.
"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."
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.