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11 best-ever nicknames of military leaders

A lot of people get nicknames in the military, usually something derogatory. But not these guys. These 11 military leaders got awesome nicknames by doing awesome stuff.


Check out the WATM podcast to listen to the author and other vets discuss how some of these and other military leaders ended up with their nicknames. 

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Here's what they are and how they got them:

1. Group Capt. Sir Douglas "Tin Legs" Bader

(Photo: Royal Air Force photographer Devon S A)

Group Capt. Sir Douglas Bader was a Royal Air Force hero of the second World War known for his exploits in the air and frequent escape attempts as a prisoner of war in Nazi Germany. He did all of this despite the fact that he lost his legs in 1931 in an air show accident. He was drummed out of the service due to disability but returned when Britain entered World War II. He wore two prosthetic legs and earned his insensitive but inarguably awesome nickname.

2. Capt. Michael "Black Baron" Wittmann

Capt. Michael Wittman was an evil Nazi with an awesome nickname. (Photo: German military archives)

Michael Wittman was an SS-Hauptsturmführer, the SS equivalent of an army captain, in command of a tank crew in World War II. From his time as a young enlisted man to his death as a captain, he was known for his skill in tanks and scout cars. As the war ground on, Wittman became one of the war's greatest tank aces, scoring 138 tank kills and 132 anti-tank gun kills.

He was recognized with medals and a message of congratulations from Adolph Hitler. He was giving the nickname "The Black Baron" as an homage to the World War I flying ace, "The Red Baron," Manfred Von Richtofen.

3. General of the Armies John "Black Jack" Pershing

(Photo: US Army)

General of the Armies John "Black Jack" Pershing led the American Expeditionary Forces through World War I and became one of America's highest ranked officers in history, second only to President George Washington.

Pershing's nickname was originally a horrible epithet given to him by students while he instructed at West Point. They angrily called him "[N-word] Jack" in reference to his time commanding a segregated unit. The name was softened to "Black Jack" and has become a part of his legacy.

4. Gen. Norman "The Bear" Schwarzkopf

(Photo: US Army)

Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf is probably best known for his leadership of Desert Storm. He sported two colorful nicknames. He didn't like the most famous one, "Stormin' Norman," probably because it alluded to his volatile temper. But he seemed to have a fondness for his second, "The Bear," an allusion to his 6ft., 4in. height and nearly 240-pound size.

In his autobiography, he described his wife as "Mrs. Bear" and he named one of his dogs "Bear" as well.

5. Lt. Gen. James "Jumpin' Jim" Gavin

Maj. Gen. James "Jumpin Jim" Gavin, right, talks to Maj. Gen. Matthew Ridgeway during the Battle of the Bulge. (Photo: US Army Signal Corps)

Lt. Gen. James Gavin is probably best known for the same achievement that gave him his nickname, commanding one of America's first airborne units and literally writing the book on airborne operations, FM 31-30: Tactics and Technique of the Air-Borne Troops.

Even after he rose to the rank of general officer ranks, he kept conducting combat jumps with his men. He landed in Normandy as a brigadier general and jumped in Operation Market Garden as a major general, earning him another nickname, "The Jumping General."

6. Gen. Sir Frank "The Bearded Man" Messervy

Maj. Gen. Frank W. Messervy, "The Bearded Man," gives orders to a staff officer in Northern Africa. (Photo: Imperial War Museum E 7236)

Gen. Sir Frank Messervy was a successful cavalry officer in the British Indian Army in both World Wars and later served as the first commander of the Pakistan Army. In garrison, he had the appearance of a stereotypical, well-groomed Englishman. But he famously neglected to shave during battles, leading to a thick beard when he was engaged for more than a few days.

7. Lt. Gen. Lewis "Chesty" Puller

Future Lt. Gen. Lewis "Chesty" Puller aims a revolver. The Marine Corps legend was known for his fighting spirit and courage under fire. (Photo: US Marine Corps)

One of the greatest heroes of the Korean War, Lt. Gen. Lewis "Chesty" Puller tried to join World War I but the conflict ended just before he could ship out. Instead, he fought in anti-guerilla wars, World War II, and the Korean War. But for all of his battlefield exploits, he received a nickname for his physical appearance. His impeccable posture and large frame made him look "chesty," so that became his name.

8. Maj. Gen. Smedley "The Fighting Quaker" Butler

Marine Corps legend Maj. Gen. Smedley "The Fighting Quaker" Butler was recognized three times for extreme valor, once with a brevet promotion to captain and twice with Medals of Honor. (Photo: US Marine Corps)

Maj. Gen. Smedley Butler was born into a Quaker family in Pennsylvania in 1881. Despite the Quakers' aversion to violence, Butler lied about his age to become a Marine Corps second lieutenant in 1898, developed a reputation for being fierce in a fight, and made his way to major general while receiving two Medals of Honor in his career.

Butler also received a brevet promotion to captain when he was 19 for valorous action conducted before officers were eligible for the Medal of Honor. In recognition of his huge brass ones, his men started calling him "The Fighting Quaker."

9. "The Constable" Gen. Charles de Gaulle

British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, left, stands with French Gen. Charles "The Constable" de Gaulle. Churchill gave de Gaulle the nickname for the second time. (Photo: Imperial War Museum)

Gen. Charles de Gaulle was the highest ranking member of France's military in World War II and led Free French Forces against the Nazis after the fall of France.

De Gaulle gained the nickname "The Constable" on two occasions. First, in school where he was known as the "Grand Constable." After the fall of France, the nickname was bestowed anew when British Prime Minister Winston Churchill called him "The Constable of France," the job title of ancient French warriors who served Capetian Kings until the 10th century.

10. Staff Sgt. William "Wild Bill" Guarnere

Photo: US Army

Staff Sgt. William Guarnere fought viciously against the Germans as a paratrooper in Europe and gained a reputation for it, leading to his nickname "Wild Bill" and his portrayal in Band of Brothers.

Because of his exotic last name, he also gained the unfortunate nickname of "gonorrhea."

11. Francis "The Swamp Fox" Marion

Maj. Gen. Francis "The Swamp Fox" Marion was known for his skills as a guerilla. (Image: Public Domain)

Brig. Gen. Francis Marion was best known for leading guerilla fighters through the woods and swamps of the southern colonies during the American Revolution. After repeatedly being harassed by Marion and his men, the British sent Col. Banastre Tarleton to hunt him down.

Marion evaded Tarleton over and over again. When a 26-mile chase through the swamps game up empty, Tarleton complained that he would never find that "swamp fox" and the name stuck.

History

This pilot shot down an enemy fighter at Pearl Harbor in his pajamas

Comfort is important when doing a hard job. If it's hot on the work site, it's important to stay cool. If it's hazardous, proper protection needs to be worn. And comfort is apparently key when the Japanese sneak attack the Navy. Just ask Lt. Phil Rasmussen, who was one of four pilots who managed to get off the ground to fight the Japanese in the air.

Rasmussen, like many other American GIs in Hawaii that day, was still asleep when the Japanese launched the attack at 0755. The Army Air Forces 2nd Lieutenant was still groggy and in his pajamas when the attacking wave of enemy fighters swarmed Wheeler Field and destroyed many of the Army's aircraft on the ground.

Damaged aircraft on Hickam Field, Hawaii, after the surprise Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.

There were still a number of outdated Curtiss P-36A Hawk fighters that were relatively untouched by the attack. Lieutenant Rasmussen strapped on a .45 pistol and ran out to the flightline, still in his pajamas, determined to meet the sucker-punching Japanese onslaught.

By the time the attack ended, Wheeler and Hickam Fields were both devastated. Bellows Field also took a lot of damage, its living quarters, mess halls, and chapels strafed by Japanese Zeros. American troops threw back everything they could muster – from anti-aircraft guns to their sidearms. But Rasmussen and a handful of other daring American pilots managed to get in the air, ready to take the fight right back to Japan in the Hawks if they had to. They took off under fire, but were still airborne.

Pearl Harbor pilots Harry Brown, Phil Rasmussen, Ken Taylor, George Welch, and Lewis Sanders.

They made it as far as Kaneohe Bay.

The four brave pilots were led by radio to Kaneohe, where they engaged 11 enemy fighters in a vicious dogfight. Even in his obsolete old fighter, Rasmussen proved that technology is no match for good ol' martial skills and courage under fire. He managed to shoot down one of the 11, but was double-teamed by two attacking Zeros.

Gunfire and 20mm shells shattered his canopy, destroyed his radio, and took out his hydraulic lines and rudder cables. He was forced out of the fighting, escaping into nearby clouds and making his way back to Wheeler Field. When he landed, he did it without brakes, a rudder, or a tailwheel.

There were 500 bullet holes in the P-36A's fuselage.

Skillz.

Lieutenant Rasmussen earned the Silver Star for his boldness and would survive the war, getting his second kill in 1943. He retired from the U.S. Air Force in 1965, but will live on in the Museum of the United States Air Force, forever immortalized as he hops into an outdated aircraft in his pajamas.

(U.S. Air Force photo)

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