The cultural appeal of an enlisted military servicemen, both in sexual attention from women and from admiration from men and women of all ages, was a common theme in the depictions of soldiers on the home front. Admiration in the materials reflected the raised status of enlisted men through the honor of service, as well as through other avenues for success provided by the military, like the ability to fulfill the breadwinner role and physical prowess. Cultural admiration in these resources can be read as a reflection of the elevated status enlisted men received in avenues that are explicitly masculine.
Federal reflections of cultural admiration were not imagined or propagandized, though they were often highlighted and exaggerated. Independent of government-sponsored materials, notions of masculinity and citizenship have long been associated with warrior and military culture. Goldstein, surveying the relationship between war and gender across cultures, concluded “Cultures need to coax and trick soldiers into participating in combat — an extremely difficult challenge — and gender presents a handy means to do so by linking attainment of manhood to performance in battle.”[^] Additionally, many popular novels and books throughout the era played up the courage, strength, and valor required of soldiers and veterans, and mocked men who were deemed unfit for service.[^] As I have elaborated elsewhere, military service provided a launchpad for men to launch careers in politics and civil service, and was practically a requirement for service at the highest levels. James Gilbert, in his examination of masculinity in intellectual and popular culture, echoed Goldsmith’s conclusion on the pervasiveness of warrior culture in masculinity.[^] Gilbert added, “I believe the 1950s were unusual (though not unique) for their relentless and self-conscious preoccupation with masculinity, in part because the period followed wartime self-confidence based upon the sacrifice and heroism of ordinary men.[^]
The masculine idealism that propelled many veterans to social ascendancy was reflected in the government materials, and was a major selling point for recruiting. The appeal illustrated in the materials largely played off of the ideals of citizenship and the high stature the military held in society. The showcase of young women being romantically and sexually attracted to soldiers and veterans were reinforced by the military, and used as a catalyst for enlisting more young men. This would have taken any existing proclivities and exacerbated them, by further pushing the idea that military men were more desirable than other men. Beyond being used as a recruiting tool, this worked in unison with the admittance structures which required psychological and physical testing to spread the idea that these enlisted men truly were better men than those who weren’t enlisted. Though the documents themselves may not have been the primary driver behind this admiration, it did reinforce the expectation. It also bolstered heteronormativity, and illustrated that a man’s primary goal was either in sexual exploits or marriage, and other achievements only assisted in this goal.
While some stories centered on the power of the uniform, many more comics and other materials were littered with small nods to the attraction enlisted men held amongst young women, and the admiration earned from other men. This admiration is illustrated in Leatherhead in Korea, which depicted soldiers placing a photograph of John Wayne over the top of a collection of pin-up women.[^] While the enlisted men famously worshipped the female body, this comic shows that they also worshipped the rugged masculinity of John Wayne as a soldier. While one can assume this is not in a sexual manner, as the pin-up girls are, the homosocial admiration is clear.
Dick Wingate in the US Navy first illustrated Dick’s transformation into a sailor and the appreciation he earned in a collage.[^] The text describes this process where Dick begins serving his country and ensuring himself an interesting and well-paid career, while the three pictures show this process in better detail. The photos show Dick wearing a suit and acting professionally with a superior officer, his physical training, which is crafting his body into a more virile and dangerous weapon, and an image of him in a sailor’s uniform, signaling his transformation and illustrating his achievement. On the right, Dick is shown returning home to Centerville as a sailor, and is greeted happily by a young man, while three women look on and approach. This image illustrates the admiration that those at home had for a sailor, and especially the three young women looking on admirably. Taken as a whole, this image shows that his training process returned him to his hometown as someone who garners respect, as well as attention from young women.
The comic Time of Decision, describes itself as ”…the story of the thing that changed Ted Wright from an outsider to a popular man-about-college and a leader in a world of competition.”[^] By serving in the ROTC, not only does he learn skills that will make him well-equipped for civilian and military success, but he also began to ‘look sharp’ and earn the admiration of women all over the world.[^] His guidance counselor regales him with tales of the benefits he’s seen from his experience in the ROTC, including a woman telling him, “I was just thinking – you remind me of the song ‘There is something about a soldier’!”, clearly internalizing the cultural constructions about the appeal of military men and applying them to the people she sees on the street, while also pushing forth the idea that there truly is something about a soldier.[^]
Ted encounters some similar attention and admiration from his female (as well as male) peers. One scene features a young woman leaning in and grabbing Ted’s arm, and the narration reads, “Ted found that ROTC paid off in other ways too…”[^] The young woman is impressed by his accomplishments, saying, “Ted, you’re getting so many decorations! What are you, a general or something?”[^] The clear implication in this portion is that the ROTC “paid off” by providing him with status symbols that were intriguing and attractive to young women. Additionally, there are two young men and a young woman looking on from behind the two, and the male and female couple on the left are looking on in admiration, similar to a scene in Dick Wingate in the US Navy where Dick’s new status os sailor is celebrated.