Let me begin by saying that I have the utmost respect for those who serve and have served in this country’s armed forces.
The folks who run the army surplus store are not always of that same stock. This can go a host of different ways, some quirkier than others. In some cases this is great, because a guy can get to the game just because he’s an avid historian. This was the case when I swung into a place called Kaufman’s in NYC. The eponymous owner was a touch idiosyncratic, but no one could deny his knowledge and appreciation for military memorabilia. This gentleman’s lore spanned decades, and he had a reverence for every piece in that jam-packed shop. He gave me a five- to ten-minute tutorial about how to wear a beret properly, including modeling it on a nearby mannequin. Not every military man is also a military historian, but the latter sure does run a good surplus.
Floyd had a different experience, in this his local surplus store was only distantly related to the forces from which it drew its name. It turned out to be more of a hunting shop with a military bent. “Gun-nutty” was the term he used, if I recall. I understand that folks who use guns in the course of military service are likely pro-firearm, but there also tends to be a sobering respect for the implement that prevents…well, nuttiness. I’d rather have the guy behind the counter who knows what the thing can go first-hand, and keeps it at arm’s-length for that reason, than the guy running on enthusiasm alone.
We see a lot of the military in our day to day lives in the US, in these times. The service member coming home, or talking to his family over a video chat, has become such a trope in our culture that it manifests in the schlockiest of cultural artifacts, that is to say advertising, on a regular basis. And we don’t bat an eye. Maybe because of that it’s easy to sit down and watch Saving Private Ryan and The Hurt Locker and think you know what’s up, and get on down to the surplus shop to dress up. I suppose I’m just as guilty, although to be fair I think the fact that I’m aiming for “future post-apocalyptic trooper” softens the blow of imitation a bit. I have no pretension of being any manner of genuine soldier. Regardless, I think it’s good that some owners cultivate the atmosphere of these shops with a certain dignity, gravity even. I think there’s a distinction to be made between putting on that gear because you want to, and putting it on because you signed on to, and that ought to be remembered.