(Hank Simons/Stars and Stripes)

Seoul, South Korea, September 1956: Pvt. Ed Campbell applies stage makeup to transform himself into “Mercedes Montecarlo” for his role in the 7th Infantry Division Special Services show “Uncle Tom-a-san’s Hoochie.” The show, using songs from top Broadway musicals, was written by Pvt. 1st Class Tom Wright of 7th Infantry Division Special Services, and directed by Jack Badcock, Special Service director.

The so-called “soldier shows” — shows created by and for soldiers — had one main objective: keeping morale high through entertainment. With virtually all production jobs — acting, directing, writing, costume and stage design, etc. — done by service members, the shows created camaraderie and boosted morale of both the participants and the service members who came to see them. Often borrowing heavily from European cabaret and vaudeville, the shows were a mix of comedy, skits, and song and dance routines, parts often performed by soldiers dressed and made up as women. Drag show elements have been an integral part of soldier shows throughout the decades in not just the U.S. military, but militaries around the world, as well as many fraternities and all-male clubs and organizations.

Read the 1956 article accompanying the above photograph and see additional images here.

Want to learn more about the history of drag performances in the U.S. military? Check out The National WWII Museum’s article on the subject here.

In May this year the Department of Defense chose to enforce an existing policy on standards of conduct and ethics, banning the use of DOD funds, equipment and facilities for drag performances on military bases.

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