U.S. Army Celebrates 241st Birthday – June 14, 2016
David W. Brown for Mental Floss Compiled this great list!
1. A MAJORITY OF PRESIDENTS WORE THE UNIFORM.
Twenty-four presidents served in the Army, to include the various state militias, which supported the Army during the American Revolution and the Civil War. (Excluding the militias, you lose Captain Abraham Lincoln and Brigadier General Chester A. Arthur, among others, on your Fantasy Army team). Of them, 23 were officers, with Private James Buchanan earning distinction as the only enlisted man to ever be elected president. Teddy Roosevelt is the only president to have been awarded the Medal of Honor, albeit posthumously. (Notably, Roosevelt even volunteered for service in World War I—ten years after having served as president.) There’s even some overlap in service: That guy holding the flag in that painting of Washington Crossing the Delaware? James Monroe. William McKinley’s commander in the 23rd Ohio Infantry? Rutherford B. Hayes.
If all of the presidents came back as zombies and put on a uniform, George Washington would be the highest-ranking member of the armed forces, having been posthumously promoted to General of the Armies of the United States in 1976. His second-in-command would be General of the Army Dwight D. Eisenhower. (Trivia: Ike was born David Dwight Eisenhower.)
2. WHY ARE THEY CALLED RANGERS?
Rangers are the Army’s elite light infantry soldiers. In the 18th century, they were formed to wage frontier warfare. They were “grim-faced men” who “went forth to search out the Indian enemy.” They engaged in reconnaissance, acted as scouts, and “ranged” between fixed fortifications. During the American Revolution, Ranger Francis Marion (“the Swamp Fox”) pioneered modern guerrilla warfare.
The Ranger motto is “Rangers lead the way!” This came from an exchange between General Norman Cota and Major Max Schneider on Omaha Beach during the Normandy Invasion.
“What outfit is this?” asked Cota.
“5th Rangers, sir,” said Schneider.
“Well, goddammit,” said Cota, “If you’re Rangers, lead the way!”
3. GEORGE WASHINGTON CHOSE THE COLORS OF THE PRESENT ARMY DRESS UNIFORM.
In 1778, the Continental Congress charged General Washington with deciding on a service uniform for the Continental Army. In October 1779, he directed soldiers to wear “blue coats with differing facings for the various state troops, artillery, artillery artificers and light dragoons.” Over then next two hundred years, the Army tried various colors—whites, tans, and greens—but in 2010, again began issuing uniforms according to Washington’s color design.
4. CAVALRY CHARGES IN THE 21ST CENTURY?
In October 2001, ODA 595 of 5th Special Forces Group (Airborne) linked up with CIA operatives and the Northern Alliance in Afghanistan. The best way to move across the brutal terrain, they discovered, was on horseback. As one Special Forces operator wrote to higher headquarters, “I am advising a man on how best to employ light infantry and horse cavalry in the attack against the (Russian manufactured) Taliban T-55 Tanks, armored personnel carriers, BTR’s, mortars, (D-30) artillery, ZSU (23-2) anti-aircraft guns and machine guns (Dshk and PKM). A tactic which I think became outdated with the invention of the machine gun. I can’t recall the US fighting like this since the Gatling gun destroyed Pancho Villa’s charges in the Mexican Civil War in the early 1900‘s… We have done this every day since we hit the ground.”
By the time the city of Mazar-e Sharif fell, the A-Team’s horses were deafened from gunfire and explosions, and had no issues with operators firing assault rifles from their backs.
5. THE ARMY IS OLDER THAN THE UNITED STATES.
The Battles of Lexington and Concord were fought by militias. (The men were famously called to arms by Paul Revere, who did not shout “The British are coming!” because most residents of Massachusetts considered themselves British.) Once it became clear that a serious war was at hand, the Second Continental Congress authorized a Continental Army with a unified command structure, to be led by Major General George Washington. The measure passed on June 14, 1775, and is still celebrated as the Army’s birthday.
Colonists did not like the idea of a standing army. Consequently, the Continental Army remained relatively small early on, with short enlistments so as to prevent “tyranny.” This led to an experience problem—by the time soldiers really got the hang of fighting a war, their contract was up. Likewise, the Army depended heavily on state militias, which were rife with discipline problems. With the ratification of the Declaration of Independence, it became clear, as John Adams wrote, that the United States needed “a regular Army, and the most masterly Discipline, because I know, that without these We cannot reasonably hope to be a powerful, a prosperous, or a free People.” Soon thereafter, enlistments were extended to three years and the Continental Army underwent a series of expansions and radical reforms.
6. WASHINGTON NEVER ASKED TO COMMAND THE CONTINENTAL ARMY, BUT…
FINISH THIS GREAT LIST COMPILED BY D.B. Grady: