On your next visit to Ben Bey ask to join the
Turtle Club!!

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 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.

Having no dues nor 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.

If the candidate agrees to join the Turtles, they are taken to a side room or private area where the initiation can be conducted in relative privacy.  A circle is formed around the candidate by the Turtles present, and no outsiders are permitted to observe the initiation. The candidate is advised that they are about to join an honorable drinking fraternity composed of ladies and gentlemen of the highest morals and good character, ladies and gentlemen who are never vulgar. It is assumed by the Turtles that the candidate also owns a donkey of a sweet and kindly disposition (the explanation of this cryptic inquiry is given to the candidate after they're initiated).

This being explained to the candidate, they are then asked by the presiding officer, often referred to as a "Grand Turtle," "Imperial Turtle," Grand Snapper," or "His Shellness," if he is willing to submit to the initiation of the fraternity, and answer "The Four Sublime Questions." If the candidate agrees to answer the questions, he is then informed that there are penalties and rewards, both of which are in the eye of the beholder. Four (4) drinks of the candidate's choice are then purchased. Every Turtle present has a drink of their choice in their hand.

The presiding officer advises the candidate, "If you fail to answer the question correctly, or with vulgarity, you must drink one of the four drinks we have placed before you. If you answer the question correctly, with dignity, all of us present must take a drink. Either way, it's a win-win proposition."

If the candidate answers one of The Four Sublime Questions incorrectly, all hoot and demand him to "Drink, candidate!" After he has drank his beverage, he is advised of the correct answer, which is never vulgar. And the questioning continues.

After the completion of The Interrogation, and all of The Four Sublime Questions are presented and answered by the candidate, the presiding officer asks all the Turtles present to vote on whether the candidate should be admitted into their ranks as a Brother or Sister Turtle. The Turtles step aside from the candidate and hold a conclave. There is much grumbling and whispering in the circle, and finally, they agree to admit the candidate.

The circle is re-formed around the candidate, and they are advised by the presiding officer:

"Candidate, you have been found worthy and well-qualified for membership in our Order. By the authority invested in me by the Ancient and Honorable Order of Turtles, I shall now invest you with the sign, grip, and passwords of the Order, which you shall divulge to no one except duly initiated Turtles.  As a Brother (or Sister) Turtle, know ye that all Turtles are your brethren.   When asked the password by a Brother or Sister Turtle, and you fail to give the proper response in its entirety, you shall forfeit to that Turtle a beverage of their choice.  If you ask a Brother or Sister Turtle the password, and they fail to give you the password in its entirety, they shall forfeit to you a beverage of your choice. As a new Brother (or Sister) Turtle, I welcome you into the Order, and by this sign, grip, and password, identify yourself to each Brother and Sister in this circle."

The new Brother or Sister Turtle then goes around the circle of new friends, and gives the sign, handclasp and password to each.

The next candidate is then called upon to join, and the procedure is commenced once again.
There are seven (7) 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. As 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."

Now, 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."

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