Emirat Shriners

Turtle Unit

Legend of the Turtle

Once upon a time, many years ago there was a man who was of good and noble character; without a trace of impurity in his thoughts. Unfortunately all about him he saw persons with vulgar minds unable to think of anything, except in sexual terms. He bemoaned his inability to find others with a similar high mindedness, to his own. Like a turtle, he retreated into his shell. Then one day, while partaking of a pint of ale (for purely medicinal purposes of course), he realized that there must be others like him. Forced into bars, and saloons; imbibing alcohol as a balm for the ills inflicted by obscene and vulgar persons.

He resolved to locate all the other pure minded individuals that he could, even if this meant spending his every waking hour crawling from one bar to the next. This was the beginning of the Turtles. He embarked upon this quest with vigor and determination, but, since he was a man of limited means, quickly ran out of money.

Then one day, he got a tip on a horse running at long odds at the local track. The problem was that he had no money left with which to gamble. So, in desperation he wagered his last and most prized possession a donkey which he had raised from birth. Now this donkey was a particularly gentle and temperate animal, with a loving disposition. To lose his donkey would have been devastating, and yet what choice was there if the quest was to continue? Fortunately, he won the wager, and with the money was able to continue in his search for many more years, and begin the association of Turtles we know today.


The late Captain Hugh P. McGowan, U.S. Army Air Corps/U.S. Air Force Reserve (Ret.), he and several pilots of the U.S. Army Air Corps 8th Air Force founded the Ancient and Honorable Order of Turtles in an officers’ club 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 Antediluvian Order of Buffalos’ would meet in the local pub, so I devised the name ‘Ancient and Honorable Order of Turtles’ for the fun of it. It was not meant to be serious; it had no constitution or by-laws, and 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 was asked the question, “Are you a Turtle?” by ground control, Wally Schirra who was asked:

“Just a minute, Wally. Let’s see. Oh, it’s a little message to Deke Slayton. A little bit closer Wally. Kind of looks like something about – ‘Are you a, are you a –” Schirra acknowledged, “That’s right.” CAPCOM continued, “Looks like it says, ‘Are you a turtle, Deke Slayton?

“Schirra confirmed, “That’s right.” Eisele added, “You get an A for reading today Jack.” Swigert continued, “Here comes another one. Walt, oh, that-a-way, that’s the way to turn it. It says, ‘Paul Haney, are you a turtle?'” Cunningham radioed, “You’ll get a gold star. Perfect score!” Swigert reported, “And there is no reply from Paul Haney there.” Cunningham asked, “You mean he’s speechless?

“A short while later, CAPCOM Cernan informed Schirra, “Wally, this is Gene. Deke just called in, and we’ve got your answer, and we’ve got it recorded for you return.” Schirra acknowledged, “Roger. Real fine.

“Shortly thereafter, Schirra asked CAPCOM Swigert, “Have you got Haney’s answer yet?” Swigert replied, “No, Haney’s isn’t talking, Wally.” Swigert then added, “Somebody tells me he isn’t talking, but just buying.” A pleased Schirra responded, “He is buying. Thank you very much. Very good.”

This exchange about turtles was a reference to the notorious Turtle’s Club drinking club of which Wally Schirra held the title of a Grand Potentate. During Schirra’s Mercury flight Deke Slayton had radioed up to Schirra asking Schirra if he was a turtle.

The proper response for a member of the Turtle’s Club to give when challenged by another Turtle member could be misconstrued if taken out of context. The expectation is that every Turtle has in their possession a donkey. So the proper Turtle response is, “You bet your sweet ass I am.” If a Turtle member fails to give the appropriate response, then they owe a drink to everyone within listening distance.