The Surprising Origins Behind These 9 Military Superstitions

Photo Credit: MidJourney
Photo Credit: MidJourney

The US military is made up of the country’s finest men and women. 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.

Don’t wash that mug!

Dirty coffee mug on a wooden table + US Navy sailors standing in a row
Photo Credit: 1. Trougnouf / Wikimedia Commons CC BY-SA 4.0 2. Chief Photographer’s Mate Chris Desmond / U.S. Navy / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

Let’s start with one most are aware of: if you’re in the US 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? There’s a reason for this practice. 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. As such, this superstition is taken very seriously. You might even get written up if you wash a senior officer’s mug.

Sailor’s delight or warning?

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

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.

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.

The HOG’s tooth

Hand holding a HOG's tooth that's been attached to a piece of string
Photo Credit: Lance Cpl. Adam Johnston / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

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

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 HOG’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.

Fly with broken wings

Four US Air Force Thunderbirds aircraft in flight
Photo Credit: Staff Sgt. Jason Couillard / U.S. Air Force / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

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

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.

Candy isn’t always so sweet

Package of Charms candy placed on a metal table
Photo Credit: Alf van Beem / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

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 multicolored hard candies are harbingers of bad luck, so it’s best to steer clear of them at all costs.

Charms 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 indicates death is near. The worst, however, is lime. Eat one and you risk getting caught in a rainstorm.

The bad reputation 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.

Anything for good luck

Selection of charms depicting a shell, a black cat, an individual, two holy people and text on a white pearl
Photo Credit: Wellcome Images / Wikimedia Commons CC BY 4.0

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

Soldiers during the First World War sewed black cats onto 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!

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.

Notice anything odd about the uniform?

Digital camouflage used on US Army Combat uniforms
Photo Credit: Qirille / Wikimedia Commons CC BY-SA 4.0

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 US Army Combat uniforms.

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.

Handle the flag with care

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

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.

There are rules surrounding everything to do with the flag, including how to fold and handle it. There are also several 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.

Don’t say ‘rain’

Three US Army soldiers standing in the rain
Photo Credit: Master Sgt. Michel Sauret / U.S. Army / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

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.

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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 happen. You don’t want to risk being considered the jinx of your unit.

Clare Fitzgerald

Clare Fitzgerald is a Writer and Editor with eight years of experience in the online content sphere. Graduating with a Bachelor of Arts from King’s University College at Western University, her portfolio includes coverage of digital media, current affairs, history and true crime.

Among her accomplishments are being the Founder of the true crime blog, Stories of the Unsolved, which garners between 400,000 and 500,000 views annually, and a contributor for John Lordan’s Seriously Mysterious podcast. Prior to its hiatus, she also served as the Head of Content for UK YouTube publication, TenEighty Magazine.

In her spare time, Clare likes to play Pokemon GO and re-watch Heartland over and over (and over) again. She’ll also rave about her three Maltese dogs whenever she gets the chance.

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