We've heard them all a thousand times. Your roommate heard from a guy in another unit who swears up and down that when his cousin went through basic training, his roommate had been doing funny stuff with ether. Did his friend's cousin really see the Etherbunny? It's probably just one more military urban legend that just won't die – along with these other myths that have been hanging around since Elvis was in the Army.
Be more skeptical, troops.
1. Your favorite old TV star was in Vietnam.
What is it about Vietnam that makes us want our favorite TV personalities from yesteryear to not only have served there, but to also be the badass, stone-faced kind of killer that would make Colonel Kurtz proud? According to military myth, Fred Rogers, of “Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood” fame was either a Navy SEAL in Vietnam or a Marine Scout Sniper. Jerry Mathers, who played the title role on “Leave It To Beaver,” allegedly fought and died there.
Neither of those things happened but someone, somewhere is splicing “Forrest Gump” Vietnam footage into the latest Tom Hanks film about Mr. Rogers.
2. Rich people aren't allowed in the military.
"They" used to always say that a winning lottery ticket was also a one-way ticket to civilian life. And people who were millionaires weren't allowed in the service at all. While it may seem likely that a high-net worth individual would be less likely to need his or her military career and be less prone to discipline, the opposite has often proven to be true — just look at Jimmy Stewart, Pat Tillman, and other wealthy individuals who preferred to serve. And while winning the lottery doesn't mean you have to leave the military, winning millions will give the branches pause and you could leave if you want to. Every branch has provisions for separations when parting ways is in the military's best interest – the way it happened to Seaman John Burdette in 2014.
3. Only sons are exempt from the draft.
Sorry, Private Ryan, but if World War III breaks out, there's still a good chance you're getting called up for the invasion of China. This is an old rumor that is based in some sort of fact. The truth is that sole surviving sons are exempt from the military draft. This is because of a couple of “Private Ryan”-like moments. The Sullivan Brothers, five real brothers, were killed when the USS Juneau was sunk by a Japanese torpedo in World War II. The story of Fritz Niland, whose three brothers were killed within days of each other, is the basis for “Saving Private Ryan.”
So if you're the only child, I'd still register for Selective Service. If you have a few brothers, you should all hope to register.
4. The .50-cal is illegal – but here's how to get around it.
The story goes that the Geneva Convention outlaws the use of a .50-caliber machine gun in combat, so American infantrymen are trained for "off-label uses." The legend says that you just can't use the weapon against people but equipment is still fair game, so the Corps/Army teaches grunts to say they were firing at belt buckles or vehicles or anything else that might be near. Another variation of this legend is that the .50-cal round can still kill people if it flies close to their bodies, so that's the goal. Neither are true.
What weapons are actually banned by international agreements are chemical weapons, certain incendiary weapons, and cluster munitions, to name a few. The United States keeps stockpiles of all of these. Even if the M2 were illegal, do you think the U.S. would give it up, let alone train troops to use it wrong?
5. The base flagpole is carrying some specific stuff.
According to lore, the ball at the top of the base flagpole – known as a "truck" – has very specific items in it, with very specific instructions. It is said the truck either contains a razor, a match, and a bullet or those three items plus a grain of rice and a penny. These are all to be used in case the base is overrun by the enemy.
So there are a few things wrong with this premise. The first is that a U.S. base built in the 1950s-1980s is going to be overrun. The second is that all that fits inside a truck. The third is that any American troops fighting for control of their base are going to stop, fight their way back to the flag, and go through these instructions:
After taking down the flag, troops first have to get the truck from the tops of the pole. Then, the razor will be used to strip the flag, the match will be used to give the flag a flag's retirement, and the bullet is said to be used for either an accelerant for burning the flag or for the troop to use on him or her self. Bonus: the rice is for strength and the penny is supposed to blind the enemy. Does this sound stupid? Because it is. This sounds like gung-ho BS that someone with a fifth-grader's imagination came up with.
6. Medics used to kick your mouth shut if you were killed in combat.
Old-timey dog tags (like the ones from World War II, pictured above) had notches on them, which of course led troops to speculate about the purpose of the notch on the tags. Like most things that came to mind for those old troops, the situation got real dark, real fast. The legend says if a soldier was killed in combat, the medic was supposed to use that notch to align the tag using the teeth in the deceased's mouth, then kick the dead man's mouth shut with Charlie Brown-level effort so the tag would be embedded and the dead would be identified.
That idea would have led to a lot more head trauma on World War II KIA, wouldn't it? One would have to imagine a better way to maintain identifiers than defiling a corpse. The notch's real purpose was much more mundane. They were used to keep the dog tag aligned on the embossing machine used to imprint the tags.
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