Military history shows us that, no matter where you’re from, strict discipline, training and dedication along with some innovation and cleverness can do amazing things. But along with that comes a long list of rituals, beliefs and superstitions that sometimes make sense and sometimes are absolutely baffling to outsiders and sometimes even insiders. Take, for instance, these more unusual examples of things that have at one time or another been considered unlucky by members of the military.
The military has a long history of having food problems. Soldiers in the field need to be fed, and that has not always been easy to do. Many of the methods to ensure this happens have been fumbles at best. Check out some reviews of MREs to see just how bad food can get sometimes. But there are also some unexpected problems that have arisen with food in the military, and one of the strangest deals with apricots. Specifically, the Marines considered the dried fruit extremely unlucky.
Back in 1968, a correlation was drawn up in the minds of the Marines of the First Amphibious Tractor Battalion. Any time someone ate apricots, they got hit by enemy artillery. The answer was apparently clear – apricots caused the enemy to attack.
Legend has it that the bad luck started in WWII when numerous vehicles that had been destroyed were found to be carrying one item of cargo in common – apricots. By the time Vietnam rolled around, Marines didn’t want to be near anyone eating apricots lest they become targets themselves. Apparently it got so bad that if a fellow Marine caught you eating an apricot in the tent you shared, you’d be kicked out until the apricot was gone.
Even in modern times, apricots have been blamed for vehicle breakdowns in the Persian Gulf. The military stopped including them in MREs back in 1995.
9. Charms Candy
Apricots are not alone in their cursed presence in MREs. The dreaded Charms candy was another item that made soldiers wary to the point that the military had to stop issuing them in MREs as well.
The little candy squares were mostly just fruit-flavored sugar but no Marine would eat them. Stories tell of new Marines having them slapped right out of their hands if they tried to eat them. The reason was simple – Charms were bad luck and everyone knew it.
Charms could do anything from setting off roadside bombs to bringing mortar fire down on your position. All a Marine had to do was open the package to bring the horror. The different flavors had different effects. Lime would bring rain. Lemon would sabotage your vehicle. Raspberry? That’d kill someone.
How did Marines overcome the danger of Charms? They just threw them away. Soon the Marine superstition made it to the Army and drill instructors were outright telling soldiers to throw the unopened candies on the field. By 2007, the DoD stopped including them in MREs since they were such a problem.
8. Clean Coffee Mugs
Lots of military personnel enjoy a stiff cup of coffee in the morning and those in the Navy are no different. What is different is how coffee cups are treated in the Navy. If you want to fit in, you do not clean your mug. Not ever. The nastier and more terrifying your coffee mug is, the better. This habit has become so ingrained that sailors keep it up at home, with rumors of spouses and partners being remarkably unimpressed with the outcome.
The idea is that a well-seasoned coffee mug, which is to say one that’s stained as dark as night, shows stature and seniority. It means it’s seen a heck of a lot of cups in its day and that means you, as the cup owner, have been around the block yourself. There’s also a rumor that it somehow makes the coffee taste better.
A filthy mug becomes a point of pride and maybe impresses others. Consider it like having the biggest scar or the grossest wound. It’s a weird way to compete and show some prowess, even if it’s vaguely disgusting.
7. Air Force Wings
In the Air Force, when you graduate from undergraduate pilot training you’re issued your wings. Even though it seems like the badge issued to you in honor of your graduation is the sort of thing, you should actually use and wear, the opposite is true. According to Air Force tradition, doing so is bad luck.
Instead, you need to break those wings right away and give half to someone important to you. The two halves of the wings should only come together again when the pilot dies. The tradition is actually older than the Air Force itself and dates back to the Army Air Corps and is generally accepted as official conduct every pilot should engage in.
6. Lucky Cigarettes
Have you ever heard of a lucky cigarette? In the military this tradition is about as old as cigarettes themselves. The idea is that, upon opening a new pack of smokes, one cigarette is flipped upside down and put back in the pack. That’s the lucky one. You don’t smoke the lucky one until the very end of the pack.
The exact origins of the tradition are mired in mystery but there have been some guesses. One is that the tradition dates back to the Second World War when soldiers were given Lucky Strike cigarettes. In this version every cigarette but one is flipped so that the Lucky Strike stamp was on top. Since cigarettes were unfiltered back then, you could smoke either end. If the cigarette was flipped, you’d burn the Lucky Strike logo away quickly so that, if you later dropped the cigarette, the stamp would be gone and the enemy wouldn’t know what country the smoker had come from. If you managed to live to the end of your pack, you smoked the final unflipped one, proving yourself lucky.
The Vietnam version of the story sees soldiers flipping just one cigarette. They were filtered at this time, so the one flipped one made more sense in this context but, again, the idea was you were lucky if you lived long enough to get to it.
5. Sniper’s Taking Hog’s Teeth from Enemy Snipers
In the world of snipers there are PIGs and HOGs. A PIG is a professionally instructed gunman, meaning that sniper has learned how to use their rifle. But the PIG becomes an official HOG when they have taken out an enemy sniper and are now a Hunter of Gunmen.
When a Marine sniper graduates from sniper training they are given a Hog’s Tooth. That’s a 7.62 round of ammunition on a nylon cord. But this isn’t technically a real Hog’s Tooth. A real Hog’s Tooth is a round from your enemy’s gun, taken after you’ve killed them.
Part of the lore of the Hog’s Tooth states that any sniper in the world is destined to be taken out by another sniper someday. But if you could get the drop on your sniper and take that bullet, your bullet, it becomes your Hog’s Tooth and proves you cheated death and are essentially invincible. And, at least in a head to head with another sniper in the moment, that’s kind of true. If you and another sniper are squaring off, odds are only one of you will survive.
Considering you not only need to find a sniper, square off, defeat them, make your way to their position and then take a round for their weapon, getting a true Hog’s Tooth is a hell of a task. But once you have it, you’re the luckiest man alive.To not take it would be most unlucky as it means the bullet with your name on it is still out there.
4. Lighting Three Cigarettes on the Same Match
The saying “three on a match” isn’t the most well known in the world but you may have run across it before. The superposition states that it is bad luck to light three different cigarettes with a single match. The potential origin is the First World War and was a warning against snipers. The idea was that if you’re hiding in a trench or some such at night and light your match, an enemy sniper will see it light the first cigarette, take aim on the second and fire on the third.
The superstition seems to have returned stateside and spread among smokers, who didn’t actually understand the reason why it might be bad luck. It also only worked when people were using matches which is why it’s died out significantly in modern times with the drop off in both smoking and matches to light them.
Another theory suggests that it’s the idea of invoking the holy Trinity for a callous and unimportant act that makes it unlucky, as anything done in threes could be considered disrespectful and may open them to evil.
3. Even Saying the Name of Ham and Lima Beans Was Unlucky
You can find a lot of places online that will rank the taste of MREs. Some seem to be surprisingly good, while many are food-borne atrocities. Many of these have to deal with modern MREs, however, and will never know the scourge of the old-timey MREs our grandfathers had to endure in Korea and earlier.
One dish that has become infamous and dates back to World War II, though it seems to have survived all the way through to Vietnam, is ham and lima beans. This dish was so bad that soldiers refused to even use the proper name for it for fear it would be unlucky. Instead, that gave it a new name that can’t be said in polite company. Ham and M-F’ers would be one sanitized way of referring to it.
According to James Mosel, a US Marine who served in Vietnam, they were also known as beans and balls, beans and dicks, chopped eggs and ham, and nobody ate them.
2. Military Eggs Will Lower Your Libido
As we’ve seen, soldiers can be a little finicky about what they eat. One of the oldest and most pervasive food rumors deals with eggs. As the story goes, the military was doctoring the breakfast of the soldiers with saltpeter in an effort to lower everyone’s sex drive. The rumor is alleged to have started back in the Navy during colonial times.
The rumor has enjoyed a long life owing to the fact that there is anecdotal evidence to support it. Men sign up, all virile and full of life, and then as the weeks of training go by they find their energy levels lower and their libido has fallen off a cliff. So the idea that it’s something outside of them, a kind of chemical sabotage, seems to make sense, even if the truth is they’re just exhausted.
Ironically, saltpeter doesn’t actually reduce sexual urges, but the military still doesn’t hide it in food either way, so there’s not much to worry about.
1. It’s Bad Luck to Sheath a Combat Knife Before it Draws Blood
Have you ever come across a piece of knowledge that everyone in a certain group just knows? That seems to be the case with one of the most widespread superstitions in combat history that also has the curious distinction of being totally untrue in the sense that everyone must agree it can’t possibly be followed. This one goes beyond just the military to anyone who may use a bladed weapon for fighting and it states that if you draw a blade, then you can’t sheath it until it has drawn blood.
On the surface that’s some very warrior stuff. It even shows up in fiction dealing with alien races.And it could never be true because people need to clean their blades or otherwise maintain them all the time when no enemies are around so it’s silly to think you’d be stabbing someone any time you draw a blade. That said, it is everywhere. You can find about 3 million hits if you Google it.
The myth seems to specifically target combat knives, but it’s not exclusive to the US military by any means. Hopefully no one out there is actually practicing it, but it certainly seems like most people know it.