Being that we are talking about the military, particular the United States Marines, I thought that it would be fitting to explore some of the superstitions we Jarheads engage in. By the way, Happy 233rd birthday Marines!
Again, I will refer to earlier post about how the word "superstition" is generally linked with other words such as, "omens, myths, beliefs, customs, traditions, and even religion." From the first day of Recruit Training, Marines have countless customs,courtesies, values, and ethics that are embedded into not only their mind, but their lifestyles. Marines are no different than civilians when it comes to believing in superstitions. Some, like most superstitions, are less common or prevalent throughout this small organization, and others are practiced even by the most junior Devil Dog.
Being that Marine are considered "Soldiers of the Sea", we have adapted many maritime superstitions. Sea travelers have been and still are some of the most superstitious people in history. One myth is that women possessed the power to anger the sea gods or had special abilities to cause storms by whistling, however, this superstition is a double edged sword. While some believed that having a woman on board was a sure fire way to have a storm destroy the ship and all of it's crew, others say that if the woman bares her naked body to the storm, all will be saved. Still, most navigators in ancient times tended not to even have women aboard. This probably explains why figureheads on ships were women with breast-a-blazin'! I found it highly ironic too that the names of most vessels are those of women!
Ancient mythology tells of how Greek figures such as Jason, the Argonauts, and Odyssesus encountered exotic winged women called Sirens. These lustful creatures would lure ship captains into the rocks of their island by singing beautiful songs. In the case of Odyssesus, he had his men tie him to the mast while the crew plugged their ears with bees wax. Jason escaped death by having Orpheus play his lyre louder than the Siren's voices.
Ok, back to reality. Before the times of equal opportunity and sexual harassment, ships were crewed by all males. Sailors would, and still do, pull into port looking for "Wine, Women, and Song". Ships are out to sea for long periods of time, and during the time of nature powered navigation, i.e. wind, sails, and good old fashion manpower, distractions would cause even the most disciplined of crews to neglect their assignment. Women brought that distraction to the table. It is a good thing that human intellect has developed, or otherwise ladies would still be used as human sacrifices!
Commonly confused for the "21 Gun Salute", graveside honors for fallen service members began as "cease fire" commands for the two fighting sides. Seven riflemen, as seen in the above picture, would fire three times to resume the fight after the battlefield was cleared of the dead. "This custom may well have originated in a perceived need to scare away evil spirits "escaping" from the dead. As in ancient times, it was believed that the hearts of the recently deceased were ajar at such times, allowing the devil to enter!" Today, it is considered one of the highest forms of tribute for dedicated service. The number seven and it's multiples are considered to be lucky number in naval superstitions. Maybe it is very fitting that all of Marines trousers (pants) have seven belt loops! "The 21-gun salute traces its roots to the Anglo-Saxon empire, when seven guns constituted a recognized naval salute, as most naval vessels had seven guns. Because gunpowder in those days could be more easily stored on land than at sea, guns on land could fire three rounds for every one that could be fired by a ship at sea. Later, as gunpowder and storage methods improved, salutes at sea also began using 21 guns. The United States at first used one round for each state, attaining the 21-gun salute by 1818. The nation reduced its salute to 21 guns in 1841, and formally adopted the 21-gun salute at the suggestion of the British in 1875."
Perhaps the biggest superstition of Marines comes from tracked vehicle [Amphibious Assault Vehicles (AAV) and Tanks] units. "There are several stories which explain this superstition for each service, but one popular Marine Corps version details that maintenance units claim every Sherman tank that broke down in World War II had canned-ration apricots nearby. Tales are told to this day of tanks breaking down once this piece of fruit found its way on board."
Other superstitions include tapping a full rifle magazine on one's helmet for good luck, caring rank insignia for the next promotable rank in ones cover (military hat), ill luck to the person who lites 3 cigarettes on one match, bad luck to the unit who's flag touches the ground, Charms candy bringing rain during field exercises, and the destruction of Jump Wings if touched by anyone beside the owner.
I could go on and on breaking down these superstitions, but if you want to know more about them, just leave me a comment. Again, HAPPY BIRTHDAY LEATHERNECKS!!