The American Bluejacket's White Hat

by Bob 'Dex' Armstrong

The old trusty raghat was the worldwide symbol of what we were. It was the hallmark of the cocky, lighthearted American bluejacket… The good guys of the sea… Slayers of iron monsters and evil naval power dragons. The men who poured forth from naval warships flying the internationally recognized symbol of freedom to ratchet up the pace of life in sleepy seaports.

The telltale symbol of the American sailor was the hat. It was traditionally worn in a variety of ways… Over one eye… Parked above the bridge of the nose… Cocked to one side or worn perched on the back of the head. This total lack of uniformity was taken by the navy's appointed nannies, the United States Marine Corps, as a nose-thumbing gesture directed at good order, discipline and the foundations of civilized society. The United States Marine Corps has difficulty understanding that there are men in our armed forces who are not totally enamored with dressing up like an organ grinders monkey, marching in step and singing a hymn about spending eternity pulling some kind of watch on the streets of paradise.

His 'screw it all' attitude is the hallmark of American sailors… Or let's say, "It used to be".

So do yourself a favor… Rent the video Sand Pebbles with Steve McQueen or The Last Detail with Jack Nicholson and take a good look at the way an American white hat should be worn… Better yet, watch the entire Victory At Sea series and look at the way the greatest generation wore their hats. Let's call it 'war-winner' style. What idiot jaybird came up with that toilet hopper look of the present day white hat? You know the one… The perfectly round bidet bowl with the rolled lip? It looks stupid… Looks like someone threaded his head and screwed a porcelain birdbath on the bastard.

The Navy's elite honor guard looks silly with their perfectly symmetrical tankless toilet hats. Honor Guards are mostly composed of shore duty ballet-trained show ponies. They wear braided tassels on their shoulders that represent nothing but the fact that they have learned dance step routines and rifle tricks like baton twirlers… It doesn't have a damn thing to do with seagoing sailoring. They are certainly not a model for emulation by saltwater bluejackets.

Who was responsible for this travesty, this senseless dickering with one of the finest national symbols of a justifiable proud naval force? When is naval leadership going to quite monkeying in the world of silly fashion statement and get the hell back to saltwater sailoring?

It is an unfortunate fact that the decisions involving the raghats uniform and the imposition of unwanted unnecessary change are officers, who never wore the white hat long enough to form the affection for it that we did… And lace pantied fashion designers whose only connection with sea service or the military is hawking senseless unnecessary change at the expense of tradition founded in blood sacrifice. This shipmates, is a crying bloody shame, a sad commentary on present day leadership who spend one helluva lot of their time wondering about morale.

If some ranking admiral with influence and a set of deepwater cajones, would send out a directive to the effect that the days of Betty Crocker bowl bluejacket headgear had come to 'all stop' and that the naval establishment would be returning to the World War II winner look, he would become an overnight hero.

Mr. Admiral, sir… Do it soon… Authorize wings in the hats again… Not only authorize it, gahdammit, encourage it… It would be a very meaningful gift to your sailors.

At some point this spring around Memorial Day, the nation is scheduled to dedicate the World War II Memorial. The United States Naval Ceremonial Guard will be present at many of the festivities. Make them look like real sailors and not like clueless, fresh out of boot camp shore duty jaybirds.

I have been to a number of ceremonial functions where these hybrid almost weird folks appear… They look like choreographed circus ponies wearing those silly, stupid looking ceramic spittoon bonnets.

Always some old barnacle encrusted veteran seadog whispers under his breath,

"What in the hell is that, and where in God's name did they come up width those gahdam clown hats?"

Admiral, allow sailors the freedom to imitate and follow the traditions of previous generations of sailors. We're not Grenadier guards, Rockettes, the Copenhagen Ballet… We're sailors… United States Navy.

I'll bet that every time Admiral Arleigh Burke looks down from his cloud conning bridge in Paradise and gets a load of those baptismal font hats, he damn near launches his lunch.

The powers that be in our naval hierarchy, have had to cut down, reduce and eliminate much of what was once the heart and core of our naval establishment. Parts and components that once had 'Made in the USA' stamped all over them are no longer available within the continental limits of the USA. We have become very 'overseas' dependent. At one point, we were informed that the Army's fashion statement desk-bound fashion generals had decided to put the entire Army in black beanies made in Red China… Red China, the outfit that poured over the Yalu River and slaughtered Americans… The folks who supplied our enemies weapons in the Viet-Nam War… The folks that still supply our enemies weapons, medium and long range missiles, intelligence and sophisticated training… If the short memory monkeys who force uniform change had had their way, our entire Army would be sporting black beanies made by Communist slave labor… Beat that.

Force manpower levels require the extortion payment of recruitment, reenlistment and specialty retention bribes that amount to tens of thousands of dollars. Sad, when you think that all the bastards promised us, was tough training, rough duty and the opportunity to earn Dolphins, if we could measure up… If we were good enough… Man enough. Nobody tucked any wampum in our jumper pockets or kissed us in the vicinity of our bellbottom gussets.

Give'em back their white hats with the wings… Return to the days when the fleet turned a blind eye to the eccentricities of individual expression… The days when our sailors were the happy-go-lucky lads of a single naval force. When raghats worn at cocky angles told the less fortunate of the planet that the rollicking American bluejackets had dropped anchor or put their lines over… And, that the sealanes of the world were safe and secure. They were kept so, by those wonderful men who wore their headgear with a decided list and sporting wings.

And remember, use the Victory at Sea series as a guide if your tour in the navy began in the era of our bidet bonnet navy. Give'em back the cocky 'go to hell' raghat and become a hero to every raghat whoever pissed against the wind in service to the greatest naval power that ever was.