“The Squadron Bar!”

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Squadron Bar
Squadron Bar

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The Squadron Bar Tradition:

Every fighter squadron in the Air Force (and most US military aviation squadrons) have a bar located somewhere within its domain. it’s currently called a (politically correct) “heritage room”, however it still serves aviators as a sanctuary. One of the most sacred traditional events is the “Roll Call”. It dates back to World War I when technology did not permit radios in airplanes. Reconnaissance aircraft occasionally used Morse-code radios but often removed them to save weight. These aircraft reportedly preferred dropping notes to the advancing forces on the ground. Fighters however, didn’t have any radio equipment but rather utilized formation flying and visual signals to coordinate attacks. At the end of the day, the squadron Commander would summon the pilots and take roll for accountability. Those not at Roll Call were considered missing in action or killed in combat.

Roll calls were not taken lightly. Once the German and Allied armies dug in and trench warfare ensued, pilot casualty rates normally exceeded their infantry counterparts on the ground. Over the entire war, an estimated 20 percent of all pilots were lost and the average pilot only lasted two weeks on the front lines before being shot down. In 1918, the average British pilot lived only 93 flight hours. Often, Roll Call was a sobering moment when pilots accepted the losses of their brethren and came to terms with their loss together. This comfort couldn’t last long, as they typically had to return to combat the following day. To help them overcome this dilemma, they turned to *“imbibing” (consume alcohol), singing songs, and telling tall tales about their conquests to lighten the atmosphere. The Squadron Bar was a time and place to honor those who went before them while also celebrating the camaraderie of the pilots that were still together. As accountability became more accurate, Roll Call became less about taking roll and more about the essential camaraderie it fosters within the formations and the entire unit.

Today, instead of the Commander taking roll (like the early Roll Call days) they are now run by the “Mayor”, the squadron’s Morale Officer (typically a young Captain). The Mayor still begins every Roll Call with accountability by calling off each person’s name that flies with the squadron. – The mayor begins the roll with the most senior aviator, typically the Wing Commander. As Roll Call progresses, the Mayor desperately tries to retain control of the mob as he leads the squadron through stories, traditions and toasts with Jeremiah Weed” (an elixir involved in filling a shot glass for each person present). At the conclusion of the toast, all down their Weed in a single gulp. (It’s nasty stuff… 100 proof and tastes like rocket fuel), and a rash of unique shenanigans.

In the World War II film “12 O’clock High” a “Toby Jug” depicting Robin Hood (Also known as a Fillpot or Philpot; which is a pottery jug in the form of a seated person), is used as a signal in the O’ Club bar (Officers Club) to discreetly notify aircrews of a mission the following day. In modern Roll Calls several unique signals exist to depict acts of valor, success, and inevitable humiliation as humility is an essential element in the high stakes environment in which a fighter pilot operates.

In the East Anglia region of England countless new airbases popped up during World War II. American and British pilots frequented local pubs and claimed them as their “squadron bar”. The No.111 and 72 Squadrons claimed “The Jail” while the No. 98 Squadron frequented “Three Compasses”.  “The Swan” and “The Eagle” are two of the most famous pubs that were used during this period. “The Swan”, in Lavenham, was frequented by the No. 149 Squadron whereas numerous different British and American pilots spent time in “The Eagle” in Cambridge. As homage to this storied tradition, to this day both pubs still contain graffiti on the walls written by the pilots of World War II and beyond.

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“The Swan” Airmen’s Bar Lavenham, Suffolk – England (above)

The most famous U.S. military aviation tradition of Squadron Bar honor goes to the “Doolittle Raiders”. The Doolittle Raiders also known as the Tokyo Raid, (Saturday, April 18, 1942) was an air raid by the United States of America on the Japanese capital city of Tokyo and other places on the island of Honshu during World War II. It was the first air raid to strike the Japanese Home Islands. It demonstrated that Japan itself was vulnerable to American air attack, served as retaliation for the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on Sunday, December 7, 1941, and provided an important boost to American morale. The raid was planned and led by Lieutenant Colonel James “Jimmy” Doolittle, United States Army Air Forces.

– The Doolittle Raiders held an annual reunion almost every year from the late 1940s to 2013. The high point of each reunion was a solemn, private ceremony in which the surviving Raiders performed a roll call, then toasted their fellow Raiders who had died during the previous year. Specially engraved silver goblets, one for each of the 80 Raiders, were used for this toast; the goblets of those who have died were inverted. Each Raider’s name was engraved on his goblet both right side up and upside down.

The “Raiders” drank a toast using a bottle of cognac that accompanied the goblets to each Raider reunion. In 2013 the remaining Raiders decided to hold their last public reunion at Fort Walton Beach, Florida, not far from Eglin Air Force Base, where they trained for the original mission. The bottle and the goblets had been maintained by the United States Air Force Academy on display in Arnold Hall, the cadet social center, until 2006. On 19 April 2006, these memorabilia were transferred to the National Museum of the United States Air Force at Wright-Patterson AFB, Ohio.

On 18 April 2013, a final reunion for the surviving Raiders was held at Eglin Air Force Base, with Robert Hite the only survivor unable to attend. The “final toast to fallen comrades” by the surviving raiders took place at the NMUSAF on 9 November 2013, preceded by a B-25 flyover, and was attended by Richard Cole, Edward Saylor and David Thatcher. On April 18th 2017, the “last surviving “Doolittle Raider” Lt. Col. Richard Cole, co-pilot of Crew No. 1, honored Staff Sgt. David Thatcher, engineer-gunner of Crew No. 7… And then there was one… The last Surviving airmen is Col. Richard E. Cole, copilot of aircraft No. 1 (age 103). -Up-date (April 2019): Col. Richard E. Cole passed away on April 9th 2019.


Today’s squadrons emulate this tradition to an extent in a variety of ways. After the final flight in the unit some fighter pilots etch or burn their name into the squadron bar top, joining the hundreds of names of those who’ve gone before. The most common modern form of this tradition is for the aviator to simply remove his name tag from his flight suit and add it to a Velcro-covered wall that has every name tag of everyone’s footsteps he followed.  

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– Squadron Posters is proud to carry on this time honored tradition through – Squadron Bar!


*NOTE: Squadron Posters does not condone imbibing”. If your are going to imbibe, please don’t imbibe and drive AND 12 hours from bottle to throttle! – Thank you!

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See our “Brewery – Distillery” aviation art series HERE.

Learn about our initiative: “Project Call signs” HERE.

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