John A. Douglas

Living Passionately In the World of the Moving Image

John A. Douglas John's life in pictures

“Captain of the Hats”

April 28th, 2009 · No Comments · Personal Stories

I was once in the army and while I worked under officers who were less than capable of engendering respect, I never had one as bad as Captain Bligh of the H.M.S. Bounty as presented in the film “Mutiny of the Bounty” with Charles Laughton as the captain.. However I did once have an officer who was fairly annoying as his world revolved around minutia.

My captain had power over me when I was stationed at the Signal Corp School at Ft. Monmouth, New Jersey. I was an enlisted man with a rank of Specialist Fifth when the officer in question was assigned at the Photo Division where I worked.

This guy didn’t know squat about photography, still or motion, but he knew about hats. The military had a rule that if you were outside you had to have a hat on. Hats could come off inside a building but no, no, no, not outside and the captain was well aware of that rule. He used to prowl around the campus of the school looking for soldiers, mostly privates, who failed to put on their hat while outside taking a break.

If he caught one of these chapeau miscreants there would be a major dressing down of that soldier and maybe even some kind of penalty administered. Oh, I tried to warn the students about the military hat fetish and I even suggested routes that could be taken to the snack bar which offered a reduced chance of meeting up with this officer who was generally spoiling for trouble. But if you have ever been in the military, you know that some soldiers are knuckleheads and so there were always those who failed to heed my warnings.

I was a soldier who had had some experience with this officer as I had once been called to Headquarters to answer for exposing a balding pate when I had run out to my car to grab something I needed. When dealing with me concerning tha case of the missing hat, the captain tried to be cute. It all sounded pretty stupid but when I finally figured out what he was angling toward, I apologized and offered up the “it won’t happen again, sir” ploy.

Then one day a miracle happened. I was sitting at my desk doing some paper work after the students had left for the day and when I glanced out of the window, I saw the captain race across the street to the photography laboratory and, oh my goodness, he was out without his hat.

Well, I didn’t waste a minute. I grabbed my hat and I raced down the steps from my second floor classroom and burst out into the street fairly racing towards headquarters. When I got there I just ambled around the area so that when the hatless captain came out of the lab, he would have to pass by me.

I had to lounge around awhile because he saw me and was waiting for me to go away before he came out. But like any good soldier, I held my ground and would brook no idea of retreat. So finally the delicious moment happened. The captain came out of the lab looking a little sheepish and I snapped to attention and gave him one of my best salutes (which by army standards was probably mediocre). He returned my salute without a word but he knew by the way my eyes followed his hand to his forehead that he had been had. My little grin was also a clue.
I would like to say that this incident sapped the confidence of this captain and that he resigned from the service a broken man. But it was not in the scheme of things. This was a minor skirmish in the on-going war between the enlisted man and the officer and while the battle was inconsequential in the grand scheme of things, it was for me a moment to relish and remember as I am sure that Fletcher Christian felt when he took over the Bounty and set Captain Bligh afloat in a lifeboat.


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