It hides a bald or thinning head of hair.
It is Protection from the sun.
It provides safety as a hard hat.
It can make a Social or political statement.
Hats have been around since 48 BC.
They are tall, round, flat, square or conical.
They are shaped like a boat, bell, stovepipe, or a bucket.
They can be soft or hard.
They are made of fur, felt, cotton, straw, wool, cashmere, linen or tweed. They can be sanded, lubricated, or waterproofed. Sometimes a hatband or sweatband is added.
They are woven, crocheted, knitted, pleated, or molded.
They can also be called a beanie, beret, bowler, derby, sombrero, dunce, mortarboard, fedora, garrison, panama, top hat, sun hat, pillbox, straw boater, boonie hat, or bush hat.
The common BALL CAP is my topic du jour, with a rounded crown and stiff bill projecting in the front: but is frequently worn on the side or back. It has a flat bill or is often shaped to the skull, based on personal preference.
They communicate a high School, college or professional sports team pride, a skateboard manufacturers fan or maybe some personal statements.
My focus are those ball caps that indicate time served in WWII, Korea, Beirut, Iraq, Afghanistan or other conflicts. Some have ribbons and medals embroidered on them while others have attached mini medals or ribbons. There are 21million military vets with over 3 million living combat vets who may be wearing one.
How can you NOT get a warm feeling for the 1% -5 % who served? Most volunteered. Those drafted to Vietnam had a choice to run but chose to serve to protect freedom. Others volunteered to prevent some tyrant from continuing to abuse his people. All wrote a check made out to “the citizens of the USA”, in the amount of “up to including my life”.
“Thanks for your service” is the common response from a very small group who notice the hat and take the time to say something. When we see someone else who served “in country” Vietnam, we typically say to each other “welcome home brother” and then start a conversation about when we served and where: Danang ’68, Chulai ’69, Pleiku ’67, Mekong Delta ’65, Tonkin Gulf ’70, “I” Corp 65, and a conversation will pursue. Sometimes even a hug from the grunt with the Purple Heart and Silver Star.
There was a time when hats were not in style, not just for the in-crowd but for the veteran. Vietnam was especially hit by the guilt of serving an unpopular war where a clear victory was not the result. Some were just trying to avoid the “baby killer” comments of the hippies and peaceniks of the day. Others just wanted to forget or just move on.
The first Gulf War started to produce more pride in our military after 30 years of hostile attitudes. People were willing and even eager to support our troops. Many Vets vowed to “never let it happen to them”. Some would now say with their hats, I am finally able to say I served and I am proud of it.
I wore my hats with pride on some Veterans Days or Memorial Days or when attending Veterans events at the VFW or the American Legion. Over the past 45 years my hats have grown to a dozen. They now sit on my shelf in my home office, all lined up indicating my pride in the Vets service and sacrifices. I see them every day and am reminded of those who did not return and I say a prayer for their families. Also for the POW’s and MIA’s. I say a prayer for safety for the 1 Million serving around the globe today. Will you?
When you see someone with a hat indicating military service it is OK to say “thank you for your service”, but if you wish to really mean it, shake their hand, see what the hat says about them (Purple Heart – wounded, flight wings, silver star for heroism, or just a bunch of colors indicating recognition for serving). They tell a story. Take the time to observe. Those veterans risk their life for your freedom to walk the sidewalk safely, to express your freedom of speech, to worship as you please and to pursue happiness, fame and fortune in the greatest country in the history of the world. Those freedoms would not have happened and continued without their heroism and willingness to serve in the capacity assigned to them once in the military.
Rocket attacks, Mortar rounds, small arms fire, roadside bombs, Improvised explosive devises, bouncing Betty’s, punji sticks, enemy aircraft, surface to air missiles, and so on and so on, come back to haunt combat veterans but not as much as remembering those killed in action? We think of them every day.
What about the wearer of the hat? Proud to have served? You betcha! Wanting to draw attention? Not even close! Wanting to get a thank you? Not in this life! They just want to say, I served, enjoy your freedom, but be ready when it is your turn.
Will you serve? It will be worth it, to see our happy children playing and not working, see people worshiping in their synagogues and churches of their choice, see schools free to teach, see girls playing sports and see women serving in the highest offices of the land. It is for this generation and for the next. I served. Will you?
The hat is the veteran’s way of saying…….well it will be different for each person, but the backdrop will be we served for the future of the citizens and for the good oh US of A.
(Quote from a C-Ration box in KheSanh, Vietnam)….“Life has a special flavor to those who fight for it that the sheltered never know”. Many Veterans are just celebrating life: Theirs and yours. Celebrate with them when you see their hats.
Garry G. Garretson – USN Vietnam 1967-1969