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Origins of Hooah

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Jose Fernando Ogura/Curitiba/Brazil/Moment/Getty Images
You can hear it echoing from the hallowed halls of Fort Benning, Ga.'s Infantry Center to the ranges at Fort Lewis, Wash. It is uttered at award ceremonies, bellowed from formations, and repeated before, during and after training missions. You can hear it shouted by Air Force Security Forces, Pararescue, and Combat Controllers. The word is thundered out by Navy SEALs, and by United States Marines (who pronounce it "OohRah!").

So, where did the term originate? The simple answer is that nobody knows, although there are dozens of theories. Heck, nobody can even agree on the correct spelling of this widely used military "word."

No matter how one might spell the word -- with or without a hyphen, a U instead of two Os, and so on -- the word is still an expression of high morale, strength and confidence. And, when powered by an overwhelmingly proud, and usually loud, tone of voice, hooah seems to stomp out any possibility of being bound by the written word.

"It's an affirmation that I fully agree with and support the idea or intent expressed by the person to whom I make that response," said Maj. Gen. F.A. Gorden, Military District of Washington commander. "It applies not only to the letter of what was said, but to the spirit of what was said."

Former Army Chief of Staff Gen. Gordon R. Sullivan has his interpretation. "I don't know how exactly to spell it, but I know what it means," Sullivan said. "It means we have broken the mold. We are battle focused. Hooah says ÔLook at me. I'm a warrior. I'm ready. Sergeants trained me to standard. I serve America every day, all the way.'"

On theory is that the word originated with the Second Dragoons in Florida as "hough" in 1841. In an attempt to end the war with the Seminoles, a meeting was arranged with the Indian Chief Coacoochee. After the meeting, there was a banquet.

Garrison officers made a variety of toasts, including "Here's to luck" and "The old grudge" before drinking. Coacoochee asked Gopher John, an interpreter, the meaning of the officers' toasts. Gopher John responded, "It means, ÔHow d'ye do.'"

The chief then lifted his cup above his head and exclaimed in a deep, guttural voice, "hough."

Another theory is that during the Vietnam War many American soldiers used Vietnamese and Vietnamese-French expressions interchangeably with English.

One widely used term was the Vietnamese word for "yes," which is pronounced "u-ah." When assigned a task or asked a question, soldiers would often answer with "u-ah." This term -- used for many years after the war by many soldiers, is easily changed to "hooah."

There are dozens of stories circulating about the etymology of hooah. A popular story among Army Rangers is the following account:

On D-Day, 1944, on Omaha Beach, near the sea cliffs at Point Du Hoc, General Cota, the 29th Division Assistant Division Commander, jogged down the beach toward a group of Rangers from the 2nd Ranger Battalion, and asked, "Where's your commanding officer?" They pointed him out and said, "Down there, sir."

General Cota reportedly followed their direction and, on his way down the beach, said, "Lead the way, Rangers!"

The Rangers from 2nd Bat reportedly said, "WHO, US!?" General Cota thought he heard them say "HOOAH!" He was so impressed with their cool and calm demeanor, not to mention their cool term, hooah, he decided to make it a household name.

Nobody knows why the United States Marines pronounce the word, "OohRah!" When and where did it start? Is it related to similar cries now in use by other military services? Nobody knows for sure. Yeah, most everybody has an opinion, but there is no single theory that has been shown to be fact.

MSgt Jim Meade (USAF Retired) speculates that The Marine version of Hooah (OoRah) may have originated in Australia. "Many Marines were medevaced down here [Australia] during the Pacific island battles of WWII and may have picked it up then. OoRah is an Aussie colloquialism for Farewell or Until Then."

A couple of the more popular "opinions" on this include that OohRah comes from either (take your pick) a Turkish or a Russian battle cry, and was somehow adopted by U.S. Marines. Many lean in the direction that it may have originated with the 1956 film, The DI, starring Jack Webb as T/Sgt Jim Moore, who, in that movie, commands his recruit platoon, "Let me hear you ROAR, tigers!"

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