Should a non-veteran wear a ball cap with a U.S. Army division insignia?
November 12, 2019 8:43 PM   Subscribe

My grandfather served in the U.S. Army 99th Infantry Division during the Battle of the Bulge in World War II, winning the Bronze Star. I have never served. I have always been very proud of my grandfather and would like to buy a black hat with the 99th checkerboard insignia (with no words) to honor him. Is this acceptable/appropriate?

My grandfather, who passed away 25 years ago, served gallantly in World War II. He served in the U.S. Army’s 99th Infantry Division in the Battle of the Bulge and won the Bronze Star for valor. I knew my grandfather well and I am so proud of his heroism. I think about his fearlessness often and it is a source of strength to me, particularly when I reflect about the details of his service (he and some fellow soldiers crossed back over into German territory to rescue a wounded U.S. soldier and bring him back to the Allied side).

I found a fantastic ball cap that I’d like to buy to honor him. It’s a simple black cap with the 99th checkerboard insignia on the front. The cap features no words. I am really excited to wear it in his honor. I am looking forward to telling my grandfather’s story when folks ask me what the checkerboard logo represents.

However, it just occurred to me that this might be crossing a line. I have never served in the military. Is it appropriate for a non-veteran like myself to wear a hat with my grandfather’s military division insignia? Would it be offensive even though there are no words on the cap and if anyone asks I will explain that I didn’t serve but that I am honoring my grandfather by wearing the hat?

I do, like most Americans, have tremendous respect for those who serve/served in the military. I want to honor my grandfather’s gallantry but I absolutely will not do it if active-duty service members or veterans suggest here that this would be inappropriate. Please help! Thank you!
posted by fenwaydirtdog to Clothing, Beauty, & Fashion (18 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
I’m not a military person, but 99th ID disbanded in 1945 so unless there’s an active unit or command using that insignia that it might be confused with, I think you’re fine — the only purpose in wearing it if of a younger generation can be commemorative and you have a direct family connection.
posted by snuffleupagus at 9:57 PM on November 12, 2019 [6 favorites]

My dad is a vet and wears any number of insignia caps. You might be surprised how often and how many people ask about the hat and try to make a connection It's incredibly frequent. It starts many conversations. I think there is potentially an awkward element for you here, even though this is a historic reference, if you have not served yourself. People are going to ask if you served yourself. I am sure they will be nice about the whole interaction, but think about how often you want to say "no, I didn't enlist, this is just homage to my grandfather."

My dad's experience and service has made me personally very uncomfortable with borrowing or in any way trading on the symbols or status of those who have actually served. I mean, people do it, but opinions differ on how respectful/cool that is. In my view, a history of service is not a fashion statement. Just a thought, a donation to a charity for vets may be a more meaningful way to honor your grandfather and his contributions.
posted by Miko at 4:02 AM on November 13, 2019 [8 favorites]

Would you be open to adding a patch to the hat that reads something like "Grandson of a WWII Veteran" or "My Grandfather is my Hero"? Some quick googling turned up patches with this kind of wording, though they seemed to be for jackets instead of hats. You may be able to have a hat-sized patch custom embroidered if you can't find one. It would make it explicit your reasoning in wearing the insignia to anyone who takes the time to look and read.
posted by radwolf76 at 4:29 AM on November 13, 2019 [5 favorites]

Unless the cap makes it glaringly, unfailingly clear that you are a proud grandson of a vet, I would not wear the cap.

See also: Stolen Valor.

Not that that would be what you were doing, but you would almost certainly be accused of such.
posted by Thorzdad at 5:39 AM on November 13, 2019 [7 favorites]

Agree with the consensus. Wearing the emblem is claiming you served. That’s how it will be interpreted.
posted by spitbull at 6:08 AM on November 13, 2019

This is hearsay, so take it for what it's worth, but it's a good analogy. In the UK, regiments have distinctively-striped ties to indicate their membership. Americans liked the look and started importing "regimental" ties like this. For us Americans, it's a good-looking fashion item (full disclosure: I own the linked tie, although I haven't worn it in probably ten years). From what I've heard, though, the actual members of the regiment don't like it, the thought being that they had to sacrifice significantly to earn the right to wear the tie, whereas we just have to walk into a Brooks Brothers and open our wallets.

Seems like the same thing here. If you didn't have to make a sacrifice to earn the right to wear it, I wouldn't wear it. There's plenty of "my [family member] served in the [branch]" merchandise out there; that should suffice.

Here's another analogy, less serious. You might buy a t-shirt from the college your grandfather attended, and that's fine, but it wouldn't be a shirt that says "[college] Alumni" unless you also went there.
posted by kevinbelt at 6:53 AM on November 13, 2019

Counterpoint: your question suggests that you are being very thoughtful in your approach, the specific insignia refers to a group that disbanded 75 years ago, and it seems that "stolen valor" is not a concern because you will not claim service but instead will tell the story of your granddad.

Get the cap and wear it proudly and honor your grandpa. Tell everyone who asks the story. If you have uncomfortable interactions or if gatekeepers get upset by it, you can decide to ease off.
posted by AgentRocket at 7:12 AM on November 13, 2019 [2 favorites]

I love your sentiment and think it is wonderful how you want to honor your grandfather. Regardless of your intent, I do believe some who have served will have a negative (and sometimes intensely negative) reaction to you wearing the hat.

Like Radwolf76 and Thorzdad mentioned, if you could add "Grandson of" or RIP Grandpa or something that makes it absolutely clear that you are wearing it in honor of your Grandpa, I think you would be fine. Otherwise, you may get into some heated conversations you were not expecting.

(I also think it's cool you had the foresight to ask before buying the hat.)
posted by a non mouse, a cow herd at 7:13 AM on November 13, 2019

Agree with the consensus. Wearing the emblem is claiming you served. That’s how it will be interpreted.

Wearing a cap commemorating a decommissioned Army unit is not claiming anything. I think some care should be taken regarding when and where (e.g. don't wear it on Veterans Day or to a Price is Right filming) but as long as you aren't trolling for free stuff you're fine.

If someone wants to talk about it, replying with "Oh, I wear it for my Grandpa, it's his unit from WWII" will get approving nods from all but the biggest assholes. Maybe you'll get tired of that. I'm a non-vet DoD civilian and have been "thankyouforyourserviced" a number of times wearing stuff for work. It's a bit annoying, but some people just do it out of reflex and it means no more to them than "Good Morning."

Don't sweat it.
posted by the christopher hundreds at 7:30 AM on November 13, 2019 [3 favorites]

people will think you've served - i don't think i'd wear the cap.
posted by megan_magnolia at 8:01 AM on November 13, 2019

That insignia is currently being used by the 99th Regional Readiness Command, a U.S. Army Reserve unit that has deployed to Iraq, Bosnia, and Kosovo, and has been commended for its actions in relief support for Hurricane Sandy.

There are people currently serving in the U.S. Army who took fire while wearing that patch. Please do not wear that cap unaltered. Go to an embroiderer and give them a few bucks to stitch "Grandchild of a Battle Baby" on it.
posted by Etrigan at 8:30 AM on November 13, 2019 [12 favorites]

give them a few bucks to stitch "Grandchild of a Battle Baby" on it.

Sorry, I want to clarify this: "Battle Babies" was the nickname the 99th got at the Battle of the Bulge, because they were new to the front. The division embraced the term.
posted by Etrigan at 9:06 AM on November 13, 2019 [3 favorites]

Knowing that the insignia in use by a unit numbered as the 99th definitely tilts my view the other way.

As an aside, it's curious that there's not much guidance to be turned up by searching, on the etiquette of wearing actually retired insignia for commemorative purposes, whether for familial descendants of unit members or otherwise.

Maybe it's simply when an insignia has been retired long enough that all of its veterans have died, which could be categorically presumed of WWI units at this point, but not WWII units.
posted by snuffleupagus at 9:15 AM on November 13, 2019

I’d listen to Etrigan. Not the same but kinda the same, I’m the first male person in 4 generations to not serve in the military and I’d never consider wearing their items or any subset of their insignia. Even my time in JROTC and ROTC sort of squicked me out on the uniform as a proxy and as yet unearned thing.

Sorry that’s not more clear but yea, my grandfather was with the 5th Armored Division, I think, so wasn’t far from yours when the push through Europe happened. Cool hat but let it go and honor the grandfather in a unambiguous manner.
posted by RolandOfEld at 10:09 AM on November 13, 2019 [2 favorites]

More, broadly, as a way of paying homage to your grandpa, I'm not sure it is very effective? Most people won't know what it means, those that do may well you think you served or are serving. It doesn't really honour his service, per se, at least not compared to an annual donation to a vets charity, attending service events to commerate/honour service people etc.

I think it's great you were close to your grandpa and proud of his military record, but i think there are better ways to honour it that don't have the potential to look like you're claiming credit for something you didn't do.
posted by smoke at 11:45 AM on November 13, 2019

1) nthing Etrigan's excellent suggestion.

2) You're hoping to spur conversations about your grandfather and his service; please be aware of your phrasing during those talks. Your granddad (like mine!) didn't "win" anything; he earned / was awarded / received the Bronze Star. He was a Bronze Star recipient.
posted by Iris Gambol at 12:56 PM on November 13, 2019 [1 favorite]

I think you should go ahead and get the cap--with the caveat you should definitely do as Etrigan says. (Somebody should correct me if I'm wrong, but I think embroiderers are easy to find in shopping malls.) You sound like you know a lot about the history of the unit, and you could share what you know with other offspring of members of the unit (if they recognize the insignia).
posted by Transl3y at 1:01 PM on November 13, 2019

Copy that! I definitely won’t buy this cap unless I decide to alter it, perhaps by embroidering “Grandson of the 99th Infantry” or something like that, to make it clear that I did not serve. More likely, I’ll just avoid buying the cap entirely.

I appreciate everyone’s feedback. It’s interesting — when I posted this question last night I figured that everyone would say that I could wear it, that it would be no big deal. I definitely learned a lot from the responses.

I feel like I honored my late grandfather, Richard Neal of Livingston, Montana, just by posting this question. It’s amazing how his heroism consistently inspires me. Like, if my grandfather was capable of such courage and heroism, then maybe I have it in me to show courageousness and selflessness if I’m in a situation that requires it. His service in the Battle of the Bulge means so much to me and it’s a great honor to me that my granddad was a hero in this decisive battle in World War II .

Thank you, Granddad, for your bravery and courage and love for your fellow soldiers in battle. I miss you. And thanks to all who have shown these qualities in fighting for our country.
posted by fenwaydirtdog at 2:26 PM on November 13, 2019 [7 favorites]

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