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Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Uniforms And The Statement They Make

There has been a good deal of conversation about outward signs of patriotism the last week, most notably here, and in particular about the wearing of an American Flag pin on a man's suit lapel. That conversation, coupled with a couple of events this past week led me to a thought about uniforms and the meaning behind them. I have worn a uniform of one kind or another from the time I was six years old until 2002, so I have some understanding of what they mean.

The most attractive uniform I have worn were those of the U.S. Marine Corps. The Marine Corps has quite a storied history, and there are interesting things about the history that are reflected in the uniform. One fact is the red striping on the trousers for NCOs. It commemorates the battle of Chapultepec in Mexico where 80% of the Marine NCOs were killed in a single battle.

Another is the Croix de guerre, which is a loop worn from the shoulder under the arm for members of the 5th Marine Regiment. It was awarded those Marines by the French for saving Paris in WWI. (As the french left Paris, they encountered the 5th Marines who had just arrived in France. They told the Marines that the Germans were taking Paris and to retreat, to which the Marine commander replied: "Retreat hell, we just got here!" and we went forward, severely over matched in numbers, and evicted the Germans.)

Marines in Korea wore wrap around leggings at the bottom of their utility(combat fatigues) uniform that were tan in color, and they were called "yellow-legs" by the Koreans and Chinese. Marines were ordered not to wear them, because the enemy would avoid contact with them if they saw the leggings.

There is the fact that Marines do not wear nameplates on their blues, and until 1992 never wore them on any uniform. It was to communicate that the name of an individual was unimportant, and that calling him "Marine" was good enough.

I have had my dinner purchased by strangers when wearing a Marine uniform, and have had drinks sent over in various places by people I never laid eyes upon. The respect and gratitude was shown, and it was always appreciated. The uniform conveys duty, honor, integrity, commitment, and the knowledge that Marines try to live by the adage: "Death Before Dishonor". The expression that my platoon was allowed to use in Boot Camp before we hit the rack each night was "Death Before Dishonor, sir; We Will Die Marines".

Another uniform of which I am familiar is that worn by the Boy Scouts of America (BSA). I wore a Boy Scout uniform in my youth, and have purchased a new one to wear as I am a den leader for my son's Tiger Scout den. I have worn it in public a couple of times now, and just last night stopped at a store to purchase snacks for our meeting. As I am in public wearing it, I get nods and smiles and double-takes. I found this interesting. People respect the uniform of certain organizations, and I have proudly worn them in my life, constantly striving to do so with the dignity and respect that is due.

So why do people approve and admire uniforms? Of course the dress blue alpha uniform of the Marines demands respect. It creates awe. I know more than a few Marines who enlisted initially just because they would get to wear it. I think that people admire the uniforms of Marines or Scouts because people are basically the same. They know the good works and the positive statements behind the uniforms, and admire those who sacrifice and serve.

Take the Cub Scouts. The Cub Scout motto is "Do Your Best" and we try to teach this by understanding and by role model to our little ones. There is nothing but positives involved in boy scouting, and I will tell you that every Boy Scout I know that stayed with the program is the kind of man I would want my son to be. Dedicated. Clean. Respectful. Loyal. The kind of person who would give the shirt off his back to help someone. A man who is self-reliant and confident. A man who works hard to achieve success and does not expect it to be handed to him.

Strip away the politics and the daily grind and crazy schedules and people yearn for the simply honesty and commitment of the Scouts. The Cub Scout Oath: "I, ________, promise to do my best, to do my duty, to God and my country, and to obey the law of the pack". Simple, yet meaningful is it not? The Law of the Pack: "A cub scout follows akela (leader), a cub scout helps the pack go, the pack helps the cub scout grow, a cub scout gives goodwill". A concise statement of positive efforts.

I don't look as good in the BSA uniform as I did in my dress blues. Forty pounds and 15 years have not been kind to my combat lean figure; my running shoes have fallen apart from dry rot, not from use. People know that those who wear a uniform have something that motivates them to do so. They know that the uniform is an outward expression of pride and membership. They instinctively are aware that when all else fails, that those people who wear those uniforms will be there.

People notice those Marines and then go about their day. People nod to the Boy Scout Leader, smile and grin at the Scouts themselves, and then walk on down the potato chip aisle and forget all about it. People in my neighborhood and at my grocery store and at the church where the Scouts meet take for granted that there are Scout leaders around, and that I wear one. It goes without mention or without conscious thought.

Outward expressions mean things. While not the cumulative statement of who we are or where we have been, they tell people a little about ourselves and what we believe in. My car has an Auburn University symbol on the rear window. It has a Marine Corps decal on it as well. During football season I display an Auburn flag on my front porch. My yard needs a weed whacker, so people know I am either too busy or too lazy to keep up with my yard (some of both, perhaps). I wear a Birmingham Barons baseball cap because my family takes in game after game of the minor league team during the summer.

Anytime that people see these things they know something about me, and those that see me routinely take it for granted and don't notice. I bet they would notice if one day they were gone, though, and perchance do you think they would wonder if I had cancelled my commitment to those things I used to display so proudly?

10 Posts From Readers:

The Liberal Lie The Conservative Truth said...

Well thought out post. What we wear is or the allegances we show in sports, etc. do tell who we are and are anexpression of whatwe believe and feel.

That to is one more argument about Barack Obabd and his reasons for NOT wearing a flag lapel pin.

Good post!

Wadical said...

I think you made the point quite well that people tend to believe what they see. Uniforms broadcast membership. At a glance, one can see what you represent and what kind of person you are supposed to be. It says "trust me" and it says it well. It says, "I earned this, no one just gave it to me....I earned it." People trust the uniform without ever even knowing the person who dons it.

Despite what a few of your readers would have others believe, people make judgments about other people DAILY, based solely on what they see. I saw a person walking through Wal-Mart the other day wearing a crocheted Rastafarian hat around his dreadlocks. He had Bo Derek beads in his braided beard. He was wearing a bright yellow t-shirt with a huge green marijuana leaf on it. He had so many piercings, he looked like someone hit him in the face with a tackle box. (I'm not joking. I could have made some damn nice spinner baits out of some of the stuff hanging out of this kids face.) I'm not going to lie, my opinion of just who he was and what he stood for was formed in my mind before we even passed each other. I don't really care one way or the other, my point is that this dude went to a lot of trouble to outfit himself so as to advertise what he stood for. I wasn't disappointed in my initial assessment of this young man as when he passed, I noticed his glazed over blood-shot eyes and a strong smell of pot. He broadcast, I judged, he proved it and I was right.

People make judgments all the time based on how we present ourselves. That includes how we dress, the way we carry ourselves, our manners, our demeanor...a wealth of information that we exude without even opening our mouths. I remember thinking to myself: "I wonder what he does for a living? Mooch off Mom and Dad? Because unless he has some menial labor job or works at a tattoo parlor, this kid is bound to remain unemployed." He may be a swell guy. But no one will ever give him the chance to prove it because he chooses to advertise himself as a lazy pothead.

Why judgments based on manner of dress or presentation shouldn't also apply by the same logic to someone who is running for the highest office in this land baffles me. You're selling yourself to the American people as a patriot. Personally I wouldn't have noticed one way or the other if he was wearing a flag pin or not. But the fact remains that he has placed himself on display. He has chosen to be a spectacle to the media......and he was asked "WHY". Too bad. You gotta have an answer. It sucks that it comes down to that but you must have an answer. It is not his decision to not wear his pin that is the issue. It was his answer as to WHY. Simple as that. His reason was left open to the speculation (not a far fetched one at that) that it was in some sort of protest because he disagreed with the United States involvement in Iraq. So, Mr. John Q Public deducts from that answer that Mr. Obama will forsake the symbols of his nation as a form of protest. "I'm not proud to be an American, right now so I'm not wearing my little pin". Who gives a crap about the pin, whaddaya mean you're not proud to be an American??? You're running for President of the United States, pal. You damned well better be proud to be an American! He pooped in his cornflakes with that answer. No doubt. It might not be fair. But that's politics.

Robert (Conservative Commentary) said...

Thanks for the extensive post Wadical. You are right on about all that you say. We do make judgments. I am discriminatory - in where I eat, in what kind of car I buy, in the music i listen to. I am prejudiced - When I hire someone I want them clean and bright and professional. The guy you described would neither work for me nor date my daughter.

I am not shy about making those types of judgments about some pathetic looing person in Wal-Mart who does as you describe, and give the appearance of (my word is loser) whatver just to go against what is considered appropriate. He then will complain to the high heavens that no one will give him a break.

I care not that Obama wore a pin. I personally never noticed him with or without it. But a casual question met with a bonehead answer gave me pause to question the removal. if he had never had one I would not have thought a single thing about it.

Come back often.

TrekMedic251 said...

Hello,...this is the TrekMedic. Your application for membership in the Red November Initiative was e-mailed to you tonight. I look forward to adding you to the list,....any friends of Jenn and Wadical must be OK. ;-)

Robert (Conservative Commentary) said...

Thanks Trek! I gladly position myself on that row of bloggers.

I have seen your posts on other sites. Please drop by as often as you wish.

Karen said...

Really terrific post, Robert. It hit home to me on different levels.

My son recently finished his requirements for Eagle Scout. We are very proud of him, sticking with it all these years. I am proud my husband could be a co-leader of the troop.

I never knew that about the nameplates on a Marine's uniform. Interesting. My husband is a USAF vet from the Vietnam days. He is happy for the chance to buy a meal or drinks for service men or women as he travels around the country or the world for work, or runs into anyone in uniform in a restaurant. Pay it forward.

As a kid, I have strong memories of touring Barksdale Air Force Base with my uncle, a Colonel, now of course long retired. It was so cool to us as kids to have the people on base salute him as they passed by.

Thanks for stopping by my blog and commenting. You're welcome any time.

TRUTH-PAIN said...

Damn,... you REALLY have been busy (talk about the need to catch up...)
I took a micro-sabbatical of a few days to re-load, so I've not had a chance to read you posting(s),...

Let me just leave you with this brief memory before I come back later to reply at length:

It was between the Navy and Marine Corp back when I was looking to join the Armed Services late in 1980,... the Marine uniform had the Corps ahead by a cap scrambled egg in my thoughts..... , but in the end, my love of the Sea (not to mention rumors about "a woman in every port", won my head,...er heart.

.... but man is that USMC uniform pretty.... better than the stupid monkey suit with neckerchief I was forced to throw on....

Robert (Conservative Commentary) said...

You could have had that in the Marines too, T-P. We appreciate the rides to the war, and women love us. Plus we get to kill people and break things.

My dad is a retired Marine. We were always very proud of him frowing up and admired it. However, he never once pushed us to be Marines. He would always extoll the virtues of the Corps, but always said that we had to find our own way.

He encouraged us to become Naval Officers if we didn't choose the Corps. My father always had, and still does, a respect for the Navy officer corps that transcends all but the respect for Marine officers.

Which is quite the opposite of the stories I have heard about barfights with squids along the entire coast of Cali...LOL.

TRUTH-PAIN said...

... Ditto that.

I was in in the Gator fleet during my last year... Amphib base in San Diego. We pickup up a ton of Jar-Heads at Pendleton and took them to places like Okinawa, Guam and Diego Garcia so they could practice stormin' the beaches on the hovercrafts..... and yes,... some of those fights were titanic enough that no size of Shore Patrol could break them apart.... they just kept mowing each other down until someone bought the next round of 3.5% alcohol-beer..... then we all mosey-ed back to the bar....

Robert (Conservative Commentary) said...

I never had the fun of riding one of the LCACs; I did all of my amphib assaults in AMTRACS, but my brother did and said it is as much fun as you can possibly have conducting an amphibious assault...

Those cold brews have probably saved a bunch of nose cartilage...

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