10 Fascinating Facts About The US Army

Photo Credit: Spc. Jessica Scott. / U.S. Army

The U.S. Army has a long and decorated history. Its inception began during the Revolutionary War, and it has since gone on to become the most powerful military force in the world. Here are some facts you might not have known about it, from the inception of its official song to its first female service member.

1. The first Army submarine was used during the Revolutionary War

The first submarine used by the Army was invented by Yale graduate David Bushnell. Named the “Turtle,” it was a wooden craft that could be propelled by a single individual using a hand crank and a foot treadle. It rose and sink via a pedal-operated tank and a lead ballast helped keep it upright.

A diagram showing how to operate the Turtle submarine
A diagram of how to operate the Turtle. (Photo Credit: William Oliver Stevens / Wikimedia Commons)

The Turtle saw its first military activity on September 7, 1776, during a mission to blow up the HMS Eagle. The ship was of British origin and had moored in New York Harbor.

Unfortunately, its pilot, Ezra Lee, received little training and aborted the mission. After several other botched trials, the craft was abandoned. Despite this, the Patriot Army, including George Washington, praised Bushnell for his invention.

2. The Army tested chemicals on civilians during the Cold War

During the 1950s and 1960s, the U.S. Army conducted chemical tests on large civilian populations. Operation Large Area Coverage (LAC) was designed to assess the threat of biological attacks by simulating germ dispersal in the air. Motorized blowers were placed atop buildings in St. Louis, San Francisco, Minnesota, and the coastal regions of South Carolina and Georgia, spreading zinc cadmium sulfide into the air.

Reminder of the Cold War
Reminder of the Cold War (Photo Credit: R. Sieben / Wikimedia Commons CC BY 3.0)

Cadmium was used for its dispersal potential, despite being a harmful carcinogen. It was mixed with silicate and small amounts of copper and silver, with the latter allowing it to better glow under ultraviolet light. While the tests were isolated to a few U.S. cities, the effects were felt across a large portion of the country and as far away as Mexico and Canada.

The federal government claimed the tests were guarding the country against Russian aerial observation and attacks until 1994. The admission came after citizens complained of health issues, as long-term cadmium exposure can cause lung cancer and bone and kidney problems.

3. The Army was the last service branch to adopt an official song

“The Army Goes Rolling Along” wasn’t always the Army’s official song. In fact, it didn’t receive that distinction until Veterans Day 1956, after a lot of trial and error.

Its origins are in the Philippines, where West Point graduate Edmund Louis Gruber was stationed in 1908. He found inspiration upon overhearing a section chief shout commands at a caisson driver, and ended up writing “The Caissons Go Rolling Along.”

John Philip Sousa turned it into “The Field Artillery Song.” When the Army failed to find the perfect song during contests held in 1948 and 1952, they returned to the tune with one condition: that the lyrics be reworked. The rest, as they say, is history!

4. There’s a unit dedicated to skepticism

The University of Foreign Military and Cultural Studies was established in 2004 in response to a review regarding the shortcomings that led to the attacks on 9/11. Students from the Command and General Staff College (CGSC) are trained to challenge the concepts and planning brought forth by military officials in order to strengthen the decision-making process. Their official title? The Red Team.

A skeptical man with his fist against his cheek
Photo Credit: Andrea Piacquadio / Pexels

Unfortunately, this innovative course is set to end on October 1, 2021. With the Army planning to repurpose the $2.5 million set aside for the program, it will no longer have the ability to train new students.

5. The first female servicemember disguised herself as a man

Deborah Sampson served in the Revolutionary War between 1782 and 1783. She enlisted in the Fourth Massachusetts Regiment under the name “Robert Shurtleff” and was assigned to Captain George Webb’s Company of Light Infantry. There, she fought against the British alongside male infantrymen.

Portrait of Deborah Sampson
Deborah Sampson (Photo Credit: George Graham & William Beastall / Wikimedia Commons)

In order to keep her identity hidden, Sampson often treated her wounds herself. She managed to keep up the charade for a year before falling ill and being admitted to hospital, where she lost consciousness. She was given an honorable discharge in 1783, and was the first-ever woman to receive a military pension.

6. There have only been five Five-Star Generals in the U.S. Army

The rank was introduced in 1944 in order to allow U.S. officers to better command Allied officers from other countries who were technically of a higher rank. The Navy also introduced a similar rank, the Fleet Admiral. Between 1944 and 1945, the Army promoted Dwight D. Eisenhower, Henry H. Arnold, George C. Marshall, and Douglas MacArthur to the rank, with Omar N. Bradley being promoted in 1950.

Front and back of the Five-Star General $5 coin featuring an image of Douglas MacArthur
Proof coin featuring Five-Star General Douglas MacArthur (Photo Credit: US Mint / Wikimedia Commons)

While still in existence, the rank has not been used since Bradley died in 1981. The President has the power to promote an Army General to the rank with Senate approval, but many feel there isn’t a reason to do so, given the reason for its origins.

7. The Army uses Depleted Uranium (DU) bullets

DU is a byproduct of the uranium enrichment process. Bullets made from it were first used during the Gulf War and have been standard issue ever since. Their high density allows them to pierce armored vehicles, and the impact often causes the rounds to ignite, causing more destruction.

US troops running from an Army helicopter
Photo Credit: Staff Sgt. Crista Yazzie U.S. Army, Pacific Public Affairs / Wikimedia Commons

Despite DU being depleted of its radioactivity by 40 percent, its chemical toxicity remains. This has led many to question the ethics of its use, as veterans have begun to experience health issues tied to it.

8. The Revolutionary War helped create modern guerrilla warfare

General Francis Marion — nicknamed the “Swamp Fox” — is credited with pioneering the tactics behind modern guerrilla warfare. A student of Major Robert Rogers’ 28 Rules of Ranging, he spent his military career molding the techniques to fit his own style of fighting.

A painting by John Blake White depicting Francis Marion offering to share his meal with a British soldier
General Francis Marion inviting a British officer to share his meal. (Photo Credit: John Blake White / Wikimedia Commons)

This, paired with his experience during the French and Indian War, allowed him to create a form of combat instrumental to America’s victory over Britain. Many recount that he and his troops would launch surprise attacks against the enemy before leaving almost as unexpectedly.

9. JFK is behind the Special Forces’ green beret

The green beret became standard issue for the Special Forces after President John F. Kennedy visited Fort Bragg in 1961. He observed Brigadier General William P. Yarborough wearing one and decided it was just the article of clothing needed to distinguish the Special Forces from their counterparts.

Black and white photograph of President John F. Kennedy + US Special Forces soldiers at Arlington National Cemetery
Photo Credit: 1. U.S. Navy / Wikimedia Commons 2. SFC Jeremy D. Crisp (U.S. Army) / Wikimedia Commons

At Kennedy’s funeral, Command Sergeant Major Francis Ruddy placed his own beret on the President’s grave, a tradition that continues to this day at Arlington National Cemetery.

10. The Army is one of America’s largest employers

The U.S. Army is considered one of the country’s top employers. As of 2017, there were 1.3 million active-duty service members across all branches and 142.5 million civilians employed. This means civilians outnumber service members 110 to one.

Members of the 3rd ID Band playing their musical instruments
Photo Credit: Staff Sgt. Tanya Polk / U.S. Army Photo

More from us: 10 Everyday Products That Were Invented By The Military

While service members participate in traditional military tasks, civilian workers bring their skills to the support services.

Other top employers, unsurprisingly, are Walmart and Amazon, the latter of which saw exponential growth during the COVID-19 pandemic as shoppers moved online.