The Surprising Reasons Behind These Military Superstitions

Photo Credit: John Moore / Getty Images

The U.S. military is made up of the country’s finest. They’re willing to risk their lives for their countrymen and will take any advantage possible to ensure they’re able to do so. This includes following some pretty interesting military superstitions, many of which involve the weather.

1. Don’t wash that mug!

Let’s start with one most are aware of: if you’re in the Navy, you’d best not wash your coffee mug. What, did you think that caffeine fix was too thick for even a dishwasher to scrub off?

Dirty coffee mug + Navy soldiers standing in a row
Photo Credit: 1. Trougnouf / Wikimedia Commons CC BY-SA 4.0 2. Mate Chris Desmond / Wikimedia Commons

There’s some reasoning behind this practice. For starters, many sailors believe washing the cups is essentially inviting Neptune to sink their ship. It’s also used to show seniority. The dirtier the mug, the longer someone has served. This superstition is taken very seriously. You might even get written up if you wash a senior officer’s mug for them.

2. Sailor’s delight or warning?

We’ve all heard the rhyme, “Red sky at night, sailors’ delight. Red sky at morning, sailors warning,” but did you know its origins lie in the Navy? Back before weather radar was invented, sailors used other methods to predict the weather, including looking at the sky.

Sunset over Hawaii's Molokai Harbor
Photo Credit: Rose_Braverman / Wikimedia Commons CC BY 3.0

The superstition goes that a red sky in the evening means the next day’s weather will be calm. On the flip side, a red sky at dawn means the day will see stormy conditions. It’s one many follow, but according to scientists, it’s only accurate in some instances.

3. The H.O.G.’s tooth

No, we’re not talking about an actual hog. H.O.G stands for “Hunter of Gunmen” and is a title reserved for Marine snipers who’ve taken out an enemy soldier. Marines who fully complete their training are also presented with a symbolic one upon graduating.

HOG Tooth held in a hand
Photo Credit: Lance Cpl. Adam Johnston / Wikimedia Commons

According to legend, everyone has a bullet with their name on it. It’s just a matter of when and where they’ll encounter it. In order for a Marine to collect it as their own, they must be placed in the combat zone. When they encounter an enemy sniper, they must defeat them, steal their gun and remove the bullet from the chamber.

Once you’re in possession of the H.O.G.’s tooth, you’re essentially invincible, as you’ve acquired the bullet destined to end your life. It’s a symbol of good luck and a way to intimidate enemy snipers.

4. Fly with broken wings

When a pilot graduates from training, they’re presented with a pair of wings. While a symbol of great accomplishment, the wings are considered bad luck if kept whole. That’s why pilots break them in half.

Four US Air Force Thunderbirds in flight
Photo Credit: Staff Sergeant Jason Couillard / Wikimedia Commons

Once halved, the pilot keeps one side and gives the other to someone they cherish. They keep them in a safe place until their death, when the two halves are finally brought back together. It’s a touching gesture, meant to indicate they’ll be granted good luck in the afterlife.

5. Candy isn’t always so sweet

While the majority of us would love to see candy in our lunch bags, there’s one type a Marine doesn’t want to find in their MREs: Charms. These multi-colored hard candies are harbingers of bad luck, so it’s best to steer clear of them at all costs.

These candies have been rife with speculation since the Gulf War. Known as “the curse of the Charms,” rumor has it they cause bad luck when ingested. A vehicle is said to break down if someone consumes a lemon square, while raspberry charms indicate death is near. Worst of all is lime. Eat one and you risk getting caught in a rainstorm.

Package of Charms candy from WWI
Photo Credit: Alf van Beem / Wikimedia Commons

The bad rep reached a point where Marines would throw the candy away, and drill instructors warned recruits to get rid of them when in the field. They were removed from MREs in 2007, but not before rumor spread that Marines were throwing them at enemy forces during combat.

6. Anything for good luck

It’s not uncommon for military personnel to bring good luck charms with them during missions. From Air Force pilots to soldiers on the ground, everyone needs something to get them through the dangers of fighting.

Soldiers during WWI sewed black cats to their uniforms as a way of bringing them good luck in the trenches. Similarly, fighter pilot Edwin Parsons attached a black cat plushie to his aircraft for good luck. It’s said the stuffed animal even took a bullet for him!

A selection of good luck charms used by soldiers during WWI
Good luck charms used by soldiers during WWI. (Photo Credit: Wellcome Images / Wikimedia Commons CC BY 4.0)

It’s not surprising this holds such a strong place in military culture. New Zealand Flying Officer Jack Hoffeins forgot to bring his good luck charm — an airman doll — during his last flight. He never returned, and the doll now sits in the Air Force Museum of New Zealand, in his memory.

7. Notice anything odd about the uniform?

Over the years, the camouflage of a soldier’s uniform has changed drastically. It’s used to protect them while on deployment, ensuring they’re hidden from enemy eyes. However, some have noticed a unique symbol on Army Combat uniforms.

Digital camouflage used on US Army Combat uniforms
Camouflage Pattern on the U.S. Army Combat uniform. (Photo Credit: Qirille / Wikimedia Commons CC BY-SA 4.0)

Known as “digital camouflage,” it’s often used to allow a soldier to be hidden from a variety of ranges. Some soldiers claim to see a blotch on their uniforms that resembles a key with a skull base. It’s dubbed the “skeleton key” and many believe it to be a target for enemy bullets.

8. Handle the flag with care

This isn’t a superstition solely related to the military, but it is one they take seriously. The strictness of these rules falls in line with their overall message and objective. The American flag is considered a symbol of freedom many in the Armed Forces worship, so you’d better handle it with respect and care.

American flag on a pole
Photo Credit: Noah Wulf / Wikimedia Commons CC BY-SA 4.0

There are rules surrounding everything to do with the flag, including how to fold and handle it. There are also numerous regulations surrounding what not to do, with the most important being to never let it touch the ground. Not only is it bad luck, but it’s also considered disrespectful.

9. Cigarettes are dangerous business

Outside of their obvious health effects, there used to be superstitions surrounding cigarettes. From the Crimean War up until WWII, soldiers believed using a match to light three cigarettes was asking for trouble.

Three women with Britain's ATS smoking cigarettes
Photo Credit: Unknown Author / Wikimedia Commons

The superstition says that the enemy gained an advantage for each cigarette the match lit. The first one allowed them to see the soldiers, the second enough time to aim their weapons and the third resulted in death. That’s not something you’d expect to happen on your smoke break…

10. Don’t say “rain”

In case you couldn’t tell, weather plays a big role in the lives of servicemen. This is why it should come as no surprise that they look warily upon anything to do with the rain. In fact, they dislike it so much that just saying the word is considered bad luck.

Three American soldiers standing in the rain
Photo Credit: Master Sgt. Michel Sauret / Wikimedia Commons

More from us: The Gross But Life-Saving Chocolate Of WW2

Bad weather can hurt the success of a mission, so soldiers take whatever advantage they can to ensure the skies remain clear. They believe even the clearest days can take a stormy turn, so no mention of rain can occur. You don’t want to risk being considered the jinx of your unit.