7. Both services looked away over violations of the Volstead Act
The 1920s and Prohibition meant that servicemen in the United States, as well as its territories, were forbidden to drink alcoholic beverages. Like their civilian counterparts, many servicemen simply ignored the law. Dwight Eisenhower, a future President of the United States, made bathtub gin in his quarters at Ft. Meade, Maryland. George Patton brewed his own beer. Omar Bradley, for much of his life, was a teetotaler and had his first taste of whiskey in Hawaii during Prohibition. It was the beginning of a habit of having one or two drinks every night before dinner, which he continued for the rest of his life. Though there were exceptions, of course, most commanders ignored their men returning from nights off drunk, as long as they did not report for duty while impaired. Even the Army’s Chief of Staff, John J. Pershing, enjoyed evening drinks with his aide, George C. Marshall.
Alcohol had been banned on US Navy ships since 1914, and Prohibition removed it from Naval Bases and shore facilities. Sailors too found ways to circumvent the law. When ashore overseas they found alcohol easily, and though official procedure was to warn them against drinking, once again most officers ignored the ban. During the years 1926-1932, the Army averaged 89 convictions by courts-martial for drunkenness per year. The Navy averaged even fewer. The Army also noted a distinct preference of officers applying for overseas service. The Philippines and Tientsin, China, where the United States maintained a garrison, were requested postings by 80% of officers. Both offered legal alcohol, though in many circumstances officers were forced to accept a reduction in rank to serve in those posts. In the 1920s promotion was slow, and such an acceptance speaks volumes regarding life in the military.