USC Digital Folklore Archives / Posts Tagged ‘marines’

“Click Clack”

The following is a scary story told to me by my friend Claire, who learned it at a summer camp where they have been a counselor for a few years.

“I’ll start at the beginning, which is World War One. In Virginia, there was this family and they had, y’know, wife, husband, son, daughter. And they were a family of farmers–they were like, subsistence farmers; they were not incredibly wealthy at all. And so, when World War One happened, the husband and the son both went to the war…And so, y’know, the war was a big toll on them. And the father and the son both came back alive, but um…the father came back a little off. And a big part of that was the fact that he’d had an accident, and he had had to have both of his legs amputated above the knee. So he um, was in low spirits, and he became incredibly antisocial. He would just stay up in his room, he eventually kind of stopped coming down for meals…

So then many years later, um, World War Two happened and then the son had to leave again, and the family had to give away all of their metal. But um, before that happened, in between the wars, the husband had taken two tin cans, and he had taken the wrapping off of them–the labels off of them–and he had stuck the cans to the stumps of his legs. And so um…then fast forward again, so the son is gone now and the family has had to give their steel to the war, um, to the army, so they can melt it down to make weapons and whatnot. So they had to give away their, um, their light fixtures and the rest of their cans and their, um, scissors and their nail clippers and y’know, some silverware, stuff like that.

And so um…the husband all this time had been falling sort of into a deeper reverie. And the only big change was that he moved, um, into the living room. And so he would sit in the middle of the living room now instead of in his bedroom, ’cause y’know, he and his wife shared a bedroom and she was kinda getting creeped out by him. And what he would do is he would just sit in the chair and he wouldn’t really look at anything, he wouldn’t say anything, he would just sit there in silence and then whenever somebody came into the room he would just start staring at them without saying anything…And so, y’know, since they had to give away their metal, they had to get rid of their scissors and their nail clippers, and the wife and the daughter, they were, y’know, in sane states of mind, so they found ways to remain hygienic. But the uh, the husband, his hair started to grow very long and it would mat. And he had a thick beard and he had really long hair and it was scraggly and messy and he wouldn’t ever clean himself or–more importantly–he wouldn’t cut his nails or do anything about his nails, so they grew incredibly long. And um, eventually he actually started moving around a little more but um, he would get out of his chair, and he started to train himself to walk around. But at first it was very difficult because again, he only had tin cans on his leg stumps, above his knees. So he would walk around and it would sound like the click clack of his fingernails against the hardwood floor, and then a long drag of his legs behind him…Um, but he still would not speak to the family, he still didn’t say anything, and he still let all of his hair and all of his beard and all of his nails grow out incredibly long and he was slowly day by day starting to look less and less human. And um, then he started to change his behavior even more, and now he could get around pretty well on his just his hands and it was just a really fast click clack click clack click clack throughout the house, and he began to move away from the living room, but in a very strange way because he would only ever move in the shadows…And what he would do was, he would follow someone around, and they would just hear a slight click clack click clack click clack and any time they turned around it would stop. And they would keep walking and then…he would jump out at them! He would just leap from the shadows and surprise them.

But um, he never really did anything until the family got a notice from the government that they were going to build a marine base on their land! So, they had to organize to move. And this was now, World War Two was over and the son is back, and so the whole family is back together, and he’s obviously very disheartened to see, y’know, what his father has turned into. And so when the government marine base was about to, y’know, start and they seized this family’s land, and um…it came down to the night before they [were supposed to] move, and then in the morning there was nobody leaving the house. And um, the construction company and the project manager and everyone, they they came to the house and they came prepared to tell these people like, ‘you have to move out right now,’ prepared to help them move out their furniture. But they entered the house and it was a massacre. And there was blood everywhere and the wife the daughter and the son had all been murdered and they had just been mauled, they had been maimed, they had been cut into pieces. There were like, splashes of blood everywhere, it was incredibly gruesome. And there was no sign of the husband.

So, y’know, after this terror they still had to go along with the project. So they built the marine base, which is now what is the Quantico marine base in uh, very near Prince William Forest Park…um, so for the Marine Base, y’know, they had to train marines obviously. And something that in the park you can do is you go out and there are these orienteering posts. And orienteering, for those at home who don’t know, is using just a map and compass to find your way from a point A to a point B…And so this was really good training for the marines, but what they would do is they would do it at night, um, to make it harder. So they would send these people out and they wouldn’t always come back. And sometimes those who did come back would tell stories of things they saw in the darkness like huge, huge abnormal shapes and really incredibly fast footsteps, and some who came back would come back with long slashes on their face and they would say–if they could even say anything about their experience–they would say simply that they had been out there at night and then out of nowhere something had jumped out at them and tried to kill them. And it had cut long claw marks all over them. And um, it was a miracle that those men survived.

So um, y’know, eventually Prince William Forest Park was built. And there was, y’know, tourism that was established there. And what they do is they have these historical cabins that people can stay in and so, um, one night there was a family that was going to uh, y’know, just stay for a weekend in the park…And so this family, they were staying in the cabin and it was nice. They, y’know, unpacked on a Saturday evening, it was um, the Fall so the sun was beginning to set really early, but it was nice afternoon light, y’know, they were getting their sleeping bags, fixing up a little dinner and um, it fell dark very quickly. And so, as they were wrapping up for dinner sitting around the little fireplace, they started to hear something out on the porch. Um, and it sounded like a little animal maybe, some very light, very quick little scratches. And then they stopped their conversation, they listened, and a few seconds after the scratching was silent again. And they would, y’know, start talking again. And it became slightly more defined of a noise and they could identify it as a sort of click clack click clack click clack as if something was walking back and forth on their porch. And so they stop their conversation again, they listen harder, y’know, trying to figure out what is this animal out there. And the click clack stops. And then they wait a few minutes, and just as they’re about to start their conversation again, the noise begins again before they even start talking. And now it’s faster, it’s more erratic, and um, the wife, y’know, the mother of the family, she turns to her husband and she goes like, ‘honey, you should go see what that is, even if it’s a raccoon we should, y’know, at least scare it away so it doesn’t come in here and eat all our food at night.’ And the husband, of course, he gets up and he goes over and he goes to the door and the noise is getting louder as he’s approaching the door. And um, just as he puts his hand on the doorknob it stops. And he looks out the window, but it’s pitch black, he doesn’t really see anything. So he turns the doorknob and he opens the door…and there was Click Clack!”

The summer camp where Claire learned this legend is held partly in Prince William Forest Park, so it is directly connected to the camp’s location, and could serve as a cautionary tale for campers who want to stray into the woods. Claire has told me various different versions of the story, involving different characters’ run ins with “Click Clack.” I also vaguely remember a friend telling me a version of it when I was a kid, but it had no connection to Prince William Forest or Quantico.

Rituals, festivals, holidays


My informant was in the United States marine core from 2002 to 2006. He was deployed to Fallujah Iraq for a total of 14 months (two 7-month tours). He also spent time in Bagdad, Ireland, Germany, Kuwait, and various other Iraqi cities, but the majority of his time was spent in Fallujah.

My informant told me that in the marines, there are numerous initiations that jr. marines go through to be enculturated. Essentially, to be brought into the fold.

Traditionally we just fuck with them… a lot. As much as we can. But it’s important. Regardless of how we actually do this or how we get it done, you want to make sure that the people you’re working with are capable of acting in such a way that it’s not entirely selfish, because in the marine core, especially when you’re in a combat environment, you want to make sure that individuals are going to act in such a way that is going to benefit the group and your fellow marines. It goes beyond bonding on an individual basis but also on an institutional basis because if you’re talking about, ya know, I’m going to do what’s best to make sure my fellow marine stays alive, you’re also going to what’s best for your fellow solider, fellow sailor, fellow airman, and we did a lot of collaborating with other branches. Whatever is best for your fellow service member.

Usually when you have a new individual you want to make sure they understand the hierarchy that’s in place. So, one thing that we did that I can remember specifically is, we had ID10-tags which are—if there’s a piece of equipment that you’re responsible for repairing, you’d put a tag on it and it’s a yellow tag and it has information about whatever the name and description is of that piece of equipment whatever the malfunction is, the date that you noticed this, the serial number, and things of that nature. And that was a yellow tag, but we called it an ID10-tag but, semantically, it’s an idiot tag, because if you break it down it’s ID, 10 is I-O, and tag if you use the T, just the acronym, it’s i-d-i-o-t. So you’re an idiot if you believe what I’m saying is what this ID10-tag phenomenon is all about. So you would say something like, “can you get me an ID10-tag for this rifle” and you would have this new marine go to another marine and say, ya know, “Sargent Lynch told me that I need an ID10-tag for this M-16, it’s misfiring and it has a problem and I need an ID10-tag to put on it”, and they would play along. So someone tells you that you need an ID10-tag and you go and find it and ask the people that you consider to be the authority on this subject and they just play right on along. You don’t find it until someone is nice enough to tell you that you’re being fucked with, or they don’t tell you and later on you find out that you were being fucked with, but eventually you find out you were being fucked with. One way or another you find out.”

My informant went on to explain that this ritual goes far beyond just messing with one’s fellow marines. It is also a way of testing a jr. marine’s character. This wild goose chase for the ID10-tag is a way to see if a jr. marine will go through the proper channels to solve an issue. It is also a way to see how dedicated they are to solving a problem, even one that may seem (or is quite literally) impossible.

“If that means you go and speak to so and so and that person doesn’t know the answer, then you speak to so and so.”

I asked my informant what happened when this was done to him and unfortunately for those pranking him, he saw it coming a mile away.

“I was used to being pranked, and I was used to being tricked. So when I was told that there was an ID10-tag, I immediately saw the connection, and I saw from an acronym connection that it said idiot. So when they said I need an ID10-tag, I went outside, busted open a pack of Marlboro somethings, spent about 10 minutes sitting around and went back in and said, “I can’t find these tags”. Knowing that I was being fucked with, I figured I’d just take a cigarette break and then just come back in and report my failure—inability to locate this magical ID10-tag. I didn’t realize they were trying to test my character. I thought they were just trying to fuck with me because I was the new guy.”

Rituals, festivals, holidays

Military Ritual – Blood Stripes

Military – Marine Corps – Promotion Ritual/Ceremony/Tradition

“In the Marines, blood stripes are red stripes you get when you are promoted to Corporal as an NCO. At the same time, when people congratulate you they shake your hand and hit your rank insignia, which can make you bleed because the back of the insignia hasn’t been put on yet… so it goes along with the blood stripes. And they say that the blood stripes are from the Mexican American war in memory of those lost in battle. I think they go together because, in a way, when they hit you, you’re feeling the pain and blood of the Marines that were lost in the Mexican American War… so it’s like a connection to them, to the past.”

I agree with the informant’s analysis of this ritual/tradition. It seems likely that in an organization so reliant on camaraderie, like the military, this connection to the past would be important. According to the informant, the Marines that fought in the Mexican American war were considered especially courageous. By associating themselves with these past Marines, the new Marines are allying themselves with ideals of courage, while paying a sort of homage to their history. Traditions such as this seem to be formative when it comes to identity, and the military places much importance on a sense of common identity among service members. In effect, this ceremony where they are hit on their insignia ties them to their fellow Marines that are being promoted at the same time, but also to the Marines of the past, creating a camaraderie and commonality that spans generations of Marines.

Folk Beliefs

Superstition – Bad Luck – Marine Corps

Military – Marine Corps – Superstition

“When you’re in combat or even training it’s bad luck to eat the charms in your MRE… It’s something you learn early on so you just don’t do it. Every MRE comes with some sort of dessert.. like lemon pound cake or poppy seed pound cakes. Those are the best, but you never know what you’re going to get.. but if you get these charm candies you aren’t supposed to eat them. You’re supposed to throw them out on the side of the road or into the garbage. I don’t really know why it’s bad luck. But I think it’s just in the Marines. There are stories of misfortunes from Marines disobeying this.”

The informant did not seem to have much of an opinion about the reasoning behind this superstition. In my opinion, it seems to relate to the Marines’ (or other military service members’) experiences with dangerous situations while in combat. Although the individuals play a large part in their own safety, they are living in constant danger, and the potential of death looms over them. In some ways, this superstition seems to be an attempt to alter one’s fate in a dire situation. The Marines have relatively little control over their situation during combat, and must follow orders in every aspect of their lives. In this way, it makes sense that throwing away these candies is a way of asserting some form of control over one’s own fate. It is ironic that these candies represent bad luck because they are charms, which typically are viewed as symbols of good luck. The charms remain symbols of luck in this context, but represent bad luck rather than good. This consistency as a symbol of some form of luck helps explain why these specific candies are associated with bad luck, and exemplifies that this association is not entirely random.

Evidently, this superstition is discussed in this publication:
Evan Wright (2004). Generation Kill: Devil Dogs, Iceman, Captain America, and the new face of American war. New York, NY: G.P. Putnam’s Sons. pp. 83. ISBN 0-399-15193-1.

Furthermore, there are many message boards and online posts regarding this superstition. There are even people who suggest that candy should be entirely removed from MRE’s, supposedly to prevent even the possibility of bad luck stemming from these candies. The informant also stated that he believes the film Jarhead (2005), directed by Sam Mendes, references this superstition.