Recently, I bought a black and white photo of WW2 GI’s at Fort Sill, Oklahoma. On first glance at the photo, it appears to be just a routine training photo. But on second glance, wow!
It will be noted that the older gentleman is a Captain in his dress uniform, but with a D.I. type hat complete with strap. He seems to be instructing some younger men on the art of mortar round firing. To his left in the photo is a somber man who is a dead ringer for actor Jimmy Stewart. Stewart actually began his military career as an enlisted man working his way up from private to corporal before it was learned that he was an experienced licensed pilot prior to joining the U.S.A.A.C. The rest is history as he worked himself up to becoming the first actor in uniform in WW2, and also being decorated with the Silver Flying Cross by none other than Gen. James Doolittle. I will leave this up to your imagination as to whether this is indeed Jimmy Stewart. On comparing it with some of his photos as an enlisted man, it sure looks like him!
This is still not what the second glance revealed! This photo is the only one I have ever owned which shows that GI’s in WW2 actually wore denim uniforms. They were called ‘fatigue uniforms’ used for training purposes, as well as, doing manual labor.
The first denim type uniforms were used in the First World War by members of certain units of the U.S. Army. They were authorized as trainee uniforms up until 1941, at which time they were discontinued. Some units continued using them until the supplies ran out. This could have been for the continuation of WW2.
Another thing that is unusual is that the three enlisted men are not only wearing denims, but they are also out of uniform. All three are using overseas caps, commonly known as ‘Conk Caps’ when I first enlisted in the U.S.A.F.! These were also known as garrison caps. The hat most commonly worn with the denim uniforms was playfully called a ‘Daisy Mae’! The denim uniforms were used in the late 1930’s because the Army had a meager budget. They decided that, in order to save money, they would just draw upon the most common outfits worn by the civilian population, as well as, the CCC workers, which was denim.
Another use for the denim uniforms was when German prisoners of war were shipped to the U.S.A, they were given the castoffs of GI’s who had begun wearing the new O.D. herringbone fatigue uniforms. The German prisoners did not seem to mind wearing castoffs as most of them had been denigrated to wearing rags when captured by American GI’s. All that was necessary to make a POW uniform was to place the proper markings on them.
Another interesting thing about this photo is that the men are being trained on old type mortars. Fort Sill was, and still is, known as an artillery school. I suppose we will never know the whole truth about this photo. Was it just to show a phase of training, or was it actually a training tool to show men how to properly load and fire mortar rounds?