Do you realize that if we discount the baseball cap (which is a subject all on its own) almost nobody wears hats anymore? Eons ago, when I was a very small child, our mother would dress us up and take us on the bus to Downtown, where ladies wore not only hats but white gloves as well, and the men all had their heads covered with brown or black felt.

I didn’t know a fedora from a fez in those days, but it didn’t bother me a lot. All I knew was that Mama approved of the gentlemen who removed their toppers when a lady entered the bus, especially if one or two of them stood so we of the gentler sex could sit and enjoy the bumpy ride. We learned from her to smile and to offer the mandatory “thank you” within the prescribed three seconds. We could add a very small nod if we wanted, but we were otherwise never to speak to these strangers, hats on or hats off.

The hats we saw most often in those WWII days were military and most often, in that port town, Navy caps. Of white cotton, always meticulously clean, the cap could fold to be tucked under a belt when the young sailor entered a cafe or a skating rink or, for that matter, any edifice that might contain a young girl to meet. He’d call it a “cover” when he was speaking to a young lady. It was part of the Navy mystique, and these kids–seventeen, eighteen, nineteen years old–played on it.

These days the draft is long past, the Navy base in the town has been de-militarized and closed, and no one has seen a Navy uniform around here in years. Now when you see a serviceman at all, the chances are he’s wearing camo, an ugly outfit that’s multi-colored, shapeless, and not nearly as sexy as the crisp-creased middy collars and bright white covers we remember.

Nevertheless, a tip of our own hat (such as it is) to the white Navy caps, the Green Berets, the tan/brown flattops, the helmets, the aviator caps, and yes, the camo toppers. They might not be as elegant as the gentlemen’s lids we remember from days past, but they’ve covered some mighty important people.

I’ll see you again, after the commercial