By Sgt. Ray Duncan

“Put the flag at half-staff,” muttered our CO, “and call a special formation.”

There were tears in his steel-gray eyes as he read from WD Circular 288, dated 21 September 1945. “I’ve seen this coming, men,” he said when he finished. “The Army isn’t what it used to be. I’m resigning my commission today. Sergeant, dismiss the troops.”

The circular amazed us as much as it did him. “The field jacket,” it said, “is authorized to be worn as an outer garment outside the limits of posts, camps and stations.”

In those words the Army shattered on of its proudest tradition. I can’t imagine how it ever happened in Washington, but it must have gone something like this:

“Gentlemen, I’ve called you together this morning because we are faced with a crisis. I hardly know how to begin. Certain elements within the War Department have suggested that–it’s utterly fantastic–that we authorize the field jacket as an outer garment outside the posts, camps and stations!”

Everyone gasps. “Pardon me, general, but did I hear you correctly? The field jacket to be worn in town? By enlisted men?”

“I’m afraid that’s right. it’s this new, radical element that’s come into the Army the past three or four years.”

“Smart alecs!” snaps Col. Bloy. “After the long fight we made to keep EM out of those jackets in town!”

“This strikes a death blow to Army discipline,” groans Maj. Riddle, his face buried in his hands. “Don’t they realize how good those damn jackets look? What becomes now of the distinction between officers and enlisted men?”

“Well,” sighs the colonel, “it won’t make much difference now. All the EM are wearing those Eisenhower things anyhow. That was a big mistake.”

“Right, colonel. That’s what happens when you let combat men start prescribing the uniform. It should be strictly a Washington function.”

“When I think,” sighs Col. Whistling, “of the long, hard fight I made against the field jacket. I had kept my MPs on their toes. Every October I gave them a special pep talk, and they grabbed hundreds of field jackets in town. My guards at the gate were trained to pick up passes ruthlessly whenever they found an EM trying to sneak past in a jacket, and–”

“At my post,” interrupts Col. Kidley, “the enlisted men were mighty tricky. They used to smuggle field jackets out in cars, or cram them through the fence.”

“Ah, those good old days,” says a colonel wistfully. “I always thought AR 600-40 phrased it so beautifully. It was almost poetry: ‘The field jacket will not be worn outside the limits of posts, camps or stations…'”

Everyone sighs deeply. “I made a suggestion, back in 1943, that I still think was rather good,” says a colonel. “I proposed at the time that AR 600-40 be amended to forbid the wearing of field jackets inside posts, camps and stations as well as outside. EM have been getting too many dates with Government girls working on the posts. Also on the camps and stations. That sort of thing could be prevented. Make them wear the good old EM blouse.”

“That brings up a thought,” says a colonel craftily. “We can permit the field jacket on EM in town for a while. A lot of them will re-enlist. Then, in a few months, when these radical officers have gone, we can lower the boom! All of a  sudden we’ll re-invoke old AR 600-40, and–”

“–field jackets will not be worn!” chortles a colonel.

“Class-A uniforms only in town!” someone cries.

“Good old EM blouse! Tight across the chest! Narrow shoulders–”

“This time we’ll pad the hips. That’ll make the shoulders look even smaller–”

“And the little lapels! Those nice, ridiculous little EM lapels.”

“We’ll change the color–it’s too bright now. And the cloth must be coarser somehow.”

“That’ll be the day!” cries a general. All the officers rise and shake hands. They then snap to attention, uncover and chant in chorus: “the field jacket will not be worn outside the limits of posts, camps or stations.

field jacket us army officers ww2

For Further Reading Check Out:

U.S. Army Uniforms of World War II

GI Collector’s Guide: Army Service Forces Catalog, U.S. Army European Theater of Operations

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