Humans have long been fascinated with the paranormal, the unusual, and the unexplained. These fascinations have helped turn us into the superstitious creatures we are today, and the superstitions we create aren’t limited to the lives of little old ladies telling stories over yarn. Each branch in the United States military has cultivated its own hard set of superstitious do’s and don’ts, with some dating back to as early as World War I.
During the Great War, fighter pilot Edwin Parsons was known to attach a stuffed black cat to his aircraft before a flight for good luck. According to warhistoryonline.com, it was said that the cat even took a bullet for him. Many pilots consider it good luck to carry an amulet — some sort of charm or talisman — before taking off, and that these items will protect them.
Kiwi Flying Officer Jack Hoffeins would always carry an airman doll with him during the flights he piloted in World War II. For his last flight, however, just after the war had ended, he failed to do so and his aircraft was lost. The doll he left behind now rests in the Air Force Museum of New Zealand.
Food surprisingly plays a role in military superstition as well, with some food items being so taboo that even speaking their name was said to bring bad weather, vehicle malfunctions, and sometimes death. Apricots were widely despised through World War II, when Marines began to notice a strange coincidence with the destruction of amphibious assault vehicles shortly following a Marine’s consumption of apricots. These fruits were so abhorred, according to We Are the Mighty, that they received several nicknames. Just saying the word apricot was considered bad luck, so terms such as a-fruit, ’cots, and forbidden fruits were used instead.
Charms hard candies were another tasty treat that grew to be despised by the Marines. According to Veterans Breakfast Club, speculation arose about the fruit-flavored squares following a series of bad events overseas during the Gulf War. Each color would represent a tragedy waiting to happen. If someone ate a lime charm, it was going to rain. When a lemon charm was consumed a vehicle would break down. If a Marine dared to eat a raspberry charm, it meant death was not far away. Marines would throw the package of candy away if they were discovered in rations, and Charms became so unpopular that they were no longer included in MREs by 2007. Not even bananas escaped prejudice, as the Navy sees bringing them aboard a ship as bad luck.
In addition to the yellow oblong fruit, another big no-no in the Navy is to wash your personal coffee mug. As a sign of seniority, the longer you’ve been in the service the more “seasoned” your coffee cup will be — and washing your coffee mug may be seen as waving a big sign in Davy Jones’ face that says, “sink me.”
— Todd Cooper (@ToddCooper30) February 12, 2015
The Army is not without its own superstitions, and one of the more well known involves the Army Combat Uniform, or ACU. Look carefully at the shapes in the digital camo — there you’ll find the dreaded “skeleton key,” a blotch that resembles a key. According to We Are the Mighty, the shape may attract enemy bullets, resulting in a fateful meeting.
Some fateful meetings can be prevented, however, and that’s where one tradition called the “breaking of the wings” arises. Upon graduating from undergraduate pilot training, new pilots are pinned with a pair of wings. It is considered bad luck to wear these wings after their initial pinning and thus they are broken in half. The pilot keeps his half of the wing, sometimes framing it and hanging it as a keepsake. The other half is given to someone special, be that a friend, a relative, or a significant other. The two halves are not allowed to be brought back together until the pilot passes away, where they are then reunited and buried with him for good luck in his next life.
The Hunter of Gunmen’s tooth is another superstition coined by the Marines, specifically snipers. Upon graduating their job-specific training, new members of the scout sniper platoon are given a “HOG’s tooth.” It is said, though, that the real HOG’s tooth is not something that is given to you but something that is earned. It is also much more dangerous.
According to the lore, there is one bullet with your name on it. If you are to wear the bullet with your name on it, or the HOG’s tooth, you will be invincible on the battlefield since you have already acquired the bullet that was meant to end your life. To obtain the HOG’s tooth, according to We Are the Mighty, a sniper must first be deployed overseas to a combat zone. Once there, he must engage in a duel with an enemy sniper. Upon defeating the enemy sniper, he then must steal their gun and, more importantly, the bullet in the chamber. This round is the bullet with your name on it.
Whether these superstitions are coincidences or something much more, we may never know. Their significance is meaningful to those who adhere to them, and as long as humans inhabit this earth, I believe we will have superstitious beliefs that guide our actions, no matter how bizarre.