Last week, Heidi transferred several reels of film documenting “overseas activity” in the summer of 1941. Nestled among shots of city streets and training exercises were playful scenes depicting a facial hair contest at Fort Stotsenburg in the Philippines. If a beard contest doesn’t scream “put me on the Internet” I don’t know what does, so here you have it.
At the end of May 1941, the United States found itself up against the brink of war. President Franklin Delano Roosevelt proclaimed an “unlimited national emergency” that required the nation to ready itself “to repel any and all acts or threats of aggression directed toward any part of the Western Hemisphere” and again reminded Americans that “the only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” The commanding officer’s memo announcing that the men should allow their beards to grow appears to be an attempt to lighten the grave situation.
In the scenes that follow, the beards are displayed and the judges examine them. They declare a winner and hand over the prize.
The images captured in these scenes may be some of the last light moments the soldiers experienced. Japan attacked the Philippines on December 8th 1941. After six months of battle, the Philippines was surrendered to the Japanese. The American and Filipino soldiers left behind were treated harshly, forced to participate in the Bataan Death March and suffering in prison camps. The Allied Forces did not return to win back the Philippines until October of 1944, completing their task upon the Japanese surrender ten months later.
Watch the complete reel (the beard contest begins at 2:42):