Would Popeye’s Vision Actually Bar Him From Military Service? We Asked a Recruiter

Sure, he’s a temperamental, half-blind, physically deformed spinach addict with a debilitating speech impediment — but he really loves boats!

“Wouldn’t Popeye’s pop-eyed condition have kept him from serving in the Navy?”

This was the question posed on the Facebook page of my friend Steve Stoliar, author of Raised Eyebrows — My Years Inside Groucho’s House. While the post ignited a lively discussion, nothing seemed to officially answer the query. 

So, naturally, I set out to find a Navy recruiter to talk about Popeye’s ability to serve. I didn’t just want to ask about his eye, either — he also smokes, has a severe speech impediment, is constantly getting into fights, has a truly bizarre physique and suffers a dependence on spinach that borders on debilitating. 

With all that in mind, would he be able to serve in any capacity?

I also had to determine what exactly is going on with Popeye’s eye. Is it really missing, or just permanently squinty? After a bit of digging, I discovered this letter written by Popeye himself, saying, “Someday I’ll tell ya how I los’ me right eye… It was the mos’ arful battle of me whole life.” Since this was drafted by Popeye creator E.C. Segar, I’d say this is pretty damn definitive — yet, I also found pictures of Popeye with both eyes. 

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This either means that Popeye has a prosthetic eye, he’s a liar who just has one squinty eye or it’s a mistake made by later animators. While I’m firmly in the “Popeye has one eye” camp, I made sure to check all of the above possibilities with my Navy recruiter, who ends up being Commander Brett Hinson, a 22-year Navy veteran and the former commanding officer of the Seattle Military Entrance Processing Station. This basically means he oversaw the base, which oversaw a bunch of recruiting centers, making him way overqualified to answer all of my silly questions about Popeye.  

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Would Missing an Eye Disqualify Popeye From Service?

Hinson: Missing an eye would most definitely disqualify someone from service. We require two functioning eyes to serve in any branch of the military. 

Although, that’s just to join. If he were in the Navy already and then lost his eye, there are different ways he could stay in, even with some kind of impairment. While it would likely prevent him from combat, depending upon what someone’s specialty is, they might be able to stay in the service to serve that area in some capacity, if his commanders felt he was still able to do so. But if he already was missing his eye, there would be no way for him to serve, including if he had a glass eye.

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Is Popeye Just Squinting?

Hinson: Even then, it might be a problem, depending upon how proficient that eye is. In some cases, even colorblindness can deny someone from serving, so his impairment — whatever it is — would very likely be a problem.

On His Severe Speech Impediment

Hinson: A speech impairment would probably not be a reason to deny him from serving. As long as he’s able to communicate, that should be all right. He would also need to have a G.E.D. or high school diploma, and he’d have to pass the [Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery], which is a vocational test. It assesses some academic stuff, some mechanical stuff and some spatial things, so it looks more broadly than just academics, but he’d have to pass that to be allowed in.

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What About Popeye’s Smoking?

Hinson: You can still smoke in the Navy, but the Navy has severely restricted where and when you can smoke, so his affinity toward his pipe probably wouldn’t go over well, as he can’t just have a pipe whenever he wants.

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On Popeye’s Tendency to Get Into Fights

Hinson: In the prior incarnations of the Navy, that might just be looked upon as a sailor being a sailor, but today it might be different. Now we’re considered ambassadors for the U.S. both here and abroad, so his fighting might result in some kind of disciplinary action, up to and including discharge.

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How Much Spinach Is Aboard a Navy Ship?

Hinson: There probably is some on board, but how much they stock depends on how much the sailors are eating it. It might not be the biggest hit among everyone, so it’s hard to say. I can’t imagine they’d order it for just one sailor, though. He does seem to almost depend on it, which isn’t great, but I’m confident that the Navy could get a little more out of him so that he didn’t always require it. But there’s nothing wrong with him eating that to reach his full potential. 

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On Popeye’s Bizarre Physique and Utter Lack of Biceps

Hinson: That’d be fine. Probably a bit unusual, but fine. He’d just have to meet the minimum physical requirements beforehand, which he certainly seems to do, as it’s mostly based on body mass index, which measures his waist and neck, which should be fine for him. 

Are Those Biceps Really Giant Tumors?

Hinson: We’d want to know what those tumors are — if they need to be removed or if they’re benign. All of that would be examined. That’s not a yes or no, but that would have to be looked into.

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Would He Let Popeye Into the Navy?

Hinson: He seems to have a great attitude. He loves the Navy, he loves his country and he’s willing to stand up for what’s right. That’s exactly the kind of people we’re looking for in the Navy. But, if he is missing an eye, there’s nothing I could do. As much as I’d like to pass him, there’s no way I could.

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