Here’s a an interesting, albeit useless, piece of WWII trivia: check out these photos of armored division soldiers in WWII. Notice anything unusual about them? Specifically, the way they wear their caps?
Several years ago, a WWII veteran of the 13th Armored Division came to a Veterans Breakfast Club event and told a story about the superstition surrounding his outfit. He said his division received special privileges because of their unlucky numerical designation. They laughingly referred to themselves as the “Black Cat” division, a nickname that stuck.
The veteran said that members of the 13th Armored Division were permitted to wear their garrison or overseas caps cocked slightly to the left, instead of to the right like everyone else. MPs often stopped and cited these men for being out of uniform, unaware of the 13th Armored’s special exemption.
I thought of this story recently and tried to find a source on it. Turns out, the veteran was half-right. He did get special permission to tilt his cap to the left. But it wasn’t because of the number 13. The entire US Armored Force wore their overseas caps on the left as part of a compromise reached with the Army. Maj. Gen. Jacob Devers, head of the US Armored Force in 1942, asked General George C. Marshall for a distinct dress uniform for his troops, but the request was denied. Devers protested, but all he could win was the right for armored troops to wear their overseas caps tilted left.
“Get that cap on the left side of your head, soldier,” the saying went. “You’re in the Armored Force now.”
After the war, most armored divisions were deactivated, and by the time they were reactivated for Korea and the Cold War, the Army had forgotten all about the special wrong-way-tilt of the cap.
In a 1957 issue of the journal ARMOR, one Captain Virgin M. Gordon, a tank commander in the Ohio National Guard, demanded that the left-hand tilt be brought back, along with other elements of the Armored Force uniforms. “Let’s tilt the caps to the left,” he said, “and bring back the tanker combat jacket and the coveralls. Tankers have pride.”
That same year, at the 68th Annual Meeting of the United States Armored Association, members unanimously passed a resolution advocating “the wearing of the Garrison cap on the left side of the head as a badge of distinction among Armor personnel.” The Association sent the resolution to Army Chief of Staff Maxwell Taylor.
Taylor’s response appears below. “Give it up, guys,” Taylor seems to say.
I wonder if Maxwell Taylor, former Commanding General of the 101st Airborne Division in WWII, would have answered the same if paratrooper jump boots had been taken away?