Thursday, April 22, 2010

Famous Fatigue Jacket

Recently my mother-in-law gave me an old paperback book from 1970 to read- the autobiography of Anita Bryant titled 'Mine Eyes Have Seen The Glory'. I remembered Anita Bryant from my childhood...the lady that did the Florida Orange Juice Commercials. Anybody else remember this jingle - "A day without orange juice is like a day without sunshine" ?  When I was a child, my mother's parents lived in Owasso, Oklahoma, and we would go up there several times a year for visits. They lived in town, and just down the street and around the corner from their house was a little grocery store, Wells, where my brother and I would go almost every afternoon to READ THE COMIC BOOKS for sale! (Once the manager got mad at us and ran us out...) I remember seeing a poster of Anita Bryant up in the frozen juice section advertising Florida Orange Juice.
I'm sure this is not the same one, but it was probably similar. And I think I had heard an ad on the radio. We did not have TV in our home so I never saw her television ads. But all my life, I always knew Anita Bryant as the Florida Orange Juice lady. So, while reading the little paperback, I found an interesting story of a military fatigue jacket Anita had. I decided to tell the story behind it here on my blog, and started searching the internet for pictures to add to my post. WELL! So much for what I knew about Anita! I never knew she had been a political activist against homosexuals in her later life. (I also didn't know she had been in the Miss America Pageant as Miss Oklahoma)   So many pictures that came up were so derogatory and malicious - it was hard to find some that I could use. I won't go into all I found out about that, but she has had to put up with a lot from that segment of society. Also I found that she is living not too far from here!
To get to the story about the military fatigue jacket.....Anita and her husband Bob traveled many years with the world-famous Bob Hope Holiday Tours to the armed forces stationed in remote outposts overseas, entertaining troops around the world at Christmastime. She accompanied Bob Hope on his Holiday Tours more than any other female performer ever did- she was known by her trademark renditioning of 'The Battle Hymn of The Republic'- or Mine Eyes Have Seen The Glory. In 1967 the tour was scheduled for Viet Nam and Anita asked one of the military escorts for a fatigue jacket to wear. Here in her words are the story behind the jacket :

---I meant of course that I'd like to buy one. I had collected dozens of military patches and other insignia from the various outfits I'd visited, and I meant to attach these to the jacket and wear it overseas. The Ranger hat I'd collected already was heavy with my "trophies". I told Bob, "I intend to cover that jacket with patches. I want every outfit over there to be well represented." Before we left Fort Leonard Wood that day, I got my jacket, all right. To my astonishment, it had my name stencilled above the left breast pocket: Bryant. It was to be more than a year before Bob and I learned the rest of THAT story.

The jacket belonged to a sergeant named Leon Bryant of Carbondale, Illinois. Later his hometown newspaper carried the story: how Seargeant Bryant came in from a three-week field problem, dirty...how the post photographer snapped his picture in the jacket before he even had a chance to wash his face...how the garment was given to Miss Anita Bryant for her use in Viet Nam. Mrs. Yvonne Bryant, the sergeants's wife, mailed me the story along with a nice letter. "When you get to Viet Nam, please look up Leon," she asked. In the article, Sergeant Bryant, asked what he'd like me to give him in exchange for his jacket, had said 'a kiss on the cheek.' I resolved to look him up and deliver....

(The decision was made) not to go to Viet Nam (for Christmas) that year. Yvonne wrote again, "If you ever feel like disposing of Leon's jacket, I would be glad to have it. He died in Viet Nam November 14, 1967, from gunshot wounds received while on combat operations when hit by hostile small arms fire. Leon was carrying a machine gun at the time and one of the members of his squad was pinned down by a VC- Leon moved to save his buddy that was being attacked, while all the members of his squad took cover...Leon saved the life of his buddy, but the VC fired on Leon, killing him instantly..."

Bob and I felt sick- utterly stricken. It hurt to learn that Leon Bryant had a newspaper clipping about his jacket and a letter from me in his pocket when he died. As I imagined the young man who once wore that jacket, I almost felt the weight of it, heavy now with insignia, across my shoulders...Yvonne Bryant telephoned us. She and her sergeant were newlyweds and had lived together only a few months before he left for Viet Nam. She told me, "Leon was a Christian. It's all right. He was proud to fight for his country. We had talked about this, about how it might happen, and he told me how he felt. Leon said he didn't mind dying for America..." ---(end of Anita Bryant's writing  from her book)

This is a Christmas Day Photo from the Bob Hope tour of 1961, Sondrestrom,Greenland

This photo is from 1966...Anita is on the far left in the white skirt. Not sure of the location. Bob Hope is in the middle.

This is the famous fatigue jacket

(all pictures from Google Images)

Hope you enjoyed this story! There are so many stories like this that our present generation does not know about; I love finding them to pass on.

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