Are you a bit of a U.S. military history nerd?
If so, you’ll love digging into these facts about our military’s rich and storied history. Whether you’re interested in origin stories — like how the Coast Guard Reserve got started — or the symbolism of dates like Veterans Day, this post will cover what you may have never heard in school.
Ready for a mini history lesson you probably won’t find in textbooks?
Here’s a little look into our unique U.S. military history:
1. The Army is Older Than the U.S.
Even if by just one year, the U.S. Army is older than the United States. The Continental Army was officially established and led by George Washington in 1775 before the establishment of the United States of America in 1776.
2. Coast Guard “Reserve” Service Used to Be Unpaid
Around World War II, an act of Congress mandated the Coast Guard use unpaid civilians to help protect waterways in their own motorboats or yachts. The Auxiliary and Reserve Act of 1941 changed the Reserve into an active branch and developed a civilian volunteer service that’s now known as the U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary.
3. Nuclear Aircraft Carrier Named After a U.S. President
In 1998, the USS Harry S. Truman (CVN 75) became the first Nimitz-class aircraft carrier to be named after a U.S. president. The nuclear-powered carrier’s maiden voyage took place in November 2000. Its first major deployment covered more than 44,000 nautical miles.
4. The Swastika Wasn’t Always A Symbol of Evil
More often known for its Nazi affiliation, it’s important to note that the swastika was formerly a widely used Native American symbol of good luck. It was also worn by the 45th Infantry on their left shoulder in recognition of the many Native Americans in the Division until 1933. The association with German National socialism required its abandonment and the Thunderbird was adopted instead.
5. Veterans Day is Held on a Meaningful Day
Armistice Day, or the end of World War I, occurred on the 11th month on the 11th day at the 11th hour — November 11. Originally, this was known as Armistice Day, but it was changed in 1954 by President Eisenhower to Veterans Day instead. This is why we hold tributes for veterans on November 11, Veterans Day.
6. Lincoln Signed the Medal of Honor into Creation
Back in the 1800s, Iowa Senator James W. Grimes created a bill to “promote the efficiency of the Navy” while also authorizing the creation of “medals of honor.” After President Lincoln signed the (Navy) Medal of Honor, 200 medals were produced and distributed. The first recipient was Private Jacob Parrott in 1862. Since then, more than 3,500 individuals have received the honor, the highest award for valor in action.
7. The Department of Defense is Old
The Department of Defense (DoD) is responsible for providing the resources our armed forces need to protect the United States. It’s been around forever, too. Congress established the “War Department” in 1789, which now is better known as the Department of Defense.
8. Psychics Played a Role in Military Intelligence
The book and movie, The Men Who Stare at Goats, was based on U.S. military-funded paranormal research called “remote viewing.” Part of the Stargate Project, psychics performed parapsychic intelligence and research operations for the military from 1972 to 1995. The program shut down after 20-plus years of operation.
9. Dogs Play a Critical Part of Military Operations
In every major conflict, dogs work side-by-side with our U.S. soldiers. But, their work wasn’t officially recognized until WWII. During WWII, Doberman Pinschers worked as scouts, and messengers in the Pacific theater. Today’s military working dogs are a valued part of military operations. In fact, fully-trained bomb canines are worth upward of $150,000.
10. Women Have Always Been Involved in the Military
Women have held many roles in the U.S. military since its inception. George Washington employed a woman spy, Agent 355, during the Revolutionary War. Surprisingly, her true identity is still unknown. The first black woman to enlist in the U.S. Army was Cathay Williams, under the pseudonym William Cathay in 1866.
11. America Has Declared War 11 Times
Although the U.S. has been at war for 93% of its existence, we’ve only formally declared war 11 times. This includes five separate conflicts: the War of 1812, War with Mexico, the Spanish-American War, World War I, and World War II.
The U.S. Military History is Deep and Rich
See, history doesn’t have to be boring! There’s your brief — yet fun — U.S. military history lesson.
Feel free to pass this along to your service member; chances are they’ll learn a thing or two as well.
While you don’t need to memorize these random facts, it might be helpful to store the information away for your next trivia night or meeting with another service member.
And if you really want to dig deep into U.S. history, check out highlights of our country’s military events and significant historical documents in this online government archive. You could spend hours studying up on dates, facts, and historic U.S. events.
What are some of the more unique U.S. military facts you know? Drop them in the comments below!
Feature image courtesy of Georgia National Guard, photo by Maj. William Carraway