Did Mister Rogers’ sweaters really mask his hidden past as a war hero?
In 1968, Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood debuted on TV and launched Fred Rogers to the status of everyone’s favorite neighbor. The show, which until 2001, featured Mister Rogers in a vast array of cardigans as he welcomed children of all walks of life into his beautiful TV world. Whenever he slipped into his cozy cardigan and comfy slippers, kids around the world knew they were in a place where everything was okay and people were still decent. Over the years, however, people started to wonder whether it was possible that any human being could actually be that nice. This led to a number of theories about Mr. Rogers’ famed cardigans and the secrets of a past life that lurked beneath.
Major Rogers’ assault team?
Rumors eventually began to circulate that although Mr. Rogers may have dedicated his later years to making the world a friendly place for children, his earlier days had been spent in a way more hardcore world. You’re not alone if you’ve ever heard legends of his days as a sniper, Marine Corps drill instructor, Navy Seal, or Green Beret. So widely circulated have such stories become that many have accepted them as fact and rationalized that those cardigan sleeves must be covering up tattoos from Rogers’ days behind an AK-47. As the legend of Mr. Rogers’ commando days grew, some even began to claim that he had an unprecedented number of kills or had otherwise engaged in forms of badassery unimaginable to the mainstream civilian public. The truth, as it turns out, isn’t quite so colorful. In reality, Mr. Rogers never actually served in the military at all. And yes, he really was that nice.
This is easily provable by the fact that his life has been pretty well documented and that there are no shady gaps during which he could have possibly snuck off and become an under-the-radar war hero. Born in 1928 in Latrobe, Pennsylvania, he was too young to have ever served in World War II and was too old for military service by the time the Vietnam War came along. That pretty much only leaves the Korean War as a possibility and by that time, he was working in television.
Minister Rogers’ neighborhood
Ironically, the only other calling Mr. Rogers ever really looked into the outside of television programming was the church. He studied seminary during his TV career, which began in 1951, and was ordained as a Presbyterian minister in 1963. Even then, however, he knew that his calling was to help children through the vehicle of TV. As he once described it, “The space between the television screen and whoever happens to be receiving it… I consider that holy ground.”
For Mr. Rogers, it really was all about the children whose lives he was able to impact in such a beautiful way. But if the cardigans weren’t designed to cover-up a sleeve full of tattoos or mask telling old war wounds, what was the deal with them, anyway? Get ready for the truth because it’s absolutely adorable.
The woman behind the world’s most iconic cardigans
In reality, Mr. Rogers once revealed on the show that every one of his famous cardigans was handmade by none other than his own mom. He explained to young viewers, while proudly holding a picture of his mother, that she used her talents with needles and yarn as an expression of love. Awwwww. Though she may not be a star in her own right, Mr. Rogers’ mom raised a man who was able to share the things she taught him with the entire world. He once recalled, “When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.’ To this day, especially in times of “disaster,” I remember my mother’s words and I am always comforted by realizing that there are still so many helpers – so many caring people in this world.”
Eventually, the cardigans became such an iconic piece of so many peoples’ childhoods that one of them is currently tucked away in the Smithsonian Museum in Washington D.C. Another is on display alongside a pair of his sneakers at the Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh.
The fact that such relics are considered priceless by so many viewers is a true testament to just how many lives Mr. Rogers was able to impact. As he said in his Television Academy Hall of Fame induction, “I feel that those of us in television are chosen to be servants. It doesn’t matter what our particular job, we are chosen to help meet the deeper needs of those who watch and listen – day and night!”
Throughout his programs, Mr. Rogers showed the world that it really was still possible to be a good person in a crazy world. Even if you had no other place that felt safe, he would always be there to welcome you into his little onscreen home and assure you that there were still people in the world who believed in love. In one of his more memorable quotes, he beautifully summed up his legacy. “There are three ways to ultimate success,” he said, “The first way is to be kind. The second way is to be kind. The third way is to be kind.”
Before his death in 2003, he was awarded more than forty honorary degrees and countless awards, including the Presidential Medal of Freedom.