The Story of Siwash, the Beer-Drinking Duck Who Joined the Marines

iStock.com/SoopySue
iStock.com/SoopySue

The Battle of Tarawa, fought in November 1943, was a bloody Pacific offensive that led to the deaths of more than 6000 people. One of the toughest American campaigns in the central Pacific, it was an all-hands-on-deck sort of operation—one that involved 18,000 Marines and exactly one beer-guzzling duck.

"Siwash" the duck was one of the most colorful animals ever used by the military. The duck unofficially joined the United States Marine Corps in 1943 after Sergeant Francis "Pappy" Fagan won her in a raffle (some accounts say a poker tournament) at a tavern in New Zealand. According to a Marine newspaper, the duck was named after Sgt. Jack "Siwash" Cornelius of Skagit County, Washington (unfortunately, siwash is now considered a pejorative term for Native Americans of the North Pacific Coast). Siwash would accompany Fagan everywhere he went and quickly became the 2nd Marine Division's unofficial mascot.

The soldiers also loved feeding her beer. "She won't touch draft beer though," Fagan told the United Press. "And it's got to be warm beer, the way it was in New Zealand."

Her drinking prowess aside, Siwash's bravery was also much admired by the Marines, who claimed the duck would "jump in a foxhole the minute the Marines leap," according to the AP. As Colonel Presley M. Rixey joked to the Chicago Tribune in 1944, "We value him too much to have to eat him … Besides, we have no sliced oranges to serve with him." (Most of the soldiers assumed Siwash was a drake, or he-duck, although she later surprised them by laying an egg.)

During the Battle of Tarawa, Siwash truly proved she had the stuff to be a Marine. With bullets and bombs flying, the Marines stormed the beach and the duck followed—and the moment her webbed feet hit the sand she began looking for trouble. Immediately, Siwash locked eyes on a Japanese chicken and ran in pursuit. The birds began to engage in combat. Siwash took a few hard knocks to the noggin, but kept fighting until, according to most accounts, she defeated the enemy foul. As Fagan told the AP in 1944, "The rooster didn't have a chance."

After the battle, talk spread of giving Siwash a Purple Heart. In the end, she was awarded this citation:

For courageous action and wounds received on Tarawa, in the Gilbert Islands, November 1943. With utter disregard for his own personal safety, Siwash, upon reaching the beach, without hesitation engaged the enemy in fierce combat, namely, one rooster of Japanese ancestry, and though wounded on the head by repeated pecks, he soon routed the opposition. He refused medical aid until all wounded members of his section had been taken care of.

Tarawa wouldn't be Siwash's last rodeo. She was present for two more major Pacific operations: the Battle of Saipan and the Battle of Tinian. During the former, she kept watch from the boat. But at Tinian, Siwash "hit the beach on D-Day and personally captured a tiny Jap duck," TIME reported in 1944.

Later that same year Sergeant Siwash returned to the United States and was given a hero's welcome, which included two radio broadcast appearances, a luncheon in her honor, and all the beer she pleased. Harnessing the duck's fame, Fagan and Siwash went on to travel and promote the sale of war bonds. After World War II, Siwash took up residence at Chicago's Lincoln Park Zoo, where she stayed until her death (of liver problems) in 1954. Her body was stuffed and presented to the National Museum of the Marine Corps in Triangle, Virginia.

Decades later, in 1980, Fagan would confess at a retirement party that Siwash might not have been as brave as he originally let on. "Actually, the chicken chased the hell out of her," he admitted. But Fagan, it appears, was clever enough to know that he shouldn't let the truth get in the way of a good story.

After all, Siwash was no chicken.

The Tower of London Welcomes New Baby Ravens for the First Time in 30 Years

Some of the baby ravens born at the Tower of London
Some of the baby ravens born at the Tower of London
Tower of London Twitter (screenshot)

There are some new residents at the Tower of London. They're only about 11 inches tall, are very noisy, and eat rats for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Fortunately, they're also adorable—not to mention protected by legend.

On May 17, the Tower of London announced that their breeding pair of ravens, Huginn and Muninn, had welcomed four healthy chicks, the first born at the Tower since 1989. The ravens are part of an unkindness that's been located at the Tower for centuries as a sort of protective asset. According to legend, the Tower must always have ravens, or both the Tower and the kingdom will fall. It's not exactly clear when the legend began, but according to the Tower, Charles II decreed there must always be six ravens present.

Huginn and Muninn are newer additions, having arrived at the Tower in late 2018, and they weren't expected to breed this spring. So it was a surprise in mid-April when the devoted Tower Ravenmaster, Yeoman Warder Chris Skaife, noticed something exciting going on. "My suspicions were first piqued that we might have a chance of baby chicks when the parents built a huge nest suddenly overnight and then almost immediately the female bird started to sit on it," Skaife said in a Tower press release. On April 23, Skaife noticed the birds flying to the nest with food, but it was only this week he was able to get close enough to see the four healthy chicks. The sight delighted him: "Having worked with the ravens here at the Tower for the last 13 years and getting to know each of them, I feel like a proud father!"

The chicks have grown quickly, already quadrupling in size since they were born, and eat a diet of quail, rats, and mice the Ravenmaster provides. The raven parents have an egalitarian feeding arrangement: Huginn, the male, preps the food and passes it to Muninn, the female, who feeds it to her tiny chicks.

The plan is for one of the chicks to stay at the Tower and join the rest of the ravens there. "As the ravens started to hatch on the 23 April, St. George’s Day, the raven that will be staying at the Tower will be called George or Georgina in honor of the occasion," the Tower explained in a press release. According to The Telegraph, the breeding program at the Tower kicked off in response to a decline in the number of legal raven breeders in the UK.

The last raven chick born at the Tower was Ronald Raven, born May 1, 1989. In his 2018 book, The Ravenmaster: My Life with the Ravens at the Tower of London, Skaife wrote that "a baby raven looks a bit like a grotesque miniature gargoyle, but then you see them grow and develop ... It really is wonderful."

The baby ravens born at the Tower of London in 2019
The baby ravens born at the Tower of London in 2019 making some noise
Yeoman Warder Chris Skaife

Dozens of Donkeys, Mini-Donkeys, and Baby Donkeys Are Looking for New Homes

iStock.com/huggy1
iStock.com/huggy1

Cats and dogs aren't the only rescue animals that need permanent homes. At the Humane Society of North Texas (HSNT), there are over 60 donkeys, miniature donkeys, baby donkeys, and Thoroughbred horses up for adoption, the Cleburne Times-Review reports.

Many of the equines at HSNT's ranch in Joshua, Texas came from owners who had to give them up, and others were transferred from different animal rescue groups. As part of the ASPCA’s Help A Horse Home Challenge, HSNT is hosting events to help find new homes for its horses and donkeys.

Between April 26 and June 30 this year, the ASPCA is challenging equine organizations to adopt out as many animals as they can. The groups that see the biggest increases in adoptions between this year and last year's Help A Horse Home Challenge will share $150,000 in grant funding. On May 18 and June 8, HSNT is holding open houses at its ranch for anyone interested in adopting an animal. The events will also be used as opportunities to educate the public about the demands of equine ownership.

If you're not free to swing by one of HSNT's open houses, you can still apply to adopt a horse or donkey. Interested owners can fill out and submit this form [PDF] to equine@hsnt.org. And if you'd like to spend time with baby and mini-donkeys without taking one home, HSNT is also looking for volunteers.

[h/t Cleburne Times-Review]

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