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. Afterward, Siwash would accompany Fagan everywhere he went and quickly became the 2nd Marine Division's unofficial mascot.

The soldiers loved feeding her beer. "Siwash just can't pass up a free drink," Fagan told the United Press. "A long one and a short one is her limit but she doesn't know it. She won't touch draft beer though. 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 Fagan's fellow 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.

Bizarre New Giant Salamander Species Discovered in Florida

There’s something in the water in Florida, but it’s not the swamp monster locals may have feared. According to National Geographic, scientists have discovered a new species of giant salamander called a reticulated siren, and you can find the 2-foot-long amphibian in the swamps of southern Alabama and the Florida panhandle.

Locals have long reported seeing a creature with leopard-like spots, the body of an humongous eel, and axolotl-like frills sprouting out of the sides of its head, but its existence wasn’t described in scientific literature until now. Researchers from Texas and Georgia recently published their findings in the journalPLOS ONE.

“It was basically this mythical beast,” David Steen, a wildlife ecologist and one of the paper’s co-authors, tells National Geographic. He had been trapping turtles at the Eglin Air Force Base in Okaloosa County, Florida, in 2009 when he caught one of the creatures by chance. After that encounter, the researchers set out to find more specimens.

Colloquially, locals have long been calling the creature a leopard eel. Because the reticulated siren only has two tiny front limbs, it's easy to mistake it for an eel. Its hind limbs disappeared throughout the course of millions of years of evolution, and it also lacks eyelids and has a beak instead of the teeth that are typical of other salamander species.

They belong to a genus of salamanders called sirens, which are one of the largest types of salamander in the world. The second part of the species’ name comes from the reticulated pattern seen on all of the individuals that were examined by researchers. The reticulated siren is also one of the largest vertebrates to be formally described by scientists in the U.S. in the last 100 years, according to the paper.

There are still a lot of unknowns about the reticulated siren. They lead hidden lives below the surface of the water, and they’re thought to subsist on insects and mollusks. Researchers say further study is urgently needed because there's a chance the species could be endangered.

[h/t National Geographic]

Forget Therapy Puppies—Michigan State Students Brush Cows to De-Stress for Finals

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iStock.com/123ducu

As more universities are coming to understand just how stressful the rigors of modern academics can be, many institutions have begun bringing dogs onto campus to soothe anxious students during finals week. At Michigan State University, students have a more unique option to help them de-stress: cow time.

According to Click on Detroit, the recent "Finals Stress mooove on out!" event gave students the chance to brush cows at Michigan State's Dairy Cattle Teaching and Research Center just south of the school's main campus. For $10, participants spent 30 minutes brushing one of the school's 200 dairy cows, an activity designed to relax both the human and the cow.

Not all students come to college with a working knowledge of large-ruminant etiquette, so MSU farm manager Andrea Meade was on hand to show students what to do, prevent them from accidentally spooking the animals, and answer questions about milking and dairy practices.

Studies have shown that petting dogs can help lower your blood pressure, but dogs aren't the only animals that provide people with a psychological boost. A number of animals have been found to help relax humans (though the effect tends to be greater when it's a familiar animal rather than one the person just met), including cows. One 2011 study in Norway found that after working on a dairy farm for 12 weeks, psychiatric patients showed lower levels of anxiety and depression.

And the cows need to be brushed whether there are students there or not, so the event presented a mutually beneficial situation. Many dairies employ automated brush systems to keep cows clean and stimulate blood flow, keeping them happier and healthier in the process.

You don't need to be a student to enjoy the calming effects of cattle, though. Upstate New York's Mountain Horse Farm's hour-long "cow cuddling" sessions let you pet, brush, and play with new bovine friends for $75.

[h/t Click on Detroit]

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