Ditty Bags and Backpacks

Decades ago I was a young airman in the US Air Force stationed near Biloxi, Mississippi. After basic training in Texas, I was attending electronics technician school at Keesler AFB, right next to Biloxi. I was in a group that went (marched) to school at 6 a.m. We later left (marched) at noon, went back to the compound, and then marched in review at around 12:30 pm. This completed the “business” part of a typical day, with physical training later in the afternoon.

As one may imagine, we had a number of books, workbooks, and diagram packets to take back and forth to school. The Air Force solved the problem of how to carry all of this material so that we could still march with arms at our sides. We called them ditty bags back then. I don’t know where the name came from, but unlike a sailor’s ditty bag these bags were the functional equivalent of what people today would call a backpack. They held all of our school materials and were worn on our backs with two shoulder straps.

I mention this snippet of nostalgia for two reasons. First, recognizing the longstanding popularity of backpacks among several decades of school age cohorts, who would have thought that the Air Force in the 1960’s was the genesis of what would become such a sweeping, entrenched fashion trend? No student these days would be caught without their trusty backpack nearby. Secondly, as it turns out I’ve never been much of a fan of backpacks, except of course for actual backpacking. My point is that, back then I would have gladly let someone who was a fan of backpacks take my place wearing one and marching in review in that Mississippi noon sun. Perhaps it is not surprising that I didn’t get any such offers – after all, ditty bags weren’t in back then.