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Are You a Turtle?

Updated on February 16, 2008

An Ancient order of Fliers That Dates Back to World War II

Reading an account of the death of the former astronaut Wally Schirra, I was reminded of the Are you a turtle? question during one of the space flights. In the article I read, Schirra was asked this during his first Mercury flight, but I don't recall hearing it during that flight. My recollection of it was during a spacewalk on a Gemini or Apollo flight when two astronauts were chatting as they were working outside the spacecraft and one asked the other, Are you a turtle?

Having been initiated into the Order of the Turtle myself in the stag bar of the officer's club at the, now closed, Mather Air Force Base in Sacramento, California while in air navigation training, I instantly knew the answer. I also knew the uncomfortable position into which the astronaut being asked the question had been put.

Once a fellow as been initiated into the Order of the Turtle he is obligated, whenever asked the question Are you a Turtle? to immediately respond loud and clear with You bet your sweet ass I am. Failure to answer promptly and clearly is punishable by having to buy a round of drinks for all the Turtles in the room.

Of course, you are not told this when asked if you wish to join. Instead, you are just told it is simple and fun and are then asked three questions. When I became a Turtle, a bunch of us were sitting in the bar and the one who was a Turtle asked if we wanted to join and, when we said yes, we were asked these three questions:

1 What does a woman so sitting down, a man standing up and a dog on three legs?

2 What is long, hard, tubular shaped, and full of sea men?

3 What does a cow have four of and a woman two?

With a little coaching, all of us passed and became Turtles. We were then told about our obligation to answer the question Are you a Turtle? or buy a round of drinks.

Of course, sitting in a bar with of bunch of other fliers who were Turtles, it was no problem answering the query Are you a Turtle? properly. But, one is rarely asked the question when sitting in a stag bar with fellow fliers. Instead the preferred venue for asking the question involves things like asking the groom, while he is standing in the receiving line outside the church with his new bride, parents and in-laws, or in a similar embarrassing situation like working in space and your conversation is being broadcast to the entire world.

My only experience with the Order of the Turtle was in the Air Force and, at that time I guess the Order consisted of mostly American Air Force fliers. I did a quick Google check on the question Are You a Turtle? and found a number of websites, most of which indicated that the Order originated among American pilots during World War II (although a couple claimed it originated in and was common in various Masonic Orders) but it appears to have spread to colleges, fraternities and high schools in recent years. WikiPedia seemed to have the most complete and accurate account of the Order at least as I remembered it.

Oh, if you want to know the answers to the three questions I listed above, check out the last text module on my Hub about the death of Astronaut Wally Schirra.


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    • profile image

      Joyce Rescigno 11 days ago

      I've been a Turtle for 50 years! Years ago, wherever I went, I'd run into Turtles! Nowadays, I hardly find one...and my Aunt who is 98 is a Turtle and she loves it when I ask her if she is a Turtle!

    • profile image

      alex rubens 7 years ago

      I was initiated this weekend at a party in an Elks Lodge. The pretense was that the questions were to be answered "with a clean mind". There were 4 questions for us. similar to the ones listed here.

      seems like a fun bunch.

    • Ralph Deeds profile image

      Ralph Deeds 8 years ago from Birmingham, Michigan

      I hadn't heard that one for a long time!

    • kettlebellnathan profile image

      kettlebellnathan 9 years ago from Calgary, Canada

      I am a person. Cool story, I had no idea about this.

    • Chuck profile image

      Chuck Nugent 10 years ago from Tucson, Arizona

      livelonger, just click on the link titled "Astronaut Wally Schirra" above or click here for the same link and go to the very end of that hub. The answers are there. Thanks for reading and commenting on this hub. Chuck

    • livelonger profile image

      Jason Menayan 10 years ago from San Francisco

      I know the answer to #2, but for #1 & #3 I feel like I only know the "obvious" answer. Is there a trick?