Durable, protective footwear that permits water and sweat to run out and air to reach the feet is critically important to jungle fighting men. Unfortunately, a boot or shoe that one man finds best often is uncomfortable, even harmful, to another man with different shaped or less muscular feet. For typical American foot soldiers the best jungle boot inevitably is a somewhat unsatisfactory compromise. However, no matter what type of boot or shoe is issued, soldiers must be taught daily foot care — especially in the humid tropics.

Usually it is impractical to issue two types of boots for simultaneous use by soldiers in the same outfit. One of the exceptions in World War II was General Joseph W. Stilwell’s successful issue of two very different types of footwear to the jungle-trained volunteers of Merrill’s Marauders (the 5307th Provisional Regiment), the unit that spearheaded his troops in the reconquest of Burma. Both the Marauders and Chinese regiments first were toughened in India, at the steamy hot Ramgarh training camp. The following is from a description of the start of the 130-mile final conditioning march over the Naga Range made by more than 3,000 Marauders before they led the attack on the Japanese conquerors of almost all Burma:

But the worst thing was my feet, which were raw. What saved me was the alternate footgear we had been issued. Pontiffs of podoculture among us warned that the feet would break down if the calf-high, rubber-soled canvas jungle boots were worn habitually, but after the heavy leather GIs they made you feel — in the established military parlance — as if you were walking barefoot over the bosoms of maidens. From then on, like about half the command, I wore nothing else.

(See The Marauders, by Charlton Ogburn, Jr., Harper & Brothers, 1959 — one of the best books on jungle combat.)

The World War II Jungle Boot was very different from the jungle boot (Tropical Combat Boot) worn in Vietnam. Officially renamed the Hot Weather Combat Boot, jungle boots still were being worn in the 1990s by American soldiers and some troops of friendly tropical countries.

As previously mentioned, the development of the sneaker-like Jungle Boot was initiated in Panama by Major General Walter E. Prosser after the Army’s leather shoes fell apart on jungle marches. The sole nails rusted and the leather rotted. Army shoes, until they began to come apart, were essentially watertight. When men were marching hard in air so humid and hot that they sweated five quarts or more a day, sweat soaked their uniforms and then ran down their legs and sloshed around in their leather shoes.

General Prosser commanded the Panama Mobile Force, but had no R & D funds. He succeeded in persuading the U.S. Rubber Company to make a few pairs of sneaker-like Jungle Boots at no charge. Those prototypes had permeable cotton duck uppers that let sweat and water run out, as did the permeable sneakers worn by many natives of the wet tropics. While serving as the Jungle Experiments Officer of the Panama Mobile Force, I worked with U.S. Rubber to improve the embryonic Jungle Boots.

Pictured in Fig. 11-1 is a worn and patched World War II Jungle Boot. Shown in Fig. 11-2 is the jungle boot worn by most Americans in Vietnam. Its leather uppers have two small water drains in the instep, its short top is of nylon duck, its mud-collecting cleated rubber sole is designed for climbing over clean rocks — not for scrambling up slippery clay trails — and it has a spike-protective steel inner sole.

Fig. 11-1. Much worn and patched World War II Jungle Boot. Its permeable cotton duck uppers permit water and sweat to run out while preventing mud and sand from entering. A pair of size 10W with its Saran ventilating insoles weighs 2.9 pounds.

Fig. 11-2. Vietnam-era Tropical Combat Boot (“jungle boot”) with leather covering the foot and vulcanized to the rubber sole, and nylon duck uppers. Its Vibram sole, designed for mountaineering, gives poor traction on wet, slippery clay and in mud, and collects mud. A pair of size 10D with Saran ventilating insoles weighs 3.6 pounds.

The importance of lightweight footwear for jungle fighters is emphasized in Q.M.C. Historical Studies No. 16, September 1946: “During World War II the Quartermaster Corps developed a pair of [leather] combat boots which weighed 5 pounds and a pair of jungle boots weighing 3 pounds. This difference of 2 pounds in weight to a soldier in the jungle was equal in terms of heat stress to adding four times that weight, or 8 pounds, to the pack he carried on his back.”

The cotton duck tops of size 10 World War II Jungle Boots were 12 inches above the ground — two inches higher than the tops of the size 10 Tropical Combat Boots (jungle boots) produced in the past quarter of a century. Having tops two inches higher made it much easier for the wearer either to securely tie the hems of his trousers over the tops of his boots to keep out ticks, leeches, and mud, or to tuck them in — so they didn’t pull out when he lifted his knees high. As often is the case, a more functional design also makes for a neater appearance. The canvas leggings worn for decades by American soldiers were slightly higher than the tops of World War II Jungle Boots.

All Jungle Boots had replaceable Saran ventilating insoles, described later in this chapter.

A couple of months before Pearl Harbor the first Jungle Boots were issued to the first two Jungle Platoons in the Caribbean Defense Command. Those boots were an improved model of prototypes designed and tested in Panama before Pearl Harbor, with no help from the Quartermaster Corps. They were manufactured by U.S. Rubber Company before the Japanese attacked our forces, and paid for with intelligence funds made available to me by Lieutenant General Frank Andrews, C.G., Caribbean Defense Command.