Sgt. Jack 'Siwash' Cornelius: Beer-loving Marine Duck of WWII

By Ethan Cole on
 November 6, 2023

Among the brave troops who fought in World War II, one particular member of the U.S Marine Corps stands out - Sgt. Jack "Siwash" Cornelius. Yet, Sgt. Cornelius was notably different from the other Marines: Sgt. Jack 'Siwash' Cornelius was a duck.

Adopted by Sgt. Francis "Pappy" Fagan, possibly from winning a poker hand or a raffle, Sgt. Cornelius soon became a cherished mascot of the 2nd Marine Division. Far from being a mere token, this exceptional duck lined up alongside Marines and engaged in her battles - notable amongst them was her face-off against a Japanese rooster during the Battle of Tarawa.

Despite suffering injuries for which she was considered for the Purple Heart, the gallant Cornelius survived the war, participating in other operations and living out her years post-war at the Lincoln Park Zoo in Chicago.

Adoption of Sgt. Jack 'Siwash' Cornelius

Among the thousands of U.S Marines engaged in the brutal conflict that characterized World War II, one story stands out – that of Sgt. Jack "Siwash" Cornelius. This stout-hearted marine was by no ordinary means a human, but rather, a duck.

Adopted by Sgt. Francis "Pappy" Fagan, one can only speculate as to how Fagan ended up with this unusual comrade. Stories suggest that Sgt. Cornelius was born either from a winning poker hand or a raffle.

Once in Fagan's care, the 2nd Marine Division soon officially took the duck under its wing by adopting her as its mascot. Not merely a figurehead, Sgt. Cornelius integrated into the battalion in an exceptionally interactive manner.

This loveable duck trained with the Marines, learned to follow protocol, and developed an affinity towards elements of military life.

Deep Bond with the Marines

One aspect that stands out about Sgt. Cornelius's military tenure was her bonding with her fellow marines. She mirrored their habits and customs, even those that extended beyond the realm of traditional military discipline.

Indeed, Sgt. Cornelius showed an uncanny fondness for beer, imbibing in large quantities. Beyond her love for hops and barley, Sgt. Cornelius exhibited impressive discipline and camaraderie with her human peers.

Obedience drills and the ability to handle weapons were beyond her scope. Yet, the steadfast marine duck demonstrated a willingness to participate in training exercises and a presence that fostered morale among the troops.

This blend of fierce resolve, endearing innocuousness, and shared experiences fostered an unwavering bond between Sgt. Cornelius and her marine brothers.

Unique Training and Proclivities of Sgt. Jack 'Siwash' Cornelius

Amidst the camaraderie and tough drilling of the 2nd Marine Division, Sgt. Cornelius, contrary to the nature of her avian disposition, showed an extraordinary adaptability.

Traning alongside her human counterparts, she embraced the demanding regimen that comes with being a U.S Marine.

Drill and Discipline

Though it would be overreaching to say that Cornelius conducted rifle drills or engaged in hand-to-hand combat practice, her spirit of integration shone in different aspects.

he duck actively participated in formations, inspections, and military routines, demonstrating discipline seldom expected from her species.

Instances recount how she earnestly followed her Marine companions during drills and exercises, standing by them on parades and endeared herself even more to her fellow Marines in the process.

A Knack for Beer

Besides the hard training and discipline, Sgt. Cornelius developed taste and fondness for some lighter and quirkier elements of military life too.

Interestingly, she exhibited a certain affinity towards beer, much like the Marines themselves. Given that ducks do not typically demonstrate alcohol preference, Sgt. Cornelius' proclivity for beer was not just unexpected but also gave her an added layer of camaraderie.

She continuously surprised her fellows by chugging beer in the style of the New Zealanders, adding another feather to her cap of distinctiveness.

Such unconventional habits made Cornelius all the more endearing and engaging to her marine colleagues. By sharing their beverages and embracing their routines, she cemented her place as a marine in both discipline and spirit.

It's no wonder that their feathery friend soon claimed the affectionate nickname 'Siwash,' a term derived from the French slang 'sauvage,' often used affectionately to mean someone who is free-spirited or unconventional.

The duck's demeanor was such that the term fitted her persona perfectly. Sgt. Cornelius, through her unique training and proclivities, had indeed become one of the Marines.

Sgt. Jack 'Siwash' Cornelius Battlefront Participation

While Sgt. Cornelius' adoption into the Marine Corps stands as an adorable anecdote, her contribution to the war effort is what truly immortalizes her story. Not content to stay safely behind the lines, Sgt. Cornelius participated valiantly in the terrifying theater of war during the Battle of Tarawa.

Battle of Tarawa

In 1943, around 18,000 U.S Marines faced off against more than 2,600 heavily armed and well-trained Japanese marines, supplemented by 2,200 Japanese and Korean construction workers on the small, heavily fortified island of Tarawa in the Pacific.

Among the Marines lining the shores was none other than Sgt. Cornelius. This participation wasn’t a token appearance; Cornelius was in the thick of the action, lending moral support and providing a small measure of levity amidst the brutal fighting.

Duck vs. Rooster

Sgt. Cornelius not only bore witness to the conflict but engaged in her mini-battle. Amid the smoke, confusion, and bloodshed, the marine duck found herself in a skirmish with a Japanese rooster.

The bizarre engagement, which Sgt. Cornelius won, may seem comic amidst the broader landscape of war, but it underscored her spirit and tenacity under extraordinarily hostile conditions.

This unexpected duel also earned Sgt. Cornelius admiration and recognition. Post-battle, the Marine Corps considered honoring her with a Purple Heart for her courageous actions and wounds received during the fight on Tarawa, particularly her fowl engagement. However, in the end, they chose to give her a citation instead.

Through the haze of war and the cacophony of battle, Sgt. Cornelius brought a vital moral support to her comrades, proving that courage knows no species and resilience can be found in the most unlikely of creatures. Her role in the Battle of Tarawa testifies to her enduring place in the annals of military history.

Post-Tarawa: Hilarious Surprise and Continued Service

Post-Tarawa, the tale of Sgt. Cornelius took an unusual twist as it was discovered that the brave Sgt. Cornelius was, in fact, female. This revelation occurred not due to a customs inspection but rather when she laid an egg. This surprising turn of events brought both amusement and astonishment among the ranks of the marine corps.

Despite the sudden surprise, the revelation did not diminish the valor or importance attached to her. On the contrary, her comrades stood even more endeared by her, as she continued to showcase the pure spirit of a Marine, regardless of gender.

Continued Service and Other Operations

The end of the Battle of Tarawa was not the end of Sgt. Cornelius’s service. Our gallant marine duck went on to survive not only Tarawa, but the war.

Beyond her engagement at Tarawa, Cornelius also notably contributed to landing operations on Saipan and Tinian. Her dedication to service and her indefatigable Marine spirit remained undeterred throughout.

Sgt. Jack 'Siwash' Cornelius Post-War Life

When the tumultuous war finally came to an end, Sgt. Jack 'Siwash' Cornelius retired from her service duties and transitioned into civilian life.

Her post-war years saw her as a cherished inhabitant of the Lincoln Park Zoo in Chicago. There, she lived harmoniously until her death in 1954.

Her memory, however, lives on, cherished by those who knew her story and the many lives she inspired, not only as a unique mascot but also as a symbol of resilience and camaraderie in the face of adversity.

While she passed away in 1954, her legacy lives on, captivating generations with her extraordinary journey from a simple pond duck to a celebrated Marine mascot.

As such, Sgt. Cornelius remains an enduring testament to valor, resilience, and the unexpected faces of heroism that emerge in times of adversity.

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