For more than 70 years, the Navy has had a love-hate relationship with baseball caps.

Sailors have loved them; leadership hated them.

Well, maybe not all leaders — just those making the decisions about uniforms. And truth be told, it wasn't until the Vietnam War that they started becoming mainstream in the Navy.

What's viewed by many as a vestige of the surface Navy todaybegan as a part of the Navy's original rebels with a cause — aviators — during World War II.

Navy icons such as Adms. William "Bull" Halsey, Marc Mitscher and Raymond Spruance can be seen on carrier bridges wearing "non standard" caps in many pictures taken during the war.

Still, those caps looked more like Ernest Hemingway's famous fishing cap than the blue ball caps of today. They were tan or sometimes wartime gray, with a "peaked" crown and a "duck" bill designed to shade a sailor's eyes from bright sunlight.

The cap became popular during the war, and on Aug. 13, 1943, then-chief of naval personnel, Adm. Louis Denfield, sent a gray version of the cap to Adm. Chester Nimitz, the commander of the Pacific Fleet, asking him his opinion about making the caps an official Navy uniform item.

It didn't take Nimitz long to make a decision. He wrote back to Denfield on Sept. 6. His short reply letterincluded the sample cap as "enclosure (A)."

"Enclosure (A) is returned herewith," Nimitz wrote. "The Commander in Chief, Pacific Fleet, does not recommend adoption of the sample peaked cap enclosure as an article of naval uniform."

After the war, Navy leadership was considering a total overhaul of the enlisted sailor's seabag. Their ideas caught the eye of Washington Post reporter John G. Norris, who on Nov. 6, 1947, wrote a front-page story about the Navy's proposed new duds, calling the suggestions "radical."

The proposed uniforms selections included khaki crackerjacks, green "Ike Jackets" and a floppy "engineer style" ball cap.

The headgear was described as "a blue cap for officers and men very similar to the green headgear worn by all services," Norris wrote. "It is a floppy affair with a visor, made entirely of cloth."

Though radical new uniforms were never adopted, ball caps just wouldn't go away.

Throughout the 1950s, sailors would purchase customized hats with their ship's or squadron's name and number while in port overseas. By the Vietnam War, they could be seen unofficially all over the fleet — while at sea.

By the 1970s, ball caps had officially become an option for the working uniform, but only to be worn in the "ship or squadron's immediate area," updated regulations read.

Big Navy embraced them by the 1990s, when the service began to issue caps in boot camp and made command caps optional — replacing the Dixie cup as the required headgear for working uniforms.

Mark D. Faram is a former reporter for Navy Times. He was a senior writer covering personnel, cultural and historical issues. A nine-year active duty Navy veteran, Faram served from 1978 to 1987 as a Navy Diver and photographer.

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