THE SECRET MILITARY HISTORY OF THE MOHAWK
Here it is -- the fascinating but largely unknown, untold story of how it was courageous U.S. Army paratroopers in World War Two who first popularized the daring, modern Mohawk haircut, invented centuries earlier by Native Americans as a proud emblem of the warrior culture .......along with the Internet's largest collection of military Mohawks.....more paratroopers, soldiers, Marines & sailors in uniform actually sporting Mohawks than you ever dreamed existed.
This Web site is for active-duty and former military who are interested in the authentic military history of the Mohawk and its occasional non-regulation use by military members when out in the field or in combat posts . . . for civilian admirers who just like the short, neatly-trimmed, clean-cut, military-style Mohawks . . . and for historians interested in the little-known origin of that most American of all haircuts.
The historic World War Two photo used as the icon for this group shows Mohawked paratroopers of the 101st Airborne Division during the Normandy Invasion on D-Day, June 6, 1944.
This blog covers the complete history of military Mohawks as a proud emblem of the warrior culture in our nation's military services. For an equally complete, equally fascinating history of the Mohawk in civilian life, in a separate blog titled "The Strange, Sexy History of the Civilian Mohawk," see the separate link at the end of the military blog below.
Scroll down to read my blog titled "The Secret Military History of the Mohawk."
Latest Activity: Sep 27, 2014
THE SECRET MILITARY HISTORY OF THE MOHAWK
YOU DIDN'T KNOW THERE WAS ONE? NEITHER DID MOST PEOPLE
THE SHOCKING HAIRCUT THAT HELPED TO WIN WORLD WAR TWO
[For a separate article on the civilian history of the Mohawk -- complete with a large array of rare, historic, civilian photos -- click on the link at the end of this military blog.]
If you cherish great icons of American military history -- like the famous photos of U.S. Marines raising our flag on Iwo Jima in World War Two and General MacArthur wading ashore in the Phillipines -- then make a mental note of this startling image. And remember it well.
It's an amazingly realistic-looking military action figure model commemorating the Mohawk haircuts that were worn into combat by every single member of a famous World War Two paratrooper unit that played a vital role in defeating the Nazis in World War Two and saving democracy. Fully half of the members of that courageous Mohawked unit who volunteered for that suicide mission that was absolutely vital to the success of the Allied invasion were killed, wounded, or captured during that combat jump . . . thus catapulting the Mohawk haircut into history as a stirring icon of American courage under fire.
In this article, I'll tell you the exciting but little-known story of those Mohawks that helped to win World War Two. And along the way, I'll show you (below) the world's largest collection of military Mohawks.
MOHAWKED PARATROOPERS: You say you don't believe Mohawk haircuts were ever worn by the military? Think again. After you see the numerous historical photos below of those Mohawked paratroopers in World War Two, you will no longer have any doubts whatsoever.
SOME MOHAWKED MARINES TOO: And you think the Marines got left out of the love for military Mohawks? Well, think again. A little further down in this article, I'll reprint an interview with a former combat Marine who says the Indian scalp lock has also been popular with Marines being deployed to combat regions. Who knew?
SAILORS TOO. We'll show you historic photos of World War Two sailors and Marines having their heads forcibly shaved into Mohawks during their tough, sometimes brutal, shipboard initiation upon crossing the equator for the first time. So . . .
LESSON #1: CONTRARY TO WHAT YOU ALWAYS THOUGHT, THE MODERN-DAY MOHAWK WAS NOT INVENTED BY PUNK ROCKERS!!! It was invented by those incredibly courageous American paratroopers on a suicide mission behind enemy lines during the Normandy Invasion. . . . part of "The Greatest Generation." After the war, the punk rockers on the London streets copied the daring, eye-catching, warrior haircut from American paratroopers they had seen at British airfields, preparing to invade Hitler's Germany.in the summer of 1944. And then some American football teams, admiring the warrior image, adopted the paratrooper Mohawk. But it all started with the military. Interested? Read on.
It's the "forgotten history" of the military Mohawk. Forgotten for half a century until the modern-day Internet stunned the world by reviving those wartime Mohawk photos.
Many Americans will be surprised to learn that -- up until the end of World War Two and for at least a decade thereafter -- the main place the Mohawk haircut was seen was in old black-and-white, historic photos like these, showing military personnel sporting that strictly unofficial haircut in combat . . .
. . or in equally historic World War Two photos showing grinning sailors and Marines submitting to forced Mohawks – and other embarrassing head shaves -- as a result of roughhouse "crossing the equator" initiations on battleships and troop transports.
Photos of these initiation haircuts helped to spread public awareness of the Mohawk.
I'll show initiation photos and tell the detailed story of those once-brutal wartime initiations and all the forced Mohawks that resulted a little further down in this article.
Meantime, anyone who has ever played a video combat game knows that the digital game artists long ago discovered that the quickest and easiest way to give a gaming hero (or villain) a military look -- a hyper-masculine look -- is to give him a bad-ass Mohawk, reminiscent of those real-life, historic paratrooper Mohawks from World War Two.
So, further down in this article, we'll take a fascinating look at how one video gaming artist.played around with various takes on the "combat Mohawk." See which artist's rendering of the scalp lock you like best. Some of them are awesome!!!
In particular, it was courageous U.S. Army paratroopers of the 101st Airborne Division who first popularized the Mohawk haircut more than 70 years ago during the Normandy Invasion on
D-Day that courageously freed Europe from Nazi domination -- long before their paratrooper Mohawks were copied by punk rockers, football teams, and gutsy civilian teenagers.
Just Google "Paratrooper Mohawk" "Mohawk D-Day"and you'll see a.lot of photos of those Mohawked paratroopers making history -- saving the world for democracy.
I've posted I've posted most of those paratrooper Mohawks from World War Two on this blog (see below). Half of the Mohawked paratroopers from the famed "Screaming Eagles" 101st Airborne Division in these World War Two photos were either killed, wounded or captured in that D-Day combat jump -- but they accomplished their mission. They are legendary American heroes. And in so doing, they forever emblazoned the daring and shocking Mohawk haircut as part of the gutsy warrior image . . . thereby making that haircut an American icon.
As a former paratrooper myself nine years later in the 82nd Airborne Division (a sergeant) during the Korean War, let me see if I can hopefully lend some clarity to the long-running debate on many Internet forums as to which individual airborne unit did -- or did not – introduce the Mohawk as a daringly distinctive (non-regulation) haircut for American paratroopers. I seem to be one of the few veterans still alive who remember the early military history of the Mohawk. So I guess I’d better write it down before we’re all dead.
(For the civilian history of the Mohawk -- which is equally fascinating and quite surprising -- see my other blog on this "Mohawks Rock" Website, titled: "Will People Think I'm Crazy if I Get a Mohawk?") Click here..
Back in the summer of 1954, I did an official, in-depth feature story on the military history of the Mohawk for the 82nd "All American" Airborne Division’s official radio program over a local civilian station in Fayetteville, NC, where Fort Bragg is located (home of the 82nd). What triggered the radio feature was the fact that summer maneuvers were underway at that time in the vast “pine barrens” of Fort Bragg’s back-country – and suddenly Mohawk haircuts began showing up on large numbers of 82nd troopers whenever they took their helmets off. People started asking: "What's the story behind those great haircuts?" That made it suddenly newsworthy, resulting in my radio story.
In addition, I was recently asked to explain the history of paratrooper Mohawks when I was interviewed for the Library of Congress collection of videotaped interviews with veterans of American wars.
The bottom line is that – regardless of which airborne unit first adopted the startling haircut – it has, over the years, become as closely identified (unofficially) with Army paratroopers as the “high-and-tight” haircut is with U.S. Marines, despite the fact that it is not allowed by Army haircut regulations.
My old outfit, the 82nd Airborne Division, is sometimes credited -- somewhat questionably -- with introducing the Mohawk to the military. It’s true that 82nd troopers periodically sported non-regulation Mohawks over the years when out in the field on maneuvers, including the years when I served with them.
But photographic archives leave little doubt that the primary credit for first introducing the Mohawk to the military belongs to another paratrooper outfit -- the legendary “Filthy 13” demolition unit of the 101st Airborne Division that parachuted behind Nazi lines in the pre-dawn hours before the Normandy Invasion on D-Day (June 6, 1944). All of the members of that Mohawked demolition unit had volunteered for what has been described as a courageous "suicide mission."
Numerous D-Day photographs of that 101st Division "Pathfinder" unit show them boarding planes for the D-Day jump while wearing freshly shaved Mohawks and Native American war paint, supposedly designed to frighten the Nazis. Those eye-catching photographs were plastered across newspapers, movie newsreels and news magazines, including a famous photograph in the military newspaper, “Stars and Stripes” – introducing the entire world to that startling haircut and indelibly associating it forever with U.S. paratroopers.
Here (see below) is a painting of those same Mohawked paratroopers of the 101st Airborne Division boarding an old C-47 troop transport for the D-Day jump behind Nazi lines. The boarding occurred at a high-security RAF air base -- long since vanished --which was then located near Exeter in the Devon area of southwest England in an area that had been heavily bombed by the Nazis during the earlier Blitz.
Steven Spielberg's 2001 mammoth 10-part TV series "Band of Brothers" was about the 101st Division's D-Day parachute jump. Here's one of the actors in that series having his head shaved into a Mohawk with a straight razor.
At that time, the HBO/BBC series was the most expensive TV mini-series ever made. Spielberg had the series shown to actual veterans of the D-Day invasion on Utah Beach where the ground troops beached in France amidst massive casualties.
Unfortunately the division's now-famous Mohawk haircuts were seen only briefly in one or two very quick scenes.
HERE (SEE BELOW) IS PROBABLY THE SINGLE MOST MEMORABLE PHOTOGRAPH EVER TAKEN OF PARATROOPER MOHAWKS IN THE SECOND WORLD WAR.
The very rare, long-lost, seldom-seen photograph below shows paratroopers of the 101st Airborne Division -- the "Screaming Eagles" -- shaving each other's heads in preparation for their combat jump behind Nazi lines on D-Day for the massive Normandy Invasion . . . while some of their fellow paratroopers look on with their hair still intact.
Take a good, close look at this historic photo . . . and make a mental note of the date, June 6, 1944 . . . because what you are seeing here is the precise moment when the modern-day Mohawk was invented . . . not by punk rockers (as most people think) but by brave combat paratroopers . . . genuine All-American heroes.
Some of them volunteered for a Mohawk; some just went for a completely shaved head.
What makes this photograph so stunning is that . . . instead of razors or hair clippers to shave their heads . . . these combat paratroopers are using their razor-sharp trench knives that were specially issued to paratroopers in the Second World War for behind-the-lines combat . . . thus forever linking the Mohawk to the proud warrior culture. Wow, that's cutting a Mohawk the hard way. Don't try this at home.
That long-lost photo is also significant because -- by each man shaving the head of the man in front of him -- they made the combat Mohawk a shared experience that bonded the unit together in cohesiveness and esprit de corps . . . a memorable, cherished moment together . . . just before that suicide mission that left half of the men in this photo killed, wounded, or captured.
ARCHIVAL MOTION PICTURE FOOTAGE OF THOSE MOHAWKED PARATROOPERS: Here's a link to historic motion picture footage of those same Mohawked 101st Airborne Division paratroopers on D-Day. The You Tube link doesn't say who filmed this historic footage -- but it was probably U.S. Army Signal Corps combat cameramen, CLICK HERE.
In 1944, when the "Stars and Stripes" military newspaper flashed that other iconic photo of the Mohawked paratroopers around the world, most people had never seen a Mohawk and didn't even know such a haircut existed -- outside of historical paintings of Native American warriors 150 years earlier. For most Americans, the sight of that bizarre, eye-catching haircut on the heads of their courageous military heroes defending us from the Nazis was shocking -- but, at the same time, strangely intriguing.
But once they recovered from the initial shock, most World War Two Americans thought the combat Mohawks were really sexy looking. Suddenly, teenage boys all over the world -- especially those on athletic teams -- began shaving Mohawks into their own hair (especially in America and England).
Apparently they figured if a Mohawk haircut could be such a powerful bonding tool for a tight-knit military unit, then maybe the shocking haircut could work similar bonding magic on any athletic team that was willing to endure being stared at.
Here -- just six years after those photos of those Mohawked paratroopers in the D-Day Invasion -- is a historic photo of the entire sophomore contingent on the 1950 University of Nebraska "Cornhuskers" football team submitting to initiation Mohawks as a team-bonding experience . . . a startling reminder of the 101st Airborne's indelible contribution to American culture. Without those famous photos of the D-Day paratroopers, this scene would never have happened, and the photo below would not exist..
In the 1970s, the eye-catching haircut really took off bigtime when English punk rockers.
adopted Mohawks and motorcycle jackets as their own uniform. Why in England? Well, maybe because that's where the Mohawked heroes of the 101st Airborne Division trained and embarked from on the D-Day invasion of Nazi occupied Europe -- thereby helping to save England from a feared Nazi invasion.
But by the time the popularity of the Mohawk spread back to American teenagers in the late 1970s and 1980s, the military origin of the modern-day Mohawk had been largely forgotten -- even by the military itself. It was not until long-forgotten archival photos of Mohawked American paratroopers from World War Two began showing up on Internet search engines after 2010 that the average American was stunned to learn that -- contrary to widespread belief -- the Mohawk haircut was originally popularized, not by rebellious teens -- but by genuine American military heroes who undertook a courageous suicide mission to protect your liberty.
Prior to 2010, if you had told the average American that the modern-day Mohawk was popularized by military heroes, they would have given you a blank stare and said "huh?". Prior to 2010, even men who had spent their entire career in the military were largely unaware of the Mohawk's powerful connection to the 101st Airborne Division and the Normandy Invasion -- totally unaware of "The Lost History of the Mohawk."
Prior to 2010, if you had told almost any military man that the modern-day Mohawk was first popularized by Army paratroopers, they'd have insisted you were crazy. On the contrary, they'd have told you, quite correctly, that Mohawks are strictly forbidden by military haircut rules. And they would be absolutely correct. Mohawks aren't tolerated in garrison.
But what they overlooked was the fact that some military leaders -- quite wisely -- are not overly scrupulous about enforcing haircut rules when men's lives are in danger in combat or when troops are living under rough conditions in field maneuvers.
When a man is about to lose his life on a battlefield, his haircut is just about the last thing he (or his commanders) are worried about. Under those rough conditions, Mohawks have popped up frequently over the decades -- beginning with the 101st Division in the D-Day Invasion.
Not until they saw these historic, long-forgotten photos from World War Two would most modern-day military men believe there was a connection between the Mohawk haircut and the U.S. military. Confronted with the photos, the usual reaction from today's military men was "How come I never knew about this?" Since military men tend to be rather conservative -- and since conservatives had long associated the Mohawk with rebellious teenagers -- the stunning revelation that their own military was the real origin of the modern-day Mohawk was often a jarring discovery.
But the truth is right there on the Internet for anyone who Googles "paratrooper Mohawk"
So if your rebellious teenager asks Dad for a Mohawk -- or if you're a wussy high school principal trying to enforce uptight haircut regulations -- you may have a tough time explaining why that gutsy haircut was perfectly OK for a bunch of genuine American heroes who died for our freedom while proudly wearing Mohawks.
Hopefully, now that they understand that combat Mohawks were seen by the World War Two generation as proud emblems of American courage under enemy fire, maybe they'll see those bristly tufts as something to be proud of -- like a U.S. Marine's distinctive high and tight haircut..
Combat Mohawks seem to have been tolerated during the D-Day Invasion even by the Supreme Allied Commander, General Eisenhower. Look very closely at this photo of
General Eisenhower wishing members of the 101st Airborne Division good luck just before the D-Day combat jump. . .
. . . and you'll see that two or three of the 101st Division paratroopers standing right next to the general appear to be wearing short, combat Mohawks similar to the ones then being worn by their unit's demolition team.-- and the general obviously didn't object. Here's a close-up:
When we now know that Eisenhower was wracked with worry that a sudden bad turn in the weather was about to devastate his invasion plans and possibly cost the lives of tens of thousands of additional American soldiers, he'd have been crazy to worry about enforcing haircut regulations, right?. Combat Mohawks? Fine. Just come home safe.
Eisenhower clearly was a genius in his ability to prioritize his concerns during a crisis -- and haircuts right then weren't even remotely on his radar screen.
When I was in the 82nd Airborne Division during the Korean War, the commanders of one regiment (I think it may have been the 504th Airborne Infantry Regiment, but I'm not certain) actually conducted a contest during summer maneuvers in Fort Bragg's back-country to see which company in that regiment had the best-looking military Mohawks. In that circumstance, some unit commanders in the 82nd actually encouraged their paratroopers to submit to Mohawks during maneuvers. And it turned out to be a huge boost to troop morale. Absolutely no harm done. But the Mohawks were quickly shaved off when the troops returned to their barracks. I wish I had preserved my photos of the 82nd's memorable Mohawk contest.
One famous member of that 101st“Diivision demolition team, Jake McNiece, was a Native American, and he has said that it was his mother who suggested the haircut for the Normandy jump. Like most Americans, his mother was obviously aware that for the previous three or four years, American paratroopers had already been yelling “Geronimo” (the name of a famous Indian chief) as their colorful battle cry every time they jumped out of a plane. The haircut obviously fit the battle cry. His mother presumably figured if her son’s unit was going to yell like Indian warriors, they might as well look like Indian warriors.
Take a good look at that photo of McNiece. He's the combat paratrooper who popularized the modern-day Mohawk -- with a little nudge from his Mohawk-loving mother -- even if the original credit obviously goes to brave Native American warriors of 200 years earlier.
But where did McNiece's mom get the revolutionary idea of having white men copy the Indians by shaving their own heads into Mohawks?
Well, my theory is that two years before the D-Day Invasion, McNiece and his mom (and almost everybody else in America) had seen this shocking, widely circulated photo in the February 2, 1942, issue of Life Magazine.
It showed Bill Abrams, a young sophomore at Dartmouth College, with his head shaved into a Mohawk. My research suggests that this very likely was the first time any white man had ever appeared in any publication wearing an Indian warrior's scalp lock.
The very fact that Life Magazine felt the photo was unusual enough -- and shocking enough -- to warrant printing a picture of it, suggests that the editors thought it was a highly unusual sight that very few Americans had ever seen before. Which is further evidence that Abrams' Mohawk may have been the first to be depicted in a major, nationwide publication.
Apparently millions of Americans loved the daring look. But in those early days, hardly anyone dared to copy it -- except a bunch of tough paratroopers headed on a suicide mission behind Nazi lines whose bravery earned them the right to cut their hair any damn way they wanted.
Since literally EVERYONE read Life Magazine in those pre-television days, it's almost certain that among those who saw Abrams' eye-catching scalp lock -- and loved the warrior look -- were those Mohawked members of the 101st Airborne Division..
Familiarize yourself with the shoulder patch of the famed "Screaming Eagles" 101st Airborne Division -- because if you look closely, you'll see that same shoulder patch on the paratroopers in the photos below on June 5, 1944, one day before the D-Day Invasion as they prepared to board the old propeller-driven C-47 planes that would carry some of them to their deaths, and some to incarceration in Nazi prisoner of war camps. It's that famous "Screaming Eagles" shoulder patch that validates these historic photos as proof that once upon a time, yes, courageous American paratroopers really did jump behind enemy lines wearing "combat Mohawks" -- an entire Mohawked demolition team, every one of them wearing an Indian scalp lock.
CLARIFICATION: For simplicity's sake, I have designated these historic Mohawk photos as being on "D-Day," June 6, 1944 -- the famous date generally used by historians. But actually the "Pathfinder" unit of the 101st Airborne Division that wore the now-famous Mohawks took off in darkness the evening before D-Day -- on what was called "D-Day Minus One" -- on a super-dangerous suicide mission to secretly mark the drop zones behind Nazi lines for the rest of the 101st to follow in the pre-dawn hours of June 6th.
Below is a historic World War Two photo showing Jake McNiece wearing the very Mohawk that triggered a worldwide phenomenon -- a wave of popularity that still lasts today. McNiece is the Mohawked paratrooper on the right, applying Indian warpaint to the face of a fellow member of the 101st Airborne Division as they prepared to parachute behind Nazi lines to launch the D-Day Invasion that won the war. In the background is a fellow paratrooper whose head McNiece apparently shaved to show how the Indians did it.
The photo on the right is identified in an online posting as another shot of Jake McNiece, the man who invented the "paratrooper Mohawk, taken on June 5, 1944, the afternoon before D-Day, as he and his fellow Mohawked paratroopers of the 101st demolition team prepared to board planes for the combat jump on the night before the main invasion began on June 6
BUT HERE (SEE BELOW) IS THE ACTUAL, HISTORIC "STARS AND STRIPES" PHOTO THAT ROCKETED THE "PARATROOPER MOHAWK" TO WORLDWIDE FAME
The photo below is the actual Stars and Stripes photo, distributed to American military troops worldwide in June 1944, that stunned international readers by showing -- for the first time ever -- American soldiers with their hair shaved into shocking Indian warrior scalp locks. The historic photo below -- more than any single event anywhere -- can be given most of the credit for popularizing the Mohawk haircut.
At first readers were shocked. Then they were intrigued. And then they finally decided they really, really liked this stunning haircut that so perfectly personified the hyper-masculine image of the warrior. Within a few days, some other American troops began copying the eye-catching paratrooper haircut as a bonding ritual. And a new tradition had been born -- on a very limited scale it's true -- but still a new tradition.
Here (see below) is that historic "Stars and Stripes" photo that shook the world. Take a good look at it, because you are looking at the precise moment when the modern-day Mohawk was born.
The two paratroopers seen in that "Stars and Stripes" photo above -- members of the 101st Airborne Division demolition team known as the "Filthy 13" -- have been identified by "Stars and Stripes" editors as Clarence C. Ware and Charles R. Plaudo. Ware is giving a last-minute pre-boarding touch to Plaudo's Indian war paint, designed to match the Mohawk haircuts.
According to some accounts, within hours after this photo was snapped, Ware would be wounded by German fire and would be taken to a military aid station and then evacuated to England for medical care. He is said to have survived the war, dying half a century later in the year 2001. I have so far been unable to find out what became of Plaudo, but he apparently survived the D-Day jump and survived the war.
Every Mohawked football player and punk rocker and every Mohawked martial arts fighter -- and every teenage boy who begs Mom to let him get Mohawked so he can look like his favorite athlete -- owes it all to Sgt. Jake McNiece and that historic moment preserved in that "Stars and Stripes" photo.
When McNiece died as a national hero at the age of 93 on January 21, 2013 -- having survived four combat parachute jumps -- his obituary in the New York Times commemorated his role as the inventor of the modern Mohawk. Here's an excerpt from his obituary:
"Shortly before the D-Day invasion, the Filthy 13 soldiers shaved their heads into Mohawks and decorated their faces with war paint. It was Sergeant McNiece’s idea. Baldness would be more hygienic on a battlefield strewn with dead bodies, he reasoned, and face paint would add to their camouflage. His mother was part Choctaw.
“ 'I think he was trying to build upon the idea that ‘if they’re scared of us as crazy paratroopers, well, this just makes us look crazier,’ Hugh McNiece [his son] said."
In other words, they did it partly to frighten the Nazis.
The Mohawked paratrooper whose sleeve has been autographed in the extremely rare photo above was 22-year-old Private First Class Robert "Ragsman" Cone, one member of the 101st Division's "Filthy 13" demolition team -- the ones who popularized the combat Mohawk.
Shortly after this photo was taken, Cone was taken prisoner by the Nazis and imprisoned for the rest of the European war in Stalag 3C -- imprisoned for almost a year. Several other members of his Mohawked demolition team didn't survive the jump. Fully half of his unit were either killed, captured or wounded -- but they accomplished their mission and destroyed or secured the the vital bridges over the Douve River.
Here's another photo of Cone (on the left), checking one of the six 'parapacks' underneath the C-47. According to one Internet posting, the "parapacks" carried heavy weapons, extra ammunition and TNT, among other necessities for the demolition team, for use in blowing up vital Nazi bridges in occupied France to prevent Nazi reinforcements from reaching the beaches of Normandy where Allied troops would be landing a few hours later.
I'm assuming these parapacks were probably dropped separately in their own parachutes. When I went through jump school nine years later with the 82nd Airborne Division, we were taught to jump with somewhat similar "general purpose bags" between our legs on special drop lines that we could cut loose before we hit the ground. But I'm not sure I'd want to jump with TNT between my legs. Hopefully the TNT was dropped separately in these parapacks..
"Many members [of Cone's Mohawked unit] were killed on the drop. The survivors found it difficult to reunite on the ground because the pilots had panicked when the Germans opened fire. Cone said he spent two days in a hedgerow battle and was shot in the right arm. When he escaped to a French farmhouse, the owner turned him over to the Nazis and he became a prisoner of war.
"His unit and his family thought he was dead. His mother, in Roxbury, received a telegram from the War Department saying he had been killed in action. Cone spent 11 months in three POW camps in Germany before being liberated by the Russians near the Polish border. He fought alongside the Russians as they made their escape, his son said.
Cone walked to freedom through Poland, Russia and Romania, journeyed by ship to Egypt and was eventually flown to Italy, finally making his way home.
All the medal ceremonies had taken place without him. . . . He became a postal worker and plumber; raised three children . . . and spoke very little about the war [until. shortly before he died, his family asked him to tell his story to his grandchildren and great-grandchilden shortly before he died in 2010 at the approximate age of 88 as one of the legendary unit's last surviving members]."
Here's how another Internet posting described that Mohawked unit: [Many of these Internet postings don't identify the writer by name.)
Here's a photo of two paratroopers in that same unit of the 101st shaving a Mohawk into the hair of a third trooper, who watches the procedure in his small metal shaving mirror, fascinated by the shocking transformation he is undergoing. One of the shavers has already submitted to his Mohawk. The other shaver will soon lose his hair too.
"[That Mohawked unit of the 101st] was known as 'The Filthy Thirteen'. This demolition section of the 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment was led by Oklahoma ass-kicker Jake McNiece. This group of men were known to be some of the toughest and most highly trained men in the United States Army. These soldiers were responsible for parachuting behind enemy lines and blowing up bridges, supply lines or anything else that may aid the enemy.
"Unfortunately, the kind of work for which these paratroopers were trained had a very low chance of survival and the paratroopers, particularly this demolition division, were often seen as crazy. By most accounts, McNiece was considered a trouble maker, and in an interview on The Dirty Dozen DVD, McNeice puts his military philosophy thusly: 'I went in just to make a contribution, if I could, to the war effort. And I didn’t go for all that close order drill and stand and retreat and all that. Our attitude was that we were there to just conduct warfare and not to use a bunch of military discipline and so forth. All the training that they had that was absolutely beneficial to me pursuing war, I engaged in at a hundred percent.'
"The unit earned the name the “Filthy Thirteen” because rather than wait for their single cold shower once a week at the barracks, McNiece would take his men into London to shower at the Red Cross. The Red Cross staff would see this group of dirty paratroopers going into the showers and wouldn’t recognize the same men coming out. A rumor got started that these men had taken an oath to not shower or clean up until the Nazis were defeated.
Here's the book about that D-Day jump, co-authored by Jack McNiece, the part Native American 101st Airborne Division sergeant paratrooper who invented the World War Two combat Mohawk.
The 1967 Hollywood blockbuster war movie "The Dirty Dozen," starring Lee Marvin, was a highly fictionalized account based loosely -- VERY loosely -- on the Mohawked unit's combat exploits. The movie was wildly inaccurate. And for some unknown reason, Hollywood ditched the Mohawks in the movie.
Hey, Hollywood -- you missed the point!!! Maybe Lee Marvin wasn't sure he'd look good with a scalp lock. Bad decision, Lee. You'd have looked really macho.
The story was so popular that Dell Comics even sold a comic book version of the story.-- but, again, it wasn't historically accurate, because the guys were portrayed incorrectly wearing ordinary haircuts.
Eighteen years later, Lee Marvin was brought back for a high-profile TV sequel called The Dirty Dozen: Next Mission. Two more made-for-TV sequels followed, The Dirty Dozen: The Deadly Mission (1987) and The Dirty Dozen: The Fatal Mission (1988). But again without the Mohawks. Didn't these writers and artists ever see all those famous photos of the Mohawked paratroopers?
Since Hollywood wanted to forget the Mohawks . . . and since TV wanted to forget the Mohawks . . . and since even the comic books wanted to forget the Mohawks . . . is it any wonder that for two generations, Americans totally forgot that once upon a time, a courageous paratrooper unit wore Mohawks into the biggest invasion the world has ever seen?
For half a century, most Americans may have forgotten that an entire American paratrooper unit wore Mohawks on their D-Day jump to free Europe from Nazi occupation. But the French didn't forget.
In a deeply moving story, a Frenchman on the Normandy coast, showing his gratitude to those Mohawked paratroopers who freed his country three-quarters of a century ago, created his own personal museum to those paratroopers in the attic of his home.
And his attic museum includes a mannequin of a Mohawked American paratrooper. Here's a photo of it. The Frenchman obviously considered the Mohawk a deeply moving emblem of American democracy -- even if our Pentagon haircut regulations apparently don't. How sad
MODERN-DAY 101ST AIRBORNE DIVISION PARATROOPERS IN 2010 CELEBRATE 66TH ANNIVERSARY OF THE D-DAY INVASION BY SHAVING THEIR HEADS INTO MOHAWKS
For all those ex-paratroopers like me who keep wondering why the Army Airborne doesn't openly celebrate -- and glorify -- the super-macho haircut that they themselves made famous in the D-Day Invasion in the Second World War as a symbol of incredible bravery. . .
For all those ex-paratroopers who keep wondering why today's Army Airborne isn't as intensely proud of the Mohawk as the Marines are of their equally macho "high-and-tight" haircuts . . .
Well, you'll be relieved to hear that at least a few of today's 101st Division paratroopers do, in fact, openly flaunt the combat Mohawk that their own outfit made famous in World War Two.
Here are three official Army photos -- published online on an official Army Website -- showing pathfinders from Company F, Task Force Eagle Assault at Forward Operating Base Wolverine in Afghanistan in 2010 at an Army "patching ceremony" where they officially received the combat shoulder patches of the 101st Division. The patching ceremony is the Army's way of recognizing soldiers who serve in combat areas.
Because the patching ceremony happened on the 66th anniversary of the D-Day invasion, these modern-day paratroopers took turns shaving each other's heads into Mohawks as a way of paying tribute to their predecessors who jumped behind Nazi lines 66 years earlier wearing those shocking haircuts.
Wow!!! What a great way to demonstrate esprit de corps .. . . remembering their predecessors, some of whom died wearing that haircut.. .
ENGLAND STILL REMEMBERS THOSE MOHAWKED
AMERICAN PARATROOPERS FROM D-DAY 1944 WHO
HELPED TO SAVE ENGLAND FROM A NAZI INVASION
Like the French, the English people never forgot those Mohawked American paratroopers.
They're still heroes to the English.
So every summer, the little English seaside village of Lytham on the Lancashire Coast holds what they call their 1940s Wartime Festival.
Everyone dresses up in 1940s wartime costumes to recreate the memories of what Winston Churchill called England's "finest hour." There is 1940s style music, 1940s style dancing, and there are vintage World War Two military vehicles and World War Two uniforms from both the British and American armies, as the villages remember everything from the Blitz to Dunkirk to the massive American buildup in the English countryside in preparation for the biggest invasion the world has ever seen.
It includes Englishmen donning antique American paratrooper uniforms and -- yes -- even wearing authentic Mohawk haircuts to remember those courageous 101st Division paratroopers who (along with England's heroes of the Royal Air Force) helped to save England from a Nazi invasion by Hitler that was once considered almost certain. .
Here one modern-day reenactor uses a straight razor and shaving cream to trim the combat Mohawk of another reenactor -- recreating the 101st Airborne Division D-Day combat jump...
As we said, many modern-day American military men, thoroughly indoctrinated by standard Army haircut regulations, have trouble believing that Mohawked American paratroopers once helped to save England -- but the English have never forgotten those wartime Mohawks of "The Greatest Generation.", and they never will. Too bad so few Americans remember "The Haircut That Helped to Win The War."
So the English, bless 'em, pay special tribute to those Mohawks of "The Greatest Generation." But just don't try wearing one on some American elementary and high school campuses. How truly sad.
The famed 82nd "All American" Airborne Division paratroopers may not have had Mohawks like the 101st when the 82nd also boarded planes in England for that same suicidal D-Day jump. But even without Mohawks, the English folks in Lytham also remember them. Look closely at the shoulder patches on both of the soldiers sitting in the vintage World War Two Army truck in the reenactment photo below, and you'll see that both are wearing the 82nd's famous "AA" shoulder patch -- "AA" for "All American."
That Mohawked paratrooper demolition team is now so famous (after having been largely forgotten for half a century) that a civilian group of "living history"military reenactors in Ohio and Pennsylvania, called "Company B, 101st Airborne Reenactors," has made a career of portraying the "Filthy 13" demolition team, staging elaborate battlefield reenactments, including the simulated blowing up of those Nazi-held bridges in Normandy.
These civilian reenactors are so dedicated that they even shaved their own heads into Mohawks to keep the reenactments historically accurate. (Nice Mohawks, dudes!!!) Here are some amazing photos from their reenactments:
As a former Korean War era paratrooper myself from the 82nd Airborne Division, I'd like to thank those reenactors for being dedicated enough to preserving the legend of those D-Day combat Mohawks that they were even willing to undergo a head-shaving for the sake of historical accuracy and willing to wear those combat Mohawks for awhile.and get stared at. Thanks, guys!!! You helped to preserve one of the most unique and powerful military icons of the long struggle for freedom -- lest the world forget.
And somebody did a really great job with the clippers.
Because of the popularity of the super-macho Mohawk look, those 101st Division paratroopers have long been a special favorite with model makers -- thus achieving a fame with military action figures that far outstrips the actual number of Mohawks that parachuted into action in World War Two.
Based on the number of models in circulation today, you'd think the Mohawk was indeed "The Haircut That Won World War Two."
(See also the great Mohawked action figure model at the beginning of this article.)
Here's another action-figure model whose creator says it's Sgt. Jake McNiece, the 101st Division paratrooper who invented the modern-day combat Mohawk
Same model of Sergeant McNiece's Mohawk from a different angle.
A YEAR AFTER THAT D-DAY COMBAT JUMP, ANOTHER AIRBORNE DIVISION JUMPS INTO COMBAT WEARING SIMILAR PARATROOPER MOHAWKS
THE IDEA WAS CATCHING ON!!!
On May 24, 1945, almost a year after Jake McNiece and his fellow paratroopers of the 101st Airborne Division introduced the modern Mohawk to the world, later photographs show paratroopers from a different division -- the now-defunct 17th Airborne Division – wearing similar Mohawks during "Operation Varsity," a combat jump in the crossing of Germany's Rhine River. (See photos below.) This later jump was the beginning of the end for the Nazis.
The 17th Airborne Division paratroopers shown below were preparing to board planes at a combat airbase in north-central France.over Germany’s Rhine River. They undoubtedly had seen photographs of the 101st Division haircuts in “Stars and Stripes” and copied them – further cementing the haircut as a great paratrooper tradition. Below are several photos of the 17th Airborne Division paratroopers preparing for the 1945 jump -- the last combat jump of World War Two:
The Mohawked young 17th Airborne paratrooper, seen in the first combat photo below -- who appeared then to be barely out of his teenage years -- would now be an old man in his '90s, if he survived the war, and if he's still alive today. But once they were young -- a long, long time ago.
The historic photo below shows an entire platoon of Mohawked paratroopers in the 17th Airborne Division pouring over a map in a French field as they are briefed on the next day's jump across the Rhine River into Germany, behind Nazi lines.
Just 45 days after the 17th Airborne Division paratroopers in the photos above jumped across the Rhine River, the war in Europe was over and Hitler was dead. The combat Mohawk -- the warrior Mohawk -- as a proud, gutsy, highly visible contributor to esprit de corps and unit morale, had helped to win the war. It ought to get credit for that.
Stephen L. Wright in his 2008 book, “The Last Drop,” deserves the thanks of us Mohawk fans for somehow managing to dig out and preserve for posterity the long-forgotten story of those historic photos of Mohawked paratroopers in the now-defunct 17th Airborne Division, preparing for the last combat parachute jump of World War Two – the Operation Varsity jump across the Rhine River into Nazi Germany on March 24, 1945, just six weeks before the end of the war.
Wright quotes Lt. Delbert Townsend’s explanation of that iconic 1945 photo showing an entire platoon of Mohawked paratroopers of the 17th Airborne Division preparing for that combat jump – undoubtedly the largest group of Mohawks ever assembled in a single photo in the entire war.
Lt. Townsend explained it this way: “One incident of note that caused the troops to smile while the command frowned on the action is worth repeating. Lt. Tyrrel Devolin was a platoon leader in Company A. He was an excellent leader, and his men would do anything to please him” -- including happily submitting to the old-fashioned manual hair clippers when he asked them to shave their heads.
“Tyrrel thought it would be great if every man in his platoon received a Mohawk haircut” in preparation for the combat jump. He and his men had probably seen the now-famous photo flashed around the world nine months earlier by the Army newspaper, “Stars and Stripes,” showing fellow paratroopers of the 101st Airborne Division’s pathfinder unit wearing Mohawk haircuts as they boarded those old C-47 transport planes for the D-Day invasion of Nazi-occupied Normandy. Apparently in the minds of Lt. Devolin and his platoon, those famous D-Day haircuts had made the Mohawk as closely identified with tough paratroopers as the high-and-tight haircut was to Marines.
“As a result, every man in the platoon, including Lieutenant Devolin himself, had Foster Lickliter, our company barber, give them a Mohawk haircut. Both sides of their head were shaved, leaving about a 1-1/2 inch strip of hair down the middle, standing about an inch tall. The other troops in the marshaling area [assembling for the combat jump] thought it was great. But Lieutenant Colonel Barnett thought differently.
“As a result, Lieutenant Devolin was disciplined, and every man in his platoon had his head shaved bald to eliminate the Mohawk appearance” . . . unlike General Eisenhower and the commanders of the 101st Airborne Division, who happily tolerated Mohawks for the earlier Normandy jump. If tough paratroopers were about to risk their lives in a suicide mission behind enemy lines from which many of them would not return, the lieutenant colonel was worried about . . . their haircuts? They’re afraid someone will stop the war for a haircut inspection?
But, fortunately, the rest of their heads were not shaven bald before a combat news photographer snapped yet another famous photo that once again advertised to the world that the Mohawk was the proud, eye-catching haircut of America’s tough combat paratroopers . . . a fierce Indian haircut to match their famous “Geronimo!” war cry as they jumped from planes behind enemy lines.
Those Mohawked paratroopers of the 17th Airborne Division in the photo above were the subject of a widely distributed religious-themed movie, called Saints and Soldiers: Airborne Creed, produced by a unit of the Mormon Church in 2012. And the trademark Mohawk of the 17th Division was a star of the movie, prominently displayed.. . . even on the movie poster.
The movie tells the story of the "Operation Dragoon" combat jump into Nazi occupied Southern France by the 17th Airborne Division's 517th Airborne Regimental Combat Team on August 15, 1944.
That was two months after the D-Day invasion of Normandy.
Here's the combat Mohawk sported by one of the stars of the movie, Corbin Allred, playing Corporal James Rossi.
In the movie scene below, Corporal Rossi obviously likes the feel of his combat Mohawk.
, By the winter of 1944-1945 -- six months after the D-Day photos of the Mohawked paratroopers of the 101st Airborne Division appeared in Stars and Stripes and in civilian newspapers all around the world.-- a few soldiers in some other U.S. Army units (besides the 17th Division) began copying the paratrooper Mohawks . . . as in the photo below..
Sporting a Mohawk haircut, Sergeant Frank Woolner works his portable typewriter on top of a petrol can during the winter of 1944-45, somewhere in Belgium or Germany. Woolner saw frontline combat action during 1944 as a reconnaissance sergeant with the 703rd Tank Destroyer Battalion of the 3rd Armored Division through France and Belgium. He also served as the battalion's chief writer for press and historical purposes, as he had in 1942-44 during the 703rd's training in the US and England. In September 1944, Woolner went to work as a war correspondent, proudly wearing his combat Mohawk into the history books forever. Way to go, Sergeant!!!. .
Here's a photo to show that once the photo of Mohawked paratroopers of the 101st Airborne Division appeared in the military newspaper Stars and Stripes immediately after D-Day and in other other newspapers and newsreels, the Mohawk idea apparently spread to some other Army units in England. This photo shows Mohawked members of Battery A of the 225th Antiaircraft Artillery Battalion preparing to join the Normandy Invasion 12 days after D-Day.
The 12 day lag between the Mohawking of the 101st and the follow-up Mohawking of Battery A of the 225th AAA Battalion (shown above) allowed plenty of time for these troops to read Stars and Stripes and copy the eye-catching haircuts.
Presumably additional Army units likewise copied the Stars and Stripes Mohawks too, but so far additional Mohawk photos haven't surfaced. Perhaps, as more time passes, the grandchildren and great-grandchildren of additional D-Day veterans will find old Mohawk photos in attic trunks -- which is exactly how some of these photos turned up decades later.
Here's an unidentified Army sergeant in an unidentified location somewhere in occupied Europe shortly after D-Day being given a Mohawk by another soldier wielding manual, hand-operated clippers. Most of the military Mohawks in World War Two were done with hand clippers like these.
When the 101st Division's D-Day Invasion jump was recently re-enacted for the anniversary of the Normandy Invasion, the young paratroopers in the photo below, re-enacting that historic jump, likewise shaved their heads into Mohawks for the sake of historical accuracy – a touching tribute and a tacit admission by the Army that this non-regulation haircut played a colorful role in military history.
IS THIS THE ONLY HISTORIC PHOTO THAT
INDIRECTLY LINKS THE 82ND AIRBORNE DIVISION TO
WORLD WAR TWO COMBAT MOHAWKS?
I say "indirectly" they were 82nd Airborne troopers, because the Mohawked paratroopers in these historic photos had, in fact, made the D-Day Invasion jump into Normandy with the 82nd as part of the 82nd's 507th Parachute Infantry Regiment, suffering heavy losses in the Normandy jump. But this photo was taken a year later as they were shaving Mohawks into each other's hair in preparation for a separate combat jump across the Rhine River -- after the 507th Regiment had been transferred from the 82nd to the 17th Airborne Division.
So, technically speaking, the paratroopers in these 17th Airborne Division photos by famed combat photographer Robert Capa, were no longer members of the 82nd when they submitted to these particular Mohawk haircuts. But previously they had indeed jumped as 82nd paratroopers.
Does the fact that they were so anxious to get Mohawked for this later Rhine River combat jump suggest that perhaps they did it because they had previously worn Mohawks during the Normandy jump? Or were they just belatedly copying an idea introduced by the 101st Division? We can only guess. But if they did wear Mohawks on the earlier Normandy jump with the 82nd, no photos of them wearing Mohawks on that earlier jump have ever surfaced.
You can see that two of the paratroopers are sitting with improvised barber capes over their shoulders, as their buddies shave their hair into combat Mohawks.
The person who posted this photo called it a "comradely ritual."
I have already shown you numerous photos of other Mohawked paratroopers from the 17th Airborne Division preparing for this same Rhine River jump. So is it possible that these former members of the 82nd were the ones who spread the Mohawk idea to fellow members of the 17th Airborne Division?
Or is it possible that all of the paratroopers making this Rhine River jump a year after D-Day (including the former members of the 82nd) were merely copying the Mohawked members of the 101st whose photos they had obviously seen a year earlier in Stars and Stripes?
Again, we may never know.
But the point is that -- after the discovery of these rare, seldom-seen Robert Capa photos, we can no longer say with certainty that 82nd paratroopers never wore Mohawks in World War Two. The Mohawked troopers in these 17th Airborne photos had indeed trained at Camp Toccoa, Georgia, as members of the 82nd, and they had indeed made the momentous D-Day jump with the 82nd.
But, to be fair -- because of that earlier, much more famous photo circulated wordwide in Stars and Stripes -- it's the 101st Airborne Division that gets the primary credit for adopting the Mohawk as an unforgettable, eye-popping trademark of World War Two paratroopers.
But by the late 1940s or early 1950s, many
paratroopers in the famed 82nd "All American" Division had definitely adopted the haircut as a strictly non-regulation, unofficial Airborne tradition when they were out in the field where commanders were less stringent about haircut regulations. (Mohawks were forbidden when in garrison.) It was a well-established but strictly unsanctioned tradition with the 82nd by the time I left the Army more than half a century ago.
I once had a copy of an official Army souvenir booklet showing 82nd summer maneuvers in 1953 when I was a member of that division, which amazingly had page after page showing entire regimental companies in large group shots . .
. . . all of them with their heads shaved into Mohawks. That 1953 souvenir booklet even showed some company commanders (captains) with Mohawks, which seemed to give the haircuts a limited degree of semi-official sanction. Even more amazingly, the official Army booklet said the various companies in that particular regiment of the 82nd had held a contest to decide which company had the best summer maneuver Mohawks. That probably will surprise Veterans familiar with strict Army haircut regulations, but I can testify that it actually happened.
Unfortunately, my parents threw out my photos of "The Great 82nd Airborne Mohawk Contest of 1953" when they closed up their house and retired. This Internet photo on the right of a Mohawked guy in an 82nd Airborne uniform may possibly have been taken at a reenactment of the D-Day jump years later. During those 1953 summer maneuvers, an entire Mohawked regiment of the 82nd looked exactly like this guy.
In addition, I also had a copy of an official Army yearbook of the 82nd participation in the April 1952 nuclear test at the Nevada Proving Grounds, which showed 82nd Division paratroopers crouched in foxholes as a nuclear bomb was exploded – many of them wearing Mohawks.
So even though it wasn’t the 82nd that introduced the Mohawk, nevertheless 82nd troopers quickly adopted the haircut as an unsanctioned paratrooper tradition after the end of World War Two. Below is a photo of a modern-day 82nd Division paratrooper sporting a military Mohawk.
Here's proof that in later years, some members of the 101st Airborne Division continued to cling to the Mohawk tradition first established by that 101st Airborne demolition team on the D-Day jump in 1944. The three Mohawked soldiers in the photo below were serving with the 101st Airborne Division's Battery B artillery unit three decades later in Vietnam.
And by the time the Afghanistan War came along more than six decades after that famous D-Day jump, the modern-day 101st Airborne paratroopers in the photo below were still carrying out the tradition of the paratrooper combat Mohawks. The 101st Division paratroopers below at a remote combat outpost in Afghanistan were shaving Mohawks into each other's heads, keeping up the Airborne tradition. The combat Mohawk was still alive and well in Afghanistan.
A short time later, during the Iraq War, the two paratroopers shown below from the modern-day 101st Airborne Division -- in order to keep alive the 101st tradition of paratrooper Mohawks -- staged a reenctment of that famous World War Two "Stars and Stripes" photo . . . this time in front of a modern-day helicopter. The original World War Two photo is on the right.
LIKE THE PARATROOPERS, U.S. MARINES HEADED FOR COMBAT HAVE SOMETIMES SHAVED THEIR HAIR INTO MOHAWKS
Here are two historic photos from the Vietnam era of U.S. Marines proudly sporting combat Mohawks. The Indian scalp locks violated haircut regulations. But, as with the paratroopers, who's checking haircuts when you're about to risk your life on a reconnaissance expedition in enemy territory?
Here's an excerpt from a Dartmouth College "oral history" interview with a former Marine attending the university. He had been a member of the USMC First Reconnaissance Battalion.
He was asked about any Marine Corps traditions or rituals. He said there was a tradition
among Marines of shaving their heads into Mohawks on deployment and then eventually cutting it down to regulation length.
He said, "The only one I can really remember, I ended up going to the Second Recon Battalion, for the first guys that would go overseas. They would shave their head into Mohawks or shave them completely, because Mohawks were against regulations. But almost everyone shaved their head into Mohawks until they got called out on it [because of haircut regulations]. Or they would wait until they got into country and on their first mission,and THEN they would shave their heads into Mohawks.
"It's something I think has just been passed down through the military, I don’t really know the background behind it except for airborne units did it in World War II. I remember a lot of people took part in that in the Second World War."
And an other ex-Marine -- who sports this truly spectacular Mohawk in his new career as a self-defense instructor in civilian life -- says he sometimes managed to squeak by with a military Mohawk when he was on active duty with the Marines . . . until his gunnery sergeant periodically caught up with him and made him shave it off.
YOU MAY BE SURPRISED TO HEAR THAT THE "COMBAT MOHAWK" DATES BACK 20 TO 33 CENTURIES AGO AS AN EYE-CATCHING EMBLEM OF THE MALE WARRIOR.
Mohawks were around 33 centuries ago? Yup. Believe it or not.
Here's a modern reconstruction of a Trojan soldier's helmet from 33 centuries ago. The helmet's so-called "crest" (the Mohawk portion) was made of horsehair.
Notice that the ancient Trojans not only invented the Mohawk -- they apparently also invented the "Mohawk mullet," with the hair drooping down the Trojan's soldier's back. But I don't think I'd try that last touch at Saturday inspection.
Later, 27 Centuries ago, the ancient Spartan warriors had similar "Mohawk mullets" on their helmets.
Later still -- 20 Centuries ago -- the Roman Legionnaires went into battle with Mohawks on stilts atop their helmets.
Roman Centurions also wore Mohawks on their helmets.
Meantime, centuries before the white man arrived in America, Native American warriors -- in a procedure amazingly similar to those ancient Spartan war helmets -- were plucking out all the hair on both sides of their head, leaving a bristly strip of hair down the middle of their otherwise bald heads to intimidate their enemies in battle.-- the first truly American Mohawks.
Here's a scene from an early 1940s Classic Comics story of American explorer Daniel Boone, showing the Indians initiating Boone into their own tribe as a fellow warrior -- by plucking out most of his hair in a painful ordeal but leaving a Mohawk strip down the middle of his scalp. Yes, it really happened that way, as history attests.
Boone would have fit right in with those Mohawked paratroopers from the D-Day Invasion.
Obviously the Native American warriors had no possible way of knowing about the hair strips atop the ancient Trojan, Spartan, and Roman soldier's helmets on the opposite side of the planet, which they didn't even know existed.
So how in the world can we explain the fact that two totally different cultures -- 5,000 miles apart with no possible contact with each other -- each decided independently that a bristly strip of hair down the middle of a man's head somehow was the very essence of a warrior?
Each of those separate warrior cultures independently copied the idea from precisely the same source -- warriors of the animal kingdom, especially fighting birds.
The number of fighting birds and other animals with Mohawk-like topknots is almost endless.
So all those warrior helmets from several different ancient civilizations prove conclusively that the Mohawk isn't something dreamed up by 1970s punk rockers just to piss off their parents and uptight high school principals. Nope. . The Mohawk has been around almost since the dawn of civilization.
It's one of the oldest fighting looks known to man.
It's no coincidence that a surprising number of modern-day MMA cage fighters have also adopted the fierce warrior look of the Mohawk.
So logic suggests that there must be something about a bristly tuft of hair atop a shaven skull that somehow inherently suggests the warrior culture -- whether it's the military Mohawk of the paratrooper or the Recon haircut of a Marine or Army Ranger.. Go figure..
Mohawks are basically just a flat top with shaved sides. And a recon -- like the one on the crouching guy above -- is essentially a Mohawk without a tail. Military Mohawks are always flat -- never pointy, spiked, or colored.
I can’t say from personal experience what happened to the Mohawk tradition after I left the Army in 1955. But I can tell you that when, as a civilian, I recently got a Mohawk just for old time’s sake, not one but THREE different military men accosted me when they saw the haircut and said, “You must have been in the 82nd Airborne Division – right?” The first time it happened during a visit to a war memorial, my wife was stunned. “How could you possibly have known my husband was in the 82nd?” she said. “You’ve never met him before. “ The veteran said, “It’s because of the haircut. It’s a tradition in the 82nd.” I was as surprised as my wife, since, as I said, it was the 101st that introduced it. I figured that first encounter was just a fluke – perhaps an old veteran who got the 82nd confused with the 101st.
But then, over the next few weeks, two additional military men stopped me to say exactly the same thing. One was a former Green Beret captain who saw my haircut and stopped me in a department store. The other was an active duty enlisted man in camos in an airport on his way home from Afghanistan. Both of them said the same thing: “With that haircut, you must have been in the 82nd.” Again, my wife was stunned – as was I.
Perhaps part of it may be attributed to the fact that a number of wildly popular “action figure” models sold to collectors of military memorabilia shows a World War Two paratrooper with an awesome Mohawk, looking like some fierce Spartan soldier from the ancient Greek wars.
Army Rangers, of course, are also trained as paratroopers. Here are a couple of Mohawked Army Rangers from the Vietnam War, hearkening back to their Normandy Invasion paratrooper forebears:
During the Vietnam War, some units of the 12th Infantry "Red Warriors" Infantry Regiment adopted the Mohawk as their unofficial haircut:
Here's a new incoming officer submitting to his initiation Mohawk haircut to welcome him into the "Red Warrior" Regiment in the Vietnam War. Notice that the officer wielding the clippers already has his regimental Mohawk:
Here's additional proof that some soldiers in combat units during the Vietnam War proudly sported Mohawk haircuts.
What company commander was going to enforce Army haircut regulations while their guys were being shot at?
The official Army caption on this 1967 Vietnam photo from the Signal Corps Archives, seems to imply that Specialist 4th Class Hendrick Greenwould stuck with his combat Mohawk for quite some time.
Way to go, soldier!!! You're a hero to us Mohawk fans..
Hey, that's a really nice scalp lock. .
So next time you see a gutsy youngster with a Mohawk haircut, try not to see it as a sign of rebellion. Try instead to see it as an eye-catching tribute to those brave paratroopers who, three quarters of a century ago, volunteered for hazardous duty to jump behind enemy lines and win the war – to keep America free – even if the youngster doesn’t know the real story. The real secret is that the Mohawk is as all-American as baseball and apple pie.....maybe even more-so.
The next time some uptight, anal-retentive principal tells a young boy his Mohawk is unacceptable, ask that principal what could possibly be bad about a young boy wanting to look like some of the most courageous American soldiers in history -- Mohawked soldiers who made the world safe for principals like him. (Fortunately, most principals now seem OK with Mohawks in the classroom. Three cheers for common sense..
The always conservative Army haircut regulations may still officially discourage the Mohawk. But one of these days, the Pentagon will wake up belatedly and realize that -- like it or not -- the Mohawk (as long as it is short and neatly trimmed) is so indelibly associated with courageous U.S. Army paratroopers that it could become a hugely popular recruiting tool for the Army Airborne among teenage boys -- as big a recruiting tool as the Marine Corps' distinctive high-and-tight haircut has become, a visible symbol of fierce unit pride. Are you recruiters listening? Teenage boys love it, Hollywood loves it. Video combat gamers love it. Comic book artists love it -- everybody loves it but the Pentagon. What's wrong with this picture?
Among those who think the military should encourage the warrior look of the Mohawk is Jacob Brooks, a former Army tanker who is now city editor of the Fort Hood (Texas) Daily Herald. In a recent article, Brooks says shame on the Pentagon for turning its back on the honorable tradition of Mohawks among World War Two paratroopers who proudly wore the haircut into near-suicidal combat. He writes:
"...I do take issue with [the Army discouraging] Mohawks. I think they should be allowed for soldiers deploying to war zones.
He adds: "There is something about a Mohawk that says: 'I am a warrior.' I remember clearly a photo of my grandfather sporting a freshly cropped Mohawk shortly before he deployed overseas with the 82nd Airborne in World War II. The Army has a history with Mohawks, and many brave men died while having that haircut on their head. And I can’t help but think, even if it was subconsciously, that the Mohawk helped make their battle cry a little more fierce."
Beautifully stated, Jacob. As an ex member of the 82nd myself, I thank you for defending the warrior image of the military Mohawk.
That's the best summation I've seen so far as to why the Pentagon is making a mistake by discouraging the single most vivid image that has made generations of patriotic young Americans want to be paratroopers,,,,and, as Brooks suggests, maybe even caused them to fight a little more bravely.
Think about it. What's your first thought every time you see a photograph of a soldier in a combat zone with his head shaved into a short, neatly trimmed Mohawk? Paratrooper!!! Tens of thousands of marketing and public relations experts would give up their first-born child to be able to create a brand image that powerful. Hello. Are you listening, Pentagon?
And not just paratroopers. Here's an ex-Marine who says he tried to sport a Mohawk in his Marine unit, against some resistance. His is one of the best-looking military Mohawks I've ever seen anywhere. Have you ever seen any haircut that screamed military like this one? This guy deserves a medal for pushing hard for military Mohawks .It looks as great on a Marine as it does on a paratrooper. It screams not just military, but AMERICAN military.
He liked it so well in the Marines that he stuck with it in civilian life, where his Mohawk has become his trademark in a civilian defense training company. (See photo below.) He has proudly worn it in civilian defense training for several years because of the proud warrior image it conveys. Stick with it. It looks really great!!!.
Every time someone in a foreign country sees a man in uniform wearing an unofficial warrior Mohawk, it screams loud and clear: "I'm an American soldier -- or Marine."
[NOTE: For more historic photos of Mohawked paratroopers from World War Two and later military operations, see the "My Photos" section on my home page on this Mohawks Rock Web site.]
VIDEO GAME ARTISTS HAVE HELPED ENORMOUSLY
TO POPULARIZE THE IMAGE OF THE "COMBAT MOHAWK"
AS THE VERY ESSENCE OF A SUPER-MACHO MILITARY GUY.
The wildly popular video combat game series "Call of Duty" played a huge role in forever associating the Mohawk with paratroopers. One of the main characters in that game series, Captain John "Soap" MacTavish, a fictional Special Operations paratrooper, sports one of the most military-looking Mohawks in the history of that distinctive haircut. As a result of that video game, this version of the haircut quickly came to be known as the warhawk:
Soap MacTavish quickly became one of the most popular characters in the "Call of Duty" game series:
Soon the enormous popularity of the "Call of Duty" game series led to the creation of highly popular miniature reenactment figures of Soap MacTavish:
Pretty soon, came the ultimate tribute to the military Mohawk, as some young American video gamers began copying what they called the "MacTavish Warhawk" -- like the following MacTavish fan:
But of all the great combat Mohawks created by the video gaming artists, perhaps the greatest is super baddie Vaas Montenegro from the video game Far Cry 3. As one admiring gamer put it: "Vaas Montenegro has nailed the mohawk look."
Let’s be perfectly clear. When it comes to the military, we definitely are not talking about the more extreme Mohawks now fancied by some civilians. If a Mohawk can ever be considered “conservative,” that’s what military Mohawks have always been.
Regardless of the unit or the decade, all of these military Mohawks – without exception – have been short, usually less than one or two inches tall (it's hard to fit a steel helmet over anything taller). They are very neatly trimmed, Spartan style Mohawks, sometimes called “flattop Mohawks” or “jockhawks,” cut to resemble a roached horse’s mane or the tooth-brush bristles of a Spartan soldier’s helmet in ancient Greece – a bristly style that has conveyed a warrior image since ancient times.
ONE DIGITAL ARTIST HAD A BALL, PLAYING AROUND WITH
SEVERAL VARIATIONS ON THE "COMBAT MOHAWK."
Here's how one digital artist had a ball, experimenting with various iterations of the combat Mohawk for possible use by video gamers. It's especially interesting because his digital art work is a perfect illustration of the fun real-life guys can have while experimenting with endless, subtle variations on the Mohawk.
That's half the fun of getting Mohawked, right? -- the great fun you can have getting creative with your Indian warrior scalp lock. There are literally hundreds of variations on the combat Mohawk.
The ones created digitally by this artist are all so-called "half-hawks" -- without the tail down the back of the head.....thus giving it more the look of a Mohawk high and tight.....which is obviously not much different from the famous "recon haircut" worn by some U.S. Marines and some Army Rangers.
Maybe if more military commanders were aware that the modern-day Mohawk originated with their own Army paratroopers in the D-Day Invasion -- instead of mistakenly thinking it originated with punk rockers and rebellious teens -- then maybe they would allow combat-style Mohawks to be proudly worn by today's soldiers. They are throwing away one of the Army's proudest.symbols.
This artist was restricting himself mostly to the super-short combat Mohawks -- which are pretty much the same as the so-called "jockhawks" usually adopted by members of athletic teams.
But in this one digital painting, he did experiment with a little bit taller combat Mohawk. I especially like this one. What a masterpiece!!! But, realistically, this one might be a little harder to slip past Army haircut regulations. (Is it too late to change the regulations to let this one slip through?)
THE U.S. NAVY'S "CROSSING THE EQUATOR" INITIATION PLAYED A BIG ROLE IN POPULARIZING MOHAWKS
Another military generator of shaved heads and embarrassing haircuts -- including an awful lot of Mohawks -- has been the age-old initiation of sailors crossing the equator for the first time. Along with paratrooper Mohawks, the Navy's traditional "crossing the line" initiation during World War Two was the first place many Americans saw that shocking haircut called the Mohawk -- a decade or two before the Mohawk was re-discovered by civilian football teams and punk rockers.
The "crossing the line" ritual is when veteran sailors pretend to be Neptune, the ancient god of the sea, taking over the ship from the captain for the express purpose of initiating new sailors crossing the equator for the first time, called "polliwogs" or "wogs" for short. If the polliwog successfully endures the always humiliating and sometimes painful initiation ordeal, then he joins the proud ranks of the veteran "Shellbacks." .
The Shellback initiation is a cherished ritual going back more than 400 years to the early days of sailing ships. In those early centuries, it was such a brutal ritual that it wasn't uncommon for young sailors to lose their lives while being initiated. In later centuries it was tamed quite a bit.-- but sometimes it can still be a tough, day-long ordeal of humiliation and debasement..
One reason the Mohawk, during World War Two, acquired a reputation as a symbol of toughness was because -- in those days -- if you saw a Mohawk, it was probably worn either by an American paratrooper . . . or by a sailor or Marine who had just crossed the equator and endured one of the most grueling, day-long initiations on record . . . one that made fraternity "hell weeks" seem like a picnic in the park in comparison.. If a sailor or Marine had a temporary Mohawk, you knew he had earned it the hard way.
When this iconic World War Two photo (above and to the right) of a just-initiated U.S. Marine on the Pacific Island of Kwajalein in the Marshall Islands was distributed worldwide in a major American magazine in 1945, it (like the earlier photos of the Mohawked paratroopers during the Normandy invasion) helped enormously to popularize the Mohawk -- which in 1945 was still a shocking new look to most Americans.
"What attracted my curiosity," the combat correspondent wrote, "was the haircuts of several of the horseshoe players. Some had their heads half-shaved. Others had just bristly tufts extending over their otherwise bald pates. (The Mohawk was so new, the reporter didn't even know the name for it.) 'We've just become Shellbacks,' one explained. "Yesterday we crossed the equator for the first time. This is what our pals did to us.'"
The reason the shaven portion of his scalp looked so patchy is because his tormentors shaved him using an old, World War Two era, manually operated hand clipper. If you have to endure an initiation, just hope your tormentors have access to electric clippers.
Because the Marshall Islands were inconveniently located on the other side of the equator, the Mohawked jarhead in the photos above wasn't the only U.S. Marine forced to submit to an initiation haircut enroute there.
Here are a dozen additional Marines bound for the Marshall Islands showing off their initiation haircuts after the "crossing the line" ritual. Four of them ended up with USMC shaved into their heads. The rest had the word "victory" carved into their scalps. Is that some really great esprit de corps, or what? Winning World War Two one scalp at a time.
So . . . since that roughhouse shipboard ritual played such a historic part in spreading the image of the Mohawk as a symbol of toughness . . . let's take a moment to examine the nature of those "crossing the line" initiations.
During World War Two and in the years immediately afterward, submitting to a head-shaving ritual was a greatly cherished and much anticipated part of the "Crossing th Line" initiation.
CAUTION: SOME OF THE HISTORIC EQUITORIAL INITIATION SCENES BELOW FROM WORLD WAR TWO AND THE FIRST FOUR DECADES AFTER THE WAR CONTAIN NAKEDNESS AND SIMULATED SEX ACTS. SO IF YOU ARE EASILY OFFENDED, WE SUGGEST YOU STOP READING AT THIS POINT. But these are historic, wartime, archival photographs from half a century ago. Some of these scenes, which may shock you, are the reason the Navy eventually outlawed some aspects of the ritual after about 1990, under pressure from anti-hazing reformers and because of the increasing presence of women aboard Navy ships. Because of those reforms, some of the shocking humiliations depicted below from World War Two and the first four decades after that war are unlikely to be seen today.
But much of the ritual continues today in a tamer form. And it's all part of the history of the Mohawk haircut. Some of the quotations below from sailors describing now forbidden portions of the ceremony are from a lengthy sociological analysis of the ritual in a scholarly university journal.
Some of the shocking scenes that you will see below will likely never happen again -- thus infuriating most old-time Navy and Marine Corps vets who bitterly resent the partial loss of an age old ritual that once allowed them to prove their toughness. That was the original purpose of the initiation 400 years ago. It allowed young sailors joining a ship's crew to prove to their shipmates that they were tough enough to withstand the dangers of life on a sailing vessel. And an embarrassing haircut -- in later years often a Mohawk -- was proof to their buddies that they had survived the ritual.
During and right after World War Two, the initiation was considered mandatory for any sailor or Marine crossing the equator.
But on many (most?) warships today, the initiation is strictly voluntary. Nevertheless, sailors and Marines still volunteer in droves to undergo the tough initiation. Why? For the same reason many men volunteer for Army Ranger training or for the Marines -- to prove they're tough enough to take it. They wouldn't miss that opportunity for anything. Many of them get really pissed if reformers try to deny them that rite of passage.
They're intensely proud of that Shellback haircut as stunning visual proof to everyone who sees them that they were tough enough to submit to that rite of passage for all Navy men.
Here's a World War Two photo of a U.S. Navy sailor, who has just been subjected to a forced Mohawk during his initiation as a so-called "Shellback." (No, they didn't use those bolt cutters to carve his initiation haircut.)
A standard part of that grueling, day-long initiation ritual is when the "shellbacks" force the "polywogs" to submit to a haircut from the Royal Barber -- which includes chop-jobs like those inflicted on these two polywogs in World War Two aboard the aircraft carrier USS Saratoga in 1944 enroute to the invasion of the Marshall Islands. Notice the early-day World War Two Mohawk on the sailor on the left.
Mohawks seem to have been especially popular punishments inflicted on troops during Shellback initiations enroute to the Marshall Islands in 1944-45.. At least three initiation Mohawks on three different vessels enroute to the Marshall Islands are shown in this article.
After the initiation, the victims are awarded wallet cards certifying that they have survived the initiation and are now "Shellbacks."
Old Navy men and Marines are intensely proud of having endured that tough initiation, so they carry those wallet cards with them for the rest of their Navy careers. If they lose the wallet card, then they are forced to undergo the initiation all over again the next time they cross the equator. Some sailors who are careless with their wallets have endured the initiation several times
This initiate on a U.S. Navy ship in 1979 -- forced to crawl along the decks -- volunteered to let his tormentors shave his head into a Mohawk in hopes that if he was already Mohawked, then the "Royal Barber" wouldn't mutilate his hair any worse. It worked. But his fellow initiates in this photo are about to lose their hair in a much worse way.
Most civilians had never heard of that humiliating initiation ritual -- didn't even dream it existed -- until February 1945 when a national magazine published the startling World War Two soft drink advertisement below, which depicted the initiation barber shaving the head of a young Marine . . . while his grinning buddies swig soft drinks and snap photos of his ordeal to send to the folks back home.
In case the print is too small to read, here's what the ad said:
". . . INITIATING A NEW SUBJECT OF NEPTUNE. It's a fine old custom -- the good-natured initiation of those who cross the equator for the first time."
So you think that ad was exaggerating the situation by depicting the smiling, young Marine with his head and hands locked helplessly into wooden stocks while the initiation barber happily uses the clippers to carve bald swaths through his hair? Think again. The stocks and the head shaving were standard parts of the ritual during World War Two -- and many decades before the war.
Still don't believe they sometimes restrained the initiates in wooden stocks in order to give them an initiation haircut upon crossing the equator?
Well, here's the strikingly similar newspaper photo that very likely inspired that World War Two soft drink advertisement above. This historic photo was taken on October 15, 1942, aboard a U.S. aircraft carrier in the South Pacific at the beginning of the war.
One sailor's head is being shaved, while another sailor on the far right is likewise restrained in wooden stocks, awaiting his initiation haircut.
As both the soft drink ad and the newspaper photo show -- back in the days before the U.S. Navy toned down the Shellback initiation -- the initiates were indeed often restrained helplessly in wooden stocks for their "punishment" haircuts and for their ritual paddlings for supposedly entering the equatorial zone without the permission of Neptune, the ancient god of the sea.
Here's a historic photo from two decades before WWII in 1921 aboard the USS New Mexico, showing three sailors locked into wooden stocks for the crossing the line ritual. Their heads have already been buzzed.
Most warships headed for the equator seemed to have carried several sets of wooden stocks to restrain young polliwogs for their initiation haircuts. According to one account, the tradition of locking the initiates into pillories and stocks for their initiation haircut dates back to sailing ships of the Middle Ages.
So far, this initiation victim still has his hair intact. But in another ten minutes, he'll be bald. Below him we can plainly see the piece of wet canvas fire hose that was traditionally used during these Neptune rituals to paddle initiates.
And here is another totally exhausted, soaking wet polywog locked in the pillory for his shellback haircut, while his tormentor swats his butt with another section of wet canvas fire hose, again visible beneath the stocks.
One American sailor who endured the Shellback initiation back in the 1960s before the Navy toned down some of the ritual’s more sadistic aspects is quoted thusly by a book about that traditional initiation:
“The ritual is all about masculinity. The ordeal was simply another way to prove one’s manhood. That was a big issue in the Navy. Endure the humiliation of the ritual, and your mates would be reassured that you were one of them – a real man. . . . It was a matter of showing our mates that we were real males.”
These sailors and Marines aboard the USS Santa Fe in September 1943 -- with their freshly shorn initiation haircuts -- are forced to crawl to their next initiation ordeal by veteran Shellbacks wielding paddles.
They have just crossed the equator enroute to what would become the Battle of Tarawa.
HOW THE PUNISHMENT HEAD SHAVES WERE CARRIED OUT: The head shaving procedure varied widely from one ship to another. But one old Navy salt has described the method used by veteran Shellbacks aboard the aircraft carrier USS Forrestal enroute to the Vietnam War in 1967 to determine precisely what type initiation haircut would be inflicted on each of these prostrated Marines and sailors in these historic photos.
Early in the morning on initiation day, he said, "while the about-to-be-sheared Polliwogs waited in suspense in their berthing compartments, a veteran Shellback arrived. He walks around the compartment asking questions [to determine each initiate's imaginary offenses against Neptune, God of the Sea, for which he would be punished]. With a grease pencil; he places marks on each man's forehead to show how much of his hair will be cut off.
"The number of grease pencil marks on each man's forehead corresponded to the amount of hair they were about to lose. If you look very closely, you may be able to see the marks on their foreheads. The more marks, meant more of your hair would soon be lying in a heap on the deck. Approaching the Royal Barber, and after noting the marks on a sailors forehead, the Royal Barber commenced to cutting away each sailors hair with his electric shears."
This nude sailor on another ship is forced to kneel before Neptune's "Royal Court" to receive his sentence and to be told what his day-long punishment will be. The following written account from 1945 shows just how tough those "crossing the line" initiations could be in those days.
"Many of those initiation indignities came in the form of punishment for crimes you will not find listed in Black’s Law Dictionary.
"One seaman was charged with threatening to steal the line of the equator for a kite string."
Some World War Two ships held a "Wog Auction," in which the polywogs were auctioned off as dogs to veteran shellbacks. Their "masters" put collars and rope leashes on them and made them crawl around the decks all day, performing dog tricks whenever ordered to do so . . . such as rolling over, marking their territory by peeing on the legs of fellow initiates, or simulating sex with other polywog dogs on leashes . . . while their "master" whipped them along with a piece of fire hose.
One scholarly journal quotes a veteran sailor thusly: "When you’re a shellback you can pick one or two wogs as your personal wogs; you put them on a leash and run them around the ship. And I had this guy . . . . I often had him screwing or getting screwed by other wogs . . . ."
But even the Wogs who weren't on leashes and collars were still subjected to what was called "wog sex." The article in a university publication says prior to 1990, "throughout the ceremony, shellbacks simulate anal or oral sex with the pollywogs. . . . [and] in several accounts shellbacks ordered pollywogs to simulate oral and anal sex with each other." On any other day, such behavior would be severely punished -- but on shellback initiation day everyone winked at it and enjoyed watching. Or at least they did until 1990.
The guy humping the initiate who is bent over is holding a rope which is attached to the initiate's . . . uh, well probably his neck like a leash. That was the usual procedure.in those days. The other tormentors standing over the victim are also holding rope leashes alongside the pieces of canvas fire hose used for whips.
Said one initiate: “There I was with my head shaved into a crude Mohawk, being forced to do something that on any other day would get me a captain’s mast – forced to hump other guys while the whole ship watched my humiliation. But on this day, because there was a leash around my neck, and because there was this big bruiser standing over me with a whip, threatening to give me another flogging if I stopped humping him, the whole ship thought it was hilarious. So did the captain. The head shaving was nothing, compared to this embarrassment.”
The academic paper quoted another initiate as saying: “That [wog humping] stuff wasn’t unusual, because everyone was doing it that day. . . . You’re a slave – someone with no authority whatsoever. So I would get behind this guy. And I’d be like this, having [simulated] sex with him. And everyone would be laughing and stuff. . . . The only time I got really upset, I was locked in the stocks . You stick your head and your hands in the stocks and they lock it. I was bent over, and someone was behind me pretending to be having sex with me. And another guy was pouring three-week-old food all over my head.
“I was really surprised, because I thought I was going to hate it. But I had fun. The reason I think I liked it so much was because I went through a lot of summer camps. But some people quit, the people who couldn’t take it. Some men were crying. It’s really degrading. “
Another World War Two initiate quoted elsewhere said: "It was grueling. But because I survived it, I was really proud for the rest of my life of having endured it. I wouldn't have missed it for the world. I would have been really disappointed if my buddies had gone easy on me. "
The World War Two initiate below has a steel collar bolted around his neck, while his wrists and head are locked into wooden stocks. He's being led around on a chain by a shellback wielding a whip made of fire hose while he waits to go under the clippers. His fellow initiate on the far right has already had part of his head shaved by the Royal Barber, The guy in the stocks (below) is about to get the same treatment with the clippers. Another initiate (2nd from the right) awaits his turn in the stocks .
Notice that in the photo above, all the initiates are forced to wear the striped clothing of chain gang convicts, marking them for abuse.
The university publication quotes one veteran sailor as saying of his initiation: "They would give you orders. You are a slave—-someone with no authority whatsoever. So I would get behind this guy and I’d be like this, having [simulated] sex with him [as ordered] , and everyone would be laughing and stuff. . . . : It was humiliation, but it seemed OK, because everyone else was going through it."
Oldtime Navy guys vehemently universally deny that it was ever homoerotic. "It's never gay when you're forcing them to do it solely to humiliate them. There's nothing more humiliating than for a straight man to be forced to simulate sex with another man. And the shellback initiation is all about humiliation -- all about finding out whether he's man enough to endure a little public embarrassment."
Some critics argue that, instead of being homoerotic, the pre-1990 ritual actually was quite the opposite -- blatantly homophobic -- that the shellbacks forced the initiates to simulate homosexual acts precisely because that's the one thing that would embarrass them more than anything else. The university article quotes one Navy veteran as saying: “It’s got to be tough, it’s got to be embarrassing, just so you can say, ‘Yeah, I did it, I went through it,' Every old Navy guy wants to go through the ordeal."
This Marine -- with a rope leash around his neck -- is forced to crawl around the deck in the garbage while his buddies whip him with sections of wet canvas fire hose.
He'll soon be relieved of the rest of his hair.
As one Navy veteran said with a grin, "This is a sublime form of hazing."
Others, like the initiate being tormented below, were humiliated by being required to wear women's clothes while undergoing the day-long hazing.
On many (most?) ships, initiates were required to strip to their underpants, which had to be worn backwards and inside-out for the entire day -- to add to the humiliation and to make the constant paddlings sting more.
Notice the crude Mohawks that have been inflicted on the initiates in the background. Like we said, it was in World War Two photos like these that many stunned Americans got their first glimpse of the shocking Mohawk haircut.
In this photo, a grinning, newly inducted shellback with a reverse Mohawk shows off his initiation haircut. He has been forced to wear his underpants backwards.
The "crossing the line" initiates were intensely proud of their humiliating haircuts, because for two or three weeks, the haircuts provided strong visual proof to everyone on shipboard that they had been man enough to endure this rite of passage. The haircuts -- frequently including crude Mohawks -- were a badge of courage to be worn proudly.
Judging by his grin, this guy appears to have come through the ordeal with flying colors.
In this scene, which appears to be on a merchant marine ship, the initiate has his wrists tied behind his back with rope as he kneels to receive his initiation head shave.
It's possible this haircut victim is already a veteran shellback from a previous initiation -- because part of the standard ritual is that -- the day before the initiation -- the polywogs are expected to stage a "revolt." They are allowed to capture any veteran shellbacks and, in the words of one victim, "tie them up and do anything to them that they want to." The shellbacks willingly submit. It;s part of the fun, and the veteran shellbacks are disappointed if the "wogs" don't revolt and initiate the shellbacks too. It's revenge in advance for the punishment the "wogs" know will be inflicted on them tomorrow.
So by the end of the second day, everyone has been initiated -- polliwogs and shellbacks alike. And it's all in fun. Ever since the ship left port, both sides have eagerly looked forward to this two-day ritual -- with the two sides initiating each other. And there are a lot of crude Mohawks on both sides.
In the photo below, a veteran shellback restrains the hands of the polywog below while the Royal Barber shaves his head. The "wogs" on the right have already lost their hair.
These U.S. Marines ended up with these initiation haircuts when they crossed the Equator enroute to the Marshall Islands in the South Pacific during World War Two (1944).
The virtual sea of egg-bald heads shown below was likewise the result of a World War Two shellback initiation. A memorable war story they can tell their grandchildren about.
In a typical equitorial initiation, at the end of the day there were enough shorn locks lying on the deck to stuff a dozen mattresses. But the initiates cherished the experience for the rest of their lives as one of the most memorable parts of their service at sea. For years afterward they loved to recount stories of the tough, day-long humiliations they endured.
One former Coast Guard member described his Shellback initiation in 1998 aboard the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Polar Star this way: "When I experienced my first 'crossing,' I knew nothing of what was about to happen and was caught completely by surprise. In the day that followed, I was subjected to a feast of . . . humiliation. I was treated as the lowest of low by my fellow shipmates and made to do degrading things, such as rolling in garbage and eating rotten food; I was ridiculed and suffered mock beatings. Yet the experience is one of the richest memories of my life. Far from being traumatized by the event, I am proud to have been involved . . . .
"I was brought before the Royal Barber, blind-folded and disoriented, . . . My blindfold was removed. . . . The Royal Barber and his assistant were standing on a stage next to a plastic pipe painted to look like a barber’s pole. . . . I was made to sit in a metal folding chair, and while the barber distracted me with ridiculous questions, his assistant took a large handful of cooking grease and smeared it into my face. I gagged as some of the thick mess entered my mouth and nose, but before I could recover, I heard a buzzing sound and a huge patch of my hair was shaved off. The barber took his time and carved a phallic symbol into my head. When he was satisfied with his work, his assistant smeared another large handful of grease into what remained of my hair. I stood up, and the numerous shellbacks who milled about to watch the show, began to cackle and howl at my new haircut. I was subjected to a few seconds of ridicule, and then was blindfolded again and led to the next stage of my initiation.
NOW THE INITIATION IS MOSTLY VOLUNTEER: Now-a-days, in the wake of anti-hazing reforms, the shellback initiation on many (most? all?) Navy ships is said to be strictly volunteer. But one current sailor reports that when his skipper asked how many guys on his ship wanted to volunteer to be hazed, 200 men signed up to submit to the initiation. They didn't want their Navy career to end without a chance to experience one of the oldest, most historic traditions among sailors.
The university study said the ritual is normally very secretive. "As with other ceremonies" the study said, "it is considered a proud and necessary rite of passage, one that should be secretive and guarded." The author said "All of the men I interviewed who had participated in it were very hesitant to reveal any of the details, whether risqué or not. . . ." Which is why some Old Salts will not be happy that the most shocking of these historic, archival initiation photos reached the public.
The academic study continues: "Rites of passage culminate with bonding between the initiates, which would not be possible without a certain amount of [secrecy]. Also, the gender bending and sexual play, which are explored in the context of the ritual, are protected by this [secrecy]."
Again, we have explored the historic shellback initiations in some detail, because no account of the history and origins of the Mohawk would be complete without it. The haircut came, in part, from a really tough ordeal -- in an earlier day when the Mohawk was a visible sign that you were tough enough to take it like a man.
In those early days during and immediately after World War Two, if you had a crudely carved Mohawk, everyone who saw you knew you had earned the right to wear it -- the hard way.
(This blog has been limited to the military history of the Mohawk as a proud emblem of the warrior culture in our country's military services. But for the equally fascinating civilian history of the Mohawk -- showing the Mohawk's gradual evolution over the past century from an initiation haircut for football teams to eventually become high fashion as the coolest haircut in town, as the daring haircut that every man wishes he had the balls to sport just once in his life -- click on the following link to my other blog titled "The Strange, Sexy History of the Civilian Mohawk." Click here..
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