We are grateful to the Supreme Imperial Turtle, Brother Denis P. McGowan, friend and ex-Director of the AFF, for bestowing this honour upon us.
A number of events are planned for the future to celebrate this historic partnership. Any and all funds raised will go towards Educational Scholarships for the children of Wounded Families.
Many members of America’s great fraternal organizations, such as the Shriners, Masons, Elks, and American Legionnaires, are familiar with that age-old query, “Are you a Turtle?” Sometimes, one sees a green-shelled turtle lapel pin or tie tac, or even an auto decal with a grinning turtle asking the same question. But what or who are the Turtles, you ask?
Quite simply, the Turtles are a drinking fraternity that exists primarily in the United States of America as a fun-and-honor group usually within the local lodge or post, sort of a side degree. It traces its honorable origins back to the Second World War, on January 12, 1943 in an English pub, when a group of fighter pilots formed a semisecret drinking fraternity among its squadron’s members, and put prospective candidates for membership through a mock initiation.
Allied Forces Foundation is honoured to work with the Ancient and Honorable Order of Turtles and looks forward to broadening its network of supporters through association; and to furthering, with a light heart, its work in lifting the spirits of those wounded who have given so much.
The first Turtle gathering since AFF association was fun and a huge success. Thanks to so many who came out and congratulations to the 11 soft-shelled Turtles who were initiated into the Order in due and ancient form by none other than Bro. Denis P. McGowan, Supreme Imperial Turtle of the Ancient and Honorable Order of Turtles. This was our first event, on June 18, 2015, at The Beekman Pub in NYC and the venue worked wonderfully.
Read on for a full explanation of the story behind this legendary movement.
Having no dues or initiation fee, the Turtles simply ask new members to go out and recruit new members.
The initiation normally takes place in a bar or social quarters of the lodge or post after the organization’s business meeting has been conducted. The Turtles approach the prospective candidate and solemnly ask him (or her) if they wish to join the “Ancient Order of Turtles,” “International Turtles Association,” “Turtle Club,” “Ancient and Honorable Order of Turtles,” or any other title that the local branch is affiliated with. There are at least twelve different branches of Turtles in America, but all adhere to the same sign, passwords, grip and initiation format.
There are seven degrees in the Ancient and Honorable Order of Turtles, in that there are:
- Candidate – a person invited to become a Turtle;
- Turtle – a Brother or Sister member duly initiated into the Order;
- Snapping Turtle – A Brother or Sister Turtle who has personally initiated 25 new Turtles;
- Grand Snapping Turtle – A Brother or Sister Turtle who has initiated 50 or more Turtles;
- Imperial Turtle – A Brother or Sister Turtle who has initiated 100 or more Turtles;
- Past Imperial Turtle – A Brother or Sister who has initiated at least 150 new Turtles into the Order;
- Master Imperial Turtle – A Brother or Sister who has initiated at least 500 new Turtles into the Order.
The Supreme Imperial Turtle Emeritus of the Ancient and Honorable Order of Turtles is more of an honorific title, and is the poor soul who strives to keep his Daddy’s old World War II drinking club alive: Brother Denis P. McGowan. “My good old Dad, the late Captain Hugh P. McGowan, U.S. Army Air Corps/U.S. Air Force Reserve (Ret.) and first Supreme Imperial Turtle of the Ancient and Honorable Order of Turtles, told me why he and several pilots of the U.S. Army Air Corps 8th Air Force founded the Ancient and Honorable Order of Turtles in a pub while stationed in England during the Second World War”:
“We were flying daytime bombing missions over Hitler’s Third Reich. We just wanted a little fun. We had seen a sign showing that the ‘Ancient Order of Foresters’ and the ‘Royal Antedeluvian Order of Buffalos’ would meet in the local pub, and so I asked the governor of the pub what was that all about? The pub’s governor told us that the clubs’ local branches would meet in the pub’s back room, and that he would give them reduced prices for their pints and drinks for holding their meetings at his pub. I asked him if our club could meet there, and he agreed, and asked for the name of our club. I told him that we were the ‘Ancient and Honorable Order of Turtles,’ and it stuck.
I devised the name ‘Ancient and Honorable Order of Turtles’ for the fun of it. It soon spread throughout the bomber pilots, then the fighter pilots, and soon to other bombing groups and squadrons, and to other air bases. We even initiated members of the other Services, and soon, even Allied pilots were being initiated as Turtles in the backrooms of pubs across England.
The Order was not meant to be serious, as it had no constitution or by-laws, no formal applications for membership, no dues or fees, and a simple initiation ritual. It was a relief from the horrors and dangers we saw every day on our missions. It spread after the War through the VFW and American Legion posts, and eventually, to colleges and even to the high schools of the U.S.A.”
Finally, some Turtle history about an astronaut who was asked the question, “Are you a Turtle,” Brother Walter “Wally” Schirra (March 12, 1923 – May 3, 2007).
Brother Schirra, a U.S. Navy Captain and Naval Aviator who flew 90 combat missions during the Korean War, was asked the famous question if he was a Turtle during Brother Schirra’s Mercury flight, when a fellow astronaut and Turtle, Brother Donald Kent “Deke” Slayton (March 1, 1924 – June 13, 1993), a U.S. Air Force Captain who had flown 56 combat missions during World War II, had radioed up to Brother Schirra asking Brother Schirra if he was a Turtle. The entire world would have heard Brother Schirra’s response, so he switched off the radio speaker when he replied, in order to avoid the penalty of having to purchase a drink for all Turtles within earshot, and to avoid providing what might have been interpreted as a crude answer.
Brother Schirra got even with Brother Slayton during Apollo 7’s flight, when he wrote “Deke Slayton, are you a Turtle?” on a large object in front of the cameras for the NASA Public Affairs Officer, Brother Paul P. Haney, the “Voice of Mission Control,” and Brother Slayton to reply.
Brother Deke Slayton’s Turtle membership card and pin were auctioned off for $290.00 on April 22, 2006.
Brother John F. Kennedy (May 29, 1917 – November 22, 1963), the thirty-fifth Present of the United States of America, was also a famous Brother Turtle. When asked by a reporter at a press conference if he was a Turtle, Brother Kennedy responded: “I’ll buy you your drink later.”
Read more about the Ancient and Honorable Order of Turtles on their official site.