The military is full of old war stories, ancient traditions, wild legends, and lots of faith in the ever after. Each branch uses their traditions to induct recruits, new noncomms, and junior officers into their ranks. Yesterday, November 10th, was the long celebrated Marine Corps Birthday. Celebrated with music, dance, cake, and drink, there is nothing quite like a Marine Ball on its Birthday. The Navy has rituals for first timers crossing the equator. Eventually, the Space Force will be around long enough to have traditions and legends but until then, they suffer the baby service tradition of being the object of ridicule and jokes. Even within the branches, each service has traditions for every skill. The Infantry, Queen of Battle, wears a light blue cord on their dress uniform. They are protected by their patron St. Maurice. Those that ride to battle in hulls of steel on endless tracks in the Calvary wear spurs and cowboy hats to remind them of the softer steeds from much earlier in their history. The mounted warrior, St. George, looks after other’s fighting from live and steel warhorses. The cannoneers, rocketeers, archers, stone slingers, and catapulters in the Field Artillery are a special bunch. Those Kings of Battle are watched over by St. Barbara, they also have a special place in the afterlife called Fiddler’s Green. Fellow Redlegs and other Veterans, enjoy your free lunches today.
Imagine, if you will, a battery gathered ‘round the fire shortly after the end of the Civil War. The cannoneers feed their horses, clean the bore, and head for chow. It is likely one or two of the section chiefs uncork a canteen of every Redleg’s favorite elixir, Artillery Punch. Number one places another log on the fire as the evening wears on. Talk turns to those comrades lost in the last few years.
As Chief of Smoke, the senior enlisted leader in any field artillery battery, walks the line of steel, he hears a tenderfoot talk of the hell that awaits all Redlegs given the effectiveness of each cannon in battle. Smoke stops, turns, and eyes the powder monkey with curiosity.
“Why, young lad, have you never heard of the place reserved for St. Barbara’s finest? It’s part way past the road to heaven on the road to hell. Fear not the eternal fire. The gun guide will always meet every section and lead them to their designated position. Before final entry, each shall report their names to compare against the roll of those acknowledged as members of the Honorable order of St. Barbara. You see, legend has it…”
Halfway down the trail to hell, In a shady meadow green,
Are the souls of many departed Redlegs camped near a good old-time canteen.
And this eternal resting place is known as Fiddler’s Green.
Though others must go down the trail to seek a warmer scene,
No Redleg ever goes to hell, Ere he’s emptied his canteen.
And so returns to drink again, with friends at Fiddler’s Green
(Poem from the U. S. Field Artillery Association)
As Smoke finishes the poem, number one stokes the fire. The cannoneers crawl in their bedrolls and softly fall to sleep, comforted by the dream that one day they will be reunited with their comrades on Fiddler’s Green.
Now dear readers, some of you may be Sailors, and there might be a Marine who is non Artillery. Perhaps you heard Fiddler’s Green was reserved for you, or maybe the Infantry of Calvary. ‘Tis not true. Only those Kings who know the smell of propellant, or the ink from a TFT, who’ve slammed a finger in a breach, or spotted rounds to save the Queen have space reserved on Fiddler’s Green. This story is recreated from best I can recall from when I heard it from my Smoke, who shared it with us all. As Smoke, this tale I’ve told, to newbies and occasionally those who reclassed to Artillery. Often, as suggested by tradition, the tale is shared over the universal bore cleaner, emergency liquid propellant, and the sure cure for what ever ails you, Field Artillery Punch. Mind you this is not that sissy Chattem Artillery punch for which you might find a recipe on the Food Channel Website. No, dear readers, this is the stuff aged under a tree out back since the last St. Barb’s Ball and used to charge the next bowl, a secret not shared here in view of the uninitiated, and for fear the Russians might use it against us.
To my Veteran comrades, enjoy your day. Accept the gratitude of our nation. Remember, with your comrades, the good times and bad, those who are gone and with us still, over those free coffees, breakfasts, and lunches.
For those who have not served, that would be more than 98% of you, thank that old dude wearing the KOREAN WAR hat. Ask the lady in the MP tee shirt about her service. Attend a Veteran’s Ceremony. And if you want your very own holiday, call a recruiter to see if you qualify to serve in our nation’s military. No matter which service or branch you choose, you’ll have adventures you can tell your grandchildren about before you journey off to Fiddler’s Green or other places where non Artillerymen go before getting to hell!
Fiddler’s Green poem from the U.S. Field Artillery Association
All photos from DVIDS, the Defense Virtual Information Distribution Service (unless oftherwise noted), https://www.dvidshub.net/search?q=artillery&view=grid