Origins of – HOOAH – In The U.S. Military
From the beginning of time war was present in human civilization not only for conquering other kingdoms, not only for settling differences and disagreements among people but also as a way of defending the homeland and keeping the world in peace and order.
In these bloody combats where we, as children of this planet, put hands on each other for the sake of our own interests, horrific war cries are being uttered before, during and after the battle.
We know that war is a common thing even in the modern era and that the horrors of the 20th century will never be forgotten.
Even though coming into the 21st century the tensions have loosened-up but the battles for peace are not over, and even in peace, the treats are visible.
The military in every war in the history of man-kind played the most important part of actually performing the act of killing and fighting for something their country believed in, whether it was freedom, justice or glory.
That being said, there is no surprise that every army in the world has a different war chant, a phrase or a word when said out loud by every man present gives strength and power to their goal, knowing they are giving up their lives for the wellbeing of their country.
So what are these war chants that I’m talking about? What are their purpose and meaning? Why are they so important for the soldiers that are shouting it and for us civilians understand the meaning behind it?
These questions are hard to answer but not impossible, let us try.
A war chant, war cry, or battle cry, whatever you want to call it, is a chant used before or after any battle to boost morale or to signify victory.
A general’s job is to keep the hopes of his troops at the highest level in order to implement in their heads the goal of the battle that awaits them.
From the beginning of time, these words or phrases called war chants were, and still, are used to:
- Assert obedience of the troops – a certain way of acting and responding to command.
- Display dominance – to pose a threat to the enemy.
- Mark the beginning and the end of the battle – war is a zero-sum game, you either win or lose.
Almost every military in the world has a specific war chant and they all have different meanings but also have one thing in common.
It goes without saying that a war chant is never a symbol for the word ‘’no’’, it is always a sign of affirmative action and understanding of the generals’ command.
It’s now time for a little bit of history of the word “slogan” and how it is related to the word “war cry”
The word “slogan” originates from the Scottish-Gaelic word for “gathering-cry” and also in times of war for “battle-cry”, so “sluagh-gairm” or “sluagh-ghairm”, as it’s pronounced, depends on the dialect is made up of two words – sluagh which means “people” or “army”, and gairm which means “call” or “proclamation”.
This Gaelic word was later implemented into the English language as “slughorn”, “sluggorne”, “slogum”, and finally as we know it today – slogan.
Okay, enough of world history, let’s talk about U.S. history instead. It’s obvious that the largest military force in the world with almost two million soldiers in its disposal, both active and in reserve, the U.S. military, has its own war chant.
There are a lot of theories of how this famous war chant first began to be used, and a lot of history to back up its tradition in the army.
Even though there are all kinds of variations of the slogan and it has changed over the years, even centuries I may add, this powerful one has the ability to boost a soldier’s moral and keep his head high even when the going gets though.
When saying this powerful phrase out loud, it has a sort of a mystical influence to the person shouting, knowing that he and his brothers in arms, ready for the battle coming, or celebrating their accomplishments.
Anyone who has been in the military knows the feeling of that special and sacred moment when a battalion of soldiers shout just one phrase which, just for a moment, makes them not scared of death and almost immortal.
“HOOAH” is shouted by the Air Force Security Forces, Pararescue, and Combat Controllers. “HOO-YAH” is uttered out by Navy SEALs, Navy Divers, and Navy EOD, and by United States Marines who pronounce is as “OohRah!”
Either way, it is a sign of both the beginning of a battle and as a way to express cheerfulness of the troops who came out victorious.
Our task today is to talk about the origin and the meaning of this widespread term.
SECOND SEMINOLE WAR
One of the oldest theories out there on how the term “Hooah” came to be, originated during the Second Seminole War which was fought between the Seminole tribe of Native Americans and the United States which lasted from 1835. until 1842.
It was first recorded in a book called “America’s Army and the Language of Grunts: Understanding The Army Lingo Legacy” by E. Kelly Taylor published in 2009.
The story goes that the term “hough” originally was used in 1841, by the Second Dragoons division during their battles in Florida.
Wanting to end the war with the Seminoles, a meeting was arranged with the Seminole Chief Osceola.
Chief Osceola wasn’t reluctant to make peace with the American authorities and after the meeting, there was a celebration among both sides, and later even a banquet.
Garrison officers at the banquet where very much cheerful and made all kinds of toast before drinking, for example, “Here’s to luck” or “The old Grudge”.
Of course, the Chief didn’t know a word of English, so an interpreter named Gopher John was asked to explain to him what the officers were saying and said: “It means, How d’ye do”. Chief Osceola lifted his cup above his head and uttered a word sounding like “hough” in a deep, guttural voice.
The second version of this story suggests that the first story doesn’t make sense since it was recorded that Chief Osceola did actually speak English since his birth name was Billy Powell and that the Chief involved was actually Chief Coacoochee.
Who you want to believe is up to you, but both reports show that the term is over a hundred years old, and later will be shaped into the phrase we know today as “HOOAH”.
Remember, both of these stories took place in the 19th century; not much background is involved to prove the legitimacy of the whole event.
However, this interesting anecdote could be taken as the first trace of a slogan in the making.
Now this is a more documented story than the one before and is more of a fact than a theory mainly because in a rapid, yet somewhat comical turn of events the term “HOOAH” was, for the first time, used and some may even say, finally born.
It was D-Day, 1944, on Omaha Beach near the sea cliffs at Pointe Du Hoc; General Norman Cota who was the 29th Division assistant division commander at that time, ran along the beach as the waves crashed on the soon to be blood-soaked land, toward a group of Rangers from the 2nd Ranger Battalion asking them where their commanding officer was.
Getting the information, he reportedly said: “Lead the way, Rangers”, to which they responded very loudly, yet enthusiastically: “WHO, US?”, and somehow General Cota understood them to say “HOOAH”, later implementing the slogan as a household phrase.
This could very be the true origin of this powerful slogan which is used even today, but this is not where our journey ends.
There are more theories out there and we will give them an honorable mention and also try to debunk the true meaning of this famous war chant.
This is a short story, because as I said there isn’t enough background to stories that happened before WW II, yet it’s worthy of mentioning.
The story suggests that the term dates back to the Civil War, being used by the Union and they shouted a term “hoozah” before entering the battle.
This theory isn’t acknowledged that much, mainly because there is little evidence that this term later came to be the one which is the subject of our study here.
Nevertheless, the theory is out there, and the more the merrier, because it just goes to show how much of this simple phrase “HOOAH” has a lot of interpretations for both its origin and meaning.
I am a diplomat and I do go into research on international affairs and conflicts but in spite of all that I’m in no way choosing sides in this painful part of U.S. history.
For the purpose of this specific research, my main goal is to shed light on another theory on the origins of the term “HOOAH”.
The Vietnam War, or the Second Indochina War to be exact, lasted for nearly 20 years and was one of the biggest and bloodiest wars since the Second World War.
The U.S. and its brave soldiers went out on a mission to bring peace to two separated countries – North Vietnam and South Vietnam.4
The U.S. was fighting on the side of South Vietnam, while the SSSR and China were on the side of North Vietnam.
Now, remember, the war started in 1955, and the United States joined in 1960; this was also the time of the Cold War so tensions were very high.
I’m not going to deep into detail of the war itself, but you can imagine the horrors of it and due to it lasting for 19 years, the U.S. army soldiers spent a lot of time there which had an impact on not only their military experience but also army jargon.
Now how is the term “HOOAH” linked to the Vietnam War?
Simple, the Vietnamese word for “yes” is pronounced “u-ah”, and was used as an answer by soldiers when assigned to do a task or asked a question.
Knowing that the war lasted for nearly two decades, it’s no surprise that the word “u-ah” because of its frequent use by Vietnamese soldiers was later transformed into “hooah” by the U.S. Army, and the rest is history.
But, yes there is always a but, there are still several different theories on how the slogan came into existence not just in the army, but more specifically, in the navy.
THE U.S. MARINES
Now this theory is a little different from the rest because it’s not about the specific term “hooah” and how it originated, yet it’s still linked to a similar slogan that the Navy Marines use – “OohRah”.
What is even more interesting in this case is that nobody knows how this term originated, but still there are two popular stories surrounding its origin:
- Little is known about this story and its background, but it explains that somehow “OohRah” was derived by either a Turkish or Russian battle cry and was adopted by the Marines on their missions in the Middle East. Now what does give this theory some legitimacy is a large number of interventions in the Middle East, but the mystery still holds.
- This is a more popular theory based on a movie from 1957, called “The D.I.”. The role of Sargent Jim Moore was played by Jack Webb, and in a scene, he commands his troop with a sentence: “Let me hear you ROAR, tigers!”; many say this was the origin of the term “OohRAh” due to the movie’s success, but still, the mystery remains.
Whether you believe these theories or not, they are the only ones out there explaining the origin of this slogan, also there is still no evidence if it is related to the term “hooah”, but my lucky guess is that they have somewhat the same meaning, and they definitely don’t mean “no”.
We talked about the origin of this term, how it was formed, and where it was first used, so now it’s time to debunk it’s meaning, and to answer your question right away, it does actually have a meaning other than a catchy phrase shouted by soldiers with adrenalin pumping in their veins.
Heard, Understood and Acknowledged, or H.U.A. for short, may well be the true meaning of “HOOAH”.
This acronym dates back to the Revolutionary War and also the Civil War, and taking into consideration all that we talked about earlier, this could be both the formal origin and meaning of this powerful term.
What is interesting to know is that different variations of the term H.U.A. were probably used by military units from different regions of the South and North and were interpreted in their own way due to dialect, as well as by foreign advisers during the years prior to the Revolutionary War.
Keep in mind that even this is a theory but a solid one, however, it is yet to be discovered whether it should be ratified as official evidence for the origin of “HOOAH”.
Someone should definitely write a book on just this term and present historical facts for its origin and development over the course of one and a half century of its supposed existence.
Okay now that we have the origin and the meaning in some degree explained, let’s see what the Military thinks about this term and for what purpose is it used in the army.
THE ARMY’s ANSWER
Truth be told, there is still no definite proof of any of these stories linked to the origins of “hooah”, but the Army doesn’t seem to have an answer either, considering that the Army did not respond to multiple inquiries from Task & Purpose for confirmation.
However, the soldiers don’t really seem to mind too much the lack of historical proof of its origin either, as they are still aware that this term means what it means and that is – head into battle.
Ask any soldier you want, he will tell you that the general’s role is to issue a command and the troop’s role is to follow it. Whether you shout “Hooah” or “OohRah”, or maybe even “Hoozah”, by that act you are agreeing with the command given and are ready for battle.
There is no better way to mold a soldier into a real one, then constantly repeating his duties and by motivating him to be focused on his task.
When you have an army of brave soldiers willing to risk their lives, fighting for a cause that they believe in, knowing that one phrase shouted at the right time can set them off and flung them into battle, only then you will understand the strength of this term at its fullest.
In this conclusion I want to summarize all that was said previously by first making a list of what we learned today:
- Origin – First things first, as you could see for yourself, pinpointing the origin of this phrase is a hard thing to pull off. That being said, I would like to suggest that by taking all of the theories into consideration we are giving the legitimacy of the term “HOOAH” as a U.S. war chant, and that was the main purpose of these theories from the beginning.
- Meaning – Second, the formal meaning is still not fully constructed, but as we talked earlier, there may not even be a reason for the term to have a special meaning; it should rather mean anything that has something to do with confirmation of the order given and its successful execution.
- Use – Third and final thing that is important to know is its usage in combat, and we also talked about that several times before, but there is no reason not to highlight its power once more. It boosts the overall morale of the troops, making them feel that they are fighting for a cause and assuring them that what they are doing is right, they feel like true soldiers who march into battle and maybe even certain that and all that to maintain peace and justice in the world.
It’s tough to be a soldier in today’s scary world full of violence far away from home and from loved ones, knowing that this day can be your last; anything that can ease the pain of war is welcomed and sure is helpful to keep your head high, making you endure all the troubles and horrors and coming out victorious.
We should all be thankful for every brave man and woman serving in the army, contributing to the nation that they belong to, and fighting for peace in this world which has yet to be acquired.
Maybe someday we will learn to settle our differences not through blood but through words, but conflicts are inevitable because we are human beings and as humans, we are naturally violent and chaotic.
I wish for a day when we all as people, not just of our birthplaces, but of planet earth, shout out “HOOAH” in our own language but not for the purpose of war, but instead for the purpose of global human well-being. It is a dream now, but maybe in the future, it will become a reality.
For now, all we can do is to hope and pray that the wars stop, and justice comes.