Armed Forces Day

Interesting Facts and Stories About Our Military


For many years, each American military branch had its own special day. In 1949, then-Secretary of Defense Louis Johnson (with the support of President Truman) announced that Armed Forces Day would be a single day during which we could thank all of our military members for their service and sacrifices to our nation.

This year, we celebrate Armed Forces Day by taking a look at some of the more unusual stories and histories behind our four main branches.


  • The Army was the last service to adopt an official song, waiting 181 years before deciding on a version of the "Caisson Song" with new lyrics and called "The Army Goes Rolling Along."
  • The most recent five-star U.S. Army general was Omar Bradley, who left the service in 1953. He is one of only six Army leaders who have held a five-star rank—the others were Generals George Marshall, Douglas MacArthur, Dwight D. Eisenhower, George Washington (who was given it posthumously), and Henry H. Arnold (who also held a five-star rank in the Air Force, the only person to do so in two branches).
  • Technology has always been part of the military, but today's Soldiers are the most advanced ever. The average infantry platoon (30 Soldiers) will carry up to a combined 400 pounds of batteries for a 72-hour mission. Supporting those troops also takes a great deal of energy: it takes up to 22 gallons of fuel per day to transport the food, equipment, ammunition, etc., needed to support a single Soldier in the field.
  • The term "Rangers" comes from the 18th century military, when the Army’s top light infantry soldiers "ranged" between locations on the western frontier. But their motto, "Rangers lead the way!" is actually much newer. As the story goes, during the invasion of Normandy Beach on D-Day, Gen. Norman Costa's units were being pinned down by enemy machine gun fire. He calmly walked over to Maj. Max Schneider and asked, "What outfit is this?" In reply, someone yelled back "5th Rangers!" Said Gen. Costa in response: "Well, goddamn it then, Rangers, lead the way!" From there, the motto was born.


  • Originally, the name of the ship in the TV series "Star Trek" was supposed to be the Yorktown. But in 1962, the Navy launched the USS Enterprise, which was the first nuclear-powered aircraft carrier and the longest vessel the Navy had ever built (a record it actually still holds). It was hailed as the future of naval vessels, so Gene Roddenberry changed his ship's name to match.
  • The tradition of gun salutes in the Navy goes back to wooden ships and cannons, and has become a tradition in certain situations.  In modern times, the Secretary of the Navy has the final say on whether or not a salute can take place, and there are certain rules about doing them:
    • They are fired in five-second intervals
    • Must be an odd number
    • When doing so for senior officers, the number of shots depends on the rank: 17 for an admiral; 15 for vice admiral; 13 for rear admiral upper half; and 11 for rear admiral lower half.
  • Why is a goat the Navy mascot? It’s kind of a long story, but the shortish version: before the 20th century, many vessels carried livestock, either for things like food, or even as pets. In the late 1800s, one such animal aboard a U.S. Navy ship—a goat—died while at sea, and two young seamen were tasked with taking care of the hide once the ship docked so that it could be mounted.
    On the way, these two young sailors decided to make a stop at Annapolis to check out the football game against Army. During halftime, one of them draped the skin over his uniform and began frolicking on the sidelines. The crowd loved it, the team won, and in 1893 a goat named El Cid became the first live one to grace the field as the mascot—and, again, Navy won. After several goat-free years, another goat was on hand for a key victory against Army in the early 1900s, and was re-named Bill during the post-game celebration. This began the tradition, and they now keep two goats at the ready, with the current mascots being Bill XXXV and Bill XXXVI.

Air Force

  • In the 1960s and 1970s, the military had so many nuclear weapons placed in North Dakota that, if it would have seceded from the United States, would have made it the third-largest nuclear power in the world.
  • In 2010, the Air Force Research Laboratory created a supercomputer using Playstation 3 game consoles—and for about 20 times less than building a traditional one. (No, seriously. They did.)
  • The Air Force began tracking Santa Claus starting in 1948, when CONAD (the Continental Air Defense Command, the precursor to the North American Aerospace Defense Command, or NORAD) issued a report that claimed an "early warning radar net to the north" had picked up "one unidentified sleigh, powered by eight reindeer, at 14,000 feet, heading 180 degrees." The Associated Press and other wire services picked up on it, but it would be several years before it happened again—and the reason why is interesting and a matter of some debate.
    The story goes that a Sears ad that ran in a Colorado Springs paper in 1955 had a phone number in it that children could use to call Santa. One child dialed the number wrong (though some stories claim the number was printed in the paper incorrectly) and got CONAD instead. While the original call was dismissed, a staffer saw an opportunity for some good PR and suggested they track Santa each year. A tradition was born and is still continued to this day, with volunteers staffing phone lines and an online "Santa Tracker" that, in 2014, logged 20 million visitors.


  • A key part of the Corps is its amphibious nature, yet a Marine's annual swim qualification is not a determining factor in his or her promotion.
  • Honorary Marines who never served in the military are incredibly rare, with fewer than 100 people receiving such recognition. Some of the best known:
    • Brig. Gen. Bob Hope
    • Cpl. Jim Nabors (played Gomer Pyle)
    • Master Sgt. Bugs Bunny
    • Gary Sinese (rank: not sure, but we’re guessing lieutenant)
    • Chuck Norris (rank: whatever he wants it to be at the time because, ya know, Chuck Norris)
  • The very first retired Marine to receive an honorary promotion was due to a movie role—a role that Marine wasn’t supposed to play. R. Lee Ermey was an advisor for Stanley Kubrick’s movie Full Metal Jacket, but wasn’t satisfied with the way the gunnery sergeant was presented. So he recorded 20-continuous minutes of him dressing down some of the movie’s extras, without once repeating himself, and showed it to Kubrick. Ermey, who retired from the Corps as a staff sergeant, was cast on the spot and, in 2002, received an honorary promotion to gunnery sergeant to match the role for which he is best known.
Thank you to everyone who serves in the Armed Forces for your patriotism, dedication, and service!
Mark Dye

About the author: Mark Dye

Mark Dye has been writing articles, recording podcasts, and putting together books on personal finance for nearly a decade. His work has been recognized by the American Bankers Association and the Institute for Financial Literacy, and received an 2011 APEX Grand Award for Writing. Follow Mark on Google+.

Contact: Mark Dye


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