What kind of military uniform is this?
January 10, 2014 12:19 PM   Subscribe

I have this photo from (roughly) 1915. It's of my great aunt and great uncle as children and a man identified as "Uncle Vahan". I'm trying to figure out who this guy is, but first, I need to figure out what type of military uniform he's wearing.

You can see the photo here.

This photo was taken in Scollay Sq in Boston, probably in 1915. My family is Armenian and had come from Syria, several years earlier. Thanks!
posted by jdl to Grab Bag (17 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
It looks like it could possibly be a Marine Corps uniform, as it appears he's got the Eagle, Globe and Anchor on the hat. The hat looks off, though, so it's puzzling to me. Can you offer a larger resolution to confirm the insignia?
posted by Atreides at 12:24 PM on January 10, 2014 [1 favorite]

I think Artreides is on the right track. A google image search for 'WWI Marine Corps Uniform" turned up this which has the right high collar, pockets, and cap style. Just missing the insignia.
posted by colin_l at 12:27 PM on January 10, 2014

That was fast! I unfortunately don't have a higher res version right now, but it sounds like perhaps you've both solved this. This helps point my genealogical research toward some U.S. Military records. Thank you both!
posted by jdl at 12:29 PM on January 10, 2014

here's another picture, this time an infantry officer - very similar to the USMC uniform.

In your photo, he has the crossed rifles on the collar, which suggests infantry to me. That photo linked above is from this page, which has more of the insignia, including the crossed rifles.
posted by colin_l at 12:32 PM on January 10, 2014

Uncle Vahan is a Marine. That's a globe and anchor on his cover, and the uniform is in line with the Marine Alphas at the time.
posted by matty at 12:36 PM on January 10, 2014

I am 95% sure that is not a Marine Corps uniform. It is an army officer's uniform. The shape of the hat is wrong, that is clearly an army cap insignia as in the picture colin_l linked to, and raised pleats and epaulets are all slightly different from the USMC versions. I would also wager the material is a gabardine or other closely woven cloth and not a worsted wool as the USMC uniforms were. I can't quite make out the collar device-- which shows what branch ("community" or "type of officer"), but Infantry (crossed rifles) doesn't look quite right. Commissioned Marines have also never worn this type of type of branch insignia, as far as I know. (Every Marine is first and foremost a rifleman, after all.) I think at least one of those items on the collar is a saber, which would be Cavalry, but then again there is something up on top that might be a shell, so then Ordnance? I have looked at the picture in the original resolution on flickr, and I still can't make up my mind. But definitely US Army-- the cap badge clinches it for me. It only looks slightly lopsided (like an Eagle, Globe and Anchor would be, instead of symmetrical like an army eagle) because of the angle he is wearing it on his head and the way his head is turned. My experience: 16 1/2 years in the military, a history buff, and I spent four years in the Marine Corps Reserves, four years in the active duty army-- so I was exposed to a lot of uniforms. Also, most USMC installations at the time I was in were decorated with illustrated prints of historic uniforms, and this just isn't one of them. Additionally after my military career, I minored in Apparel Design in College. But, I am not a professional military historian, which is why I only wrote 95% sure. I could be wrong. That is the fun of a mystery like this. But last Veterans Day I did assist a military uniform restorer and historian in putting on a show on historical women's uniforms. If you really want to know, memail me and I can give you her contact information-- she probably knows someone who is an equivalent expert in men's uniforms. Good for you doing your family history! That is awesome.
posted by seasparrow at 1:23 PM on January 10, 2014 [1 favorite]

I am a military historian (of this era, although not a uniform specialist) and a former DoD civilian. I'm having trouble with some of the details in the photo. Are you sure about the date being c.1915?
posted by NotMyselfRightNow at 2:39 PM on January 10, 2014 [1 favorite]

(I should also note: I'm fairly certain your uncle wasn't a Marine. The uniform is off, and as seasparrow noted, that's not an EGA on his cap - the "weight" of the logo is too heavy, and there's no sideways "slash" that you would see from the anchor component of the logo.)
posted by NotMyselfRightNow at 2:46 PM on January 10, 2014

I'm not 100% on the date being 1915, but the little boy was born in August of 1913 and I was guessing he was around 2ish. The little girl is 5 years older, so she would be 7. If anything, I could be a year off and it's 1916.
posted by jdl at 4:05 PM on January 10, 2014

Is it possible Uncle Vahan is a Royal Marine?
posted by Fukiyama at 4:07 PM on January 10, 2014

Oh and here's a slightly larger version.

And this guy could be anything... my family came here 1910-1911 and I didn't think we had any relatives here, so I'm intrigued that there was a guy called uncle who was in the American military by 1915-16.
posted by jdl at 4:09 PM on January 10, 2014

He's US military (or some affiliation). I believe it's a US-issued M1912 or M1917 uniform (you can tell by the buttons, pocket flaps, and shoulder flaps). I'm really stumped on the emblem on the cap, however. Did he have a college degree? Could it be an ROTC, corps of cadets, or school/academy emblem?
posted by NotMyselfRightNow at 4:56 PM on January 10, 2014 [2 favorites]

I showed my brother this. He's not an expert, but he does love studying uniforms from the 19th and 20th centuries.

His reply:
"Just say that I think it's Army. As others have mentioned, the crossed rifles on this collar are infantry. And the insignia on his cover and buttons don't stand out as EGA. overall, the uniform doesn't say 'Marine' to me."

I agree with my brother and the others who've posted who think it's not Marine. But at the same time, the insignia on the cover looks really like EGA to me, even if it's not what it should be to be US Marine.
posted by Fukiyama at 5:07 PM on January 10, 2014

Forgot to add:
It wouldn't be unusual for an immigrant son to join the military so soon after immigrating. My ancestor from Germany came over and pretty much went right into the Union Army to fight in the Civil War.
posted by Fukiyama at 5:10 PM on January 10, 2014

No one seems to have mentioned what I thought was the most distinctive aspect of his clothing: the leather leggings. When I first saw them I thought they meant he was in the field artillery, but now I think it means Cavalry. (I found these at an auction site, and they look the same.

The US Army did still have horse cavalry at that time.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 5:59 PM on January 10, 2014

Military historian here:

Your uncle is wearing a US Army (or possibly National Guard, see below) infantry uniform of the early 19-teens. Unfortunately, most of the details that would tell us more are not visible in this photo. As NotMyselfRightNow says, he's probably wearing the M1912 uniform, which would be consistent with the date you set out, but it could possibly be the latter M1917 (you can't really tell the different without looking at the cuffs).

He was definitely in the infantry. The insignia in on his collar are the infantry crossed rifles. If the picture were higher resolution, we would be able to read the number of his regiment (on top of the rifles) and the letter of his company (below them).

The leggings are probably not leather, but stiff canvas. The fact that they have relatively few holes in them means that they're early issue. Later, they tended to have more holes for lacing, lending them more support and flexibility.

I note that your uncle's uniform is notably rumpled and loose fitting. US Army uniforms of the time tended to be fitted tight, and soldiers would have been disciplined to keep their pocket flaps, epaulettes, and so-forth, neatly pressed. Now, obviously this guy might have just had a couple of kids clambering all over him, but the looseness of the fit, the overall lack of military bearing and the relative antiquity of the equipment makes me think that this guy was new in the army, newly equipped with the kind of poorly fitting stuff they give a new recruit. Either that or (as sometimes happened in Edwardian photo studios) this uniform is a costume provided by the photographer to give that all-American feel to this new immigrant and his kids.

Finally, we come to the cap badge. This is a very unusual badge; very different from the standard US Army issue of the time. Unlike the armies of the British Empire, US soldiers wore a common cap badge that was the same in all units... with rare exceptions. Unfortunately, this photo is just too low resolution to make out the details of the badge. In overall shape, it most closely resembles the badge of the Quartermasters Corps, but that doesn't fit with his collar insignia. It might also be a National Guard cap insignia (I think they were differentiated from the regular Army back then) or it might even be military police.

If you could somehow scan the picture at a higher resolution and repost it, it might clear up many of these mysteries. Unfortunately, however, you might not be able to find out much information beyond what you can get in the photo: US WWI-era service records were all destroyed in a disastrous fire in 1973.
posted by Dreadnought at 7:43 PM on January 10, 2014 [7 favorites]

Thanks so much. The knowledge you have all shared has been really wonderful. I'm not certain where the original photo is right now, unfortunately. If it ever resurfaces, I'll certainly scan at a higher resolution.

This is much more information than I started out with, which is great. I was trying to look up some WW1 records last night, but now I understand why I couldn't find any (thanks Dreadnought). I'm hopeful that this information will jog the memories of some family members.
posted by jdl at 5:46 AM on January 11, 2014

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