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A History of the Qozlefinch below
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A History of the Qozlefinch

Courtesy of Errol Porter

On 6 July 1956, the Oozlefinch, legendary featherless bird of the Coast Artillery Corps, awakened from his sleep of several years, tucked a Nike in the crook of his nude left leg, and, traveling by ways known only to himself. arrived at Fort Bliss, Texas, the home of the Antiaircraft and Guided Missile Center-there to become the guardian of all missilemen.

Since, as it is well known, the Oozlefinch always flies backwards to keep dust, trivia, and other inconsequentia out of his eyes, the Nike is always positioned at the correct attitude.

The birth and beginnings of this fabulous bird were humble, almost inconsequential, and extremely vague. But, in true Horatio Alger fashion, this ancient, ageless bit of improbability has risen to a position of high honor. The Oozlefinch has focused his benevolent gaze over the men of the guided missiles. He is at once the confidant of generals, the protector of Very Important Persons, and above all, the guardian, patron, and monstrous mentor of modern missilemen.

The first recorded history of the Oozlefinch came through the somewhat rambling mumblings of a Captain H. M. Merriam of Fort Monroe, Virginia. Presumably a raconteur of no mean talents, the captain must be given the credit for discovering the bird about 1905. He apparently was the only man who had seen the creature, and he was loathe to describe appearance, habits, or habitat. One physical characteristic he did emphasize, however:the great bird's eyes. These eyes, as vividly described by the captain, remain today as the outstanding physical mark of the Oozlefinch.

These eyes are large, all-seeing, unshaded by eyelids or eyebrows, and rather seriously blood-shot. just why the eyes are so prominent and red, no one seems sure. But being all-seeing, the bird can gather more information in a shorter period of time than mere mortals who have conventional sight. Because his eyes were unshaded by eyelids or eyebrows, the bird is forced to move tail foremost to protect his powers of observation, but also, he can turn them 180 degrees to gaze inwardly when he desires the maximum value from self-contemplation.

In the chronological history of the Oozlefinch, the wife of Colonel E. R. Tilton, also of Fort Monroe, follows Captain Merriam. Sometime before Christmas of 1905 or '06, while shopping in Hampton, Virginia, Mrs. Tilton came across a model of a bird which appeared to duplicate Captain Merriam's description of the Oozlefinch. A purchase was made for an amount unrecorded. Colonel Tilton transported the bird to the Fort Monroe Officers Club, and there it was accorded a perch behind the bar, where it remained for many, many years while gradually assuming its powers of guardianship. It appears that several unprincipled individuals attempted to remove the bird from his perch, and it was necessary, finally, to provide him with a glass cage for safekeeping.

Early in 1908, new construction was initiated at Fort Monroe for the Coast Artillery School. The constant shake, rattle, and roll of the dice and dice box in the bar disturbed the bar itself, and a separate room was provided for those individuals addicted to such gambling. The Oozlefinch insisted on joining these festivities and moved-glass cage and all-to the mantleshelf of an adjacent room in the Casemate Club. This room became famous as the "Oozlefinch Room," and the sessions of the Artillery Board were held there every afternoon until long after retreat, winter and summer. The Oozlefinch never missed a meeting, and with his all-seeing eyes, took in all of the work of the Board, becoming so deeply interested in its proceedings that he practically became a member. This room became known eventually as the "Gridiron Room" and the Oozlefinch became a member of the "Gridiron Club" (an organization, no doubt addicted to drinking and gambling, but mostly to "roasting" nonmembers).

Time passed; individuals came and went; the Oozlefinch spent much time in deep professional thought, particularly as World War I approached. Most of this time he was under the constant care of Keeney Chapman, the Club Steward who spent over 40 years in this position.

During World War 1, three regiments of Coast Artillery (the 42d, 43d, and 52d) formed the 30th Artillery Railway Brigade in France. just as the eagles of Napoleon crossed the length and breadth of Europe, so the spirit of the Oozlefinch proceeded to France with the Railway Artillery. He, himself, remained at Fort Monroe, but he kept both eyes focused on the proceedings "over there."

It was sometime during this period that those who remained at Fort Monroe thought it desirable to initiate a crest or coat-of-arms for the Gridiron Club. The design created quite a sensation among the noninitiated and the secrets of its composition were never divulged to outsiders. However. it is believed that the heraldic story ran something like this:

The body of the shield "parti per fess, divetailed" indicates the general woodenness, not of the Artillery Board and the other members of the "Gridiron Club" but of the passing throng who paid not their toll cheerfully in passing through the Sanctum to the bar. "Gules and Sable:" The color of the shield is red and black-red for the Artillery, and black in mourning for those who lost at dice by throwing the lowest spots. "In honor, a deuce spot of dice, lozenged. proper:" The honor point of the shield was given to the lowest marked dice, as it was the one which most frequently appeared to some members, the law of probabilities to the contrary notwithstanding. "In nombril a gridiron sable:" the lower half of the shield given over to the memory of those who did not belong to the "Gridiron Club" but who were constantly roasted by it. The supporters, "two Oozlefinches, regardant, proper, " were a natural selection, "regardant" meaning looking, or better, all-seeing, with the great eyes that this bird has to protect while in flight in the manner described.

The crest "a terrapin, passant dexter proper, " was selected owing to the great number of these animals, cooked to perfection by Keeney Chapman and served with great pomp to the members of the Artillery Board on occasions of state. This was always accompanied by libations of "red top, " red top being a now obsolete drink made in the Champagne Country of France and once imported to the United States, in times gone by that now seem almost prehistoric.

The wavy bar, over which the terrapin is passing, represents the adjacent waters of the Chesapeake, the natural habitat of this animal.

Considerable thought was given to the selection of a motto, and finally after considerable search among Latin scholars, the decision was reached to utilize "Quid ad sceleratorum curamus." It appears there was some difficulty in finding a Latin word for "hell" and the one selected translates literally as "place of the damned, " which was apparently as near as the ancient Romans ever came to the word desired. Freely translated, therefore, the motto reads, "What in hell do we care!"

During World War II, antiaircraft artillerymen fighting overseas remembered the existence of the Oozlefinch and many of them took his likeness along as their sacred guardian. His spirit led those men who fought in both the European and Pacific Theaters to greater successes.

In 1946 the Oozlefinch finally became restless at Fort Monroe, and as all his friends began to depart to be replaced by individuals of various branches, he decided to move to Fort Scott, California, where the Seacoast Artillery Branch of the Artillery School and the School of Mines were activated. When these schools were closed, about 1948, the Oozlefinch retired to some unknown cloister where he turned his eyes inward and engaged in deep meditation over the events of the times and need for modernization of the Artillery.

After eight years in this secluded retirement, the Oozlefinch was contacted by his old friend Major General Robert J. Wood, commanding general of the U.S. Army Antiaircraft Artillery and Guided Missile Center, who persuaded the bird that the time had come for him to return to active duty. Cognizant of the amazing activities of the descendants of those whom he had known so well, and conscious of the need for taking under his care the problems of modern-day gunnery, the new guardian of the missilemen flapped his featherless way to the Fabulous Southwest where the high, dry, and somewhat dusty climate admirably suited his penchant for flying backwards.

Here at the Air Defense Center, he appointed General Wood as "Chief Oozlefinchling I", authorizing the general to speak for him during his many absences to the missile ranges. The glorious bird also insisted on becoming a member of every class and every activity; on taking part in every festivity; and on assuming protection of students, instructors, trainees, combat units, and in fact, all personnel of the garrison. He charged himself, in addition, with particular care for Very Important Visitors to the Air Defense Center and specifically, not only to protect such visitors from the longwinded, technical briefings and orientations to which they were subjected, but to accord them suitable recognition as "Oozlefinchlings" for their punishment.

To reward both these visitors and others, the amazing bird created the Ancient and Honorable Order of the Oozlefinch, directed its incorporation under the laws of the State of Texas, and from time to time approved the awarding of "degrees" to those deemed worthy of this honor. Among the degrees were: Master, First Class, Gunner, Apprentice, 24 Hour Expert Oozlefinchling, and Charitable Oozlefinchling.

These degrees, which carried various qualifications as prerequisites for award, all required that the recipient be physically present at the Air Defense Center for induction. The Oozlefinch also authorized still another degree, the coveted "Oozlefinchling, Old Timer." This degree was bestowed upon persons who qualify by virtue of their association with the bird long before he took over his present job of protecting the men who man the missiles, as well as their dedication and faithfulness to the spirit of the Oozlefinch. This degree was awarded to persons who were prohibited by age, space, or other ills from journeying in person to the shrine of the Oozle at the U.S. Army Air Defense Center.

One of the first "Old Timer" degrees was awarded to Captain Ellis C. Baker, who retired shortly after World War I after service with the 42d Railway Artillery Regiment. It was a letter from Captain Baker to General Wood, promptly relayed to the Oozlefinch, of course, recalling the captain's association with the awkward angel of the artillerymen during World War 1, which prompted the establishment of the "Old Timer" degree.

Captain Baker's old unit, the 42d Railway Artillery Regiment, was the parent unit of the 42d Field Artillery Group, now in Europe, which was one of two field artillery organizations which trace lineage to the Oozlefinch. The other unit laying claim to the bird was the 64th Field Artillery Battalion (Lancers) in Hawaii, which traced its history to the 3d Battalion of the 43d Coast Artillery Regiment (RR). When first informed of these units' claims, the Oozlefinch issued only an outraged "Quid ad sceleratorum curamus, " and flapped-tail foremostto a remote missile firing range to sulk and brood. Later, however, he disclosed that the birds claimed by these two units are progeny of his still in oversea service. The sage old bird, in a burst of magnanimity, bestowed on each of the units the degree of "Oozlefinchling, Old Timer, " and returned to his many duties at the AAA &GM Center.

On 1 July 1957, the U.S. Army AAA&GM Center was redesignated the U.S. Army Air Defense Center. Simultaneously, Major General Sam C. Russell assumed command of the Center and became Chief Oozlefinchling II. He was followed by Brigadier General Stephen M. Mellnik, Lieutenant General (then Major General) Marshall S. Carter, and Major General Tom V. Stayton. Since the command of Major General Russell, the numbering of the Oozlefinchlings has been discontinued.

In July 1959, after extensive talks between the Oozlefinch and Chief Oozlefinchling, still Major General Russell, it was decided to drop all "degrees" except the 24-hour Expert. Prompting this decision was the fact that the Ancient and Honorable Order of the Ooziefinchling had grown to over 48, 000 strong. To be qualified for this award, one must now be a civilian guest of the Center and attend all briefings and missile firings during the prescribed period.

It was not until 2 years later, February 1961, that the Oozlefinch recognized the female human earthling as a guest to the Center and came up with a second "degree," the Powder Puff Oozlefinchling. The requirements, however, remained the same as for the 24-hour Expert.

During the next few years and through thousands of missile firings, the legendary bird seemed to turn up everywhere, and sometimes the skinny-necked fellow was even thought to be in two places at once. His farthest known migration over the years occurred in 1962 when he went to the outer Hebrides in Scotland where he observed with much gusto the Corporal missile firings by the 1st U.S. Army Missile Command stationed in Italy.

It was shortly thereafter, in January 1963 to be exact, that our intellectual friend barely escaped disaster. The featherless bird, overseer of missilemen, had become lost in a San Francisco fog. The exact circumstances of this all but fatal mishap are shrouded in official secrecy, Because, afterall, the Oozlefinch up to that time had a reputation for infallibility.

But this much was made known. Enroute from McChord Air Force Base, Washington, on what should have been a routine flight, the fabulous bird, 24 hours overdue, was reported to have overshot the 40th Artillery Brigade helicopter strip and nearly crashed in a heavy fog that blanketed Fort Scott. The venerable warm-blooded vertebrate then became disoriented and, after barely missing a tail-on (remember he flys backward) collision with the Marin County Countryside tower of the Golden Gate Bridge, became totally confused. Needless to say, he was immediately rescued, although how is again shrouded with red tape and mystery.

Questioning of the Oozlefinch himself brought an unmitigated "no comment, " and eventual public disclosure of the incident by the Information Officer of the 40th Brigade almost brought the creature's incredible career to a heartbreaking finish,

He is presently brooding at Fort Bliss, again in deep meditation, waiting for the unusual occurrence to be forgotten. Don't be fooled, however, for though he is quiet, "the guardian of all missilemen" is ever present in spirit.

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from Jim Alexander
Dear Ed,

I am (was in 1956) Sp.3 James C Alexander, RA 19486486, the driver for General Wood while he was commander of Fort Bliss, Texas. I read with great pleasure and stomach butterflies the history of the Oozlefinch, written by Errol Porter.

I had been the driver for General Rutledge, Brigadier General Bender, Colonel Herrod and then, General Wood, while each was stationed at Fort Bliss.

It was my extreme honor to have received an official parchment Certificate designating me as an official Ozzlefinchling, right after General Wood was appointed Chief Ozzlefinchling I in 1956. I was so proud of that certificate that I walked on clouds for a month! (And it's hard to drive effectively while walking on clouds-no traction) It was presented to me by 1st Lt Etzhold, the General's aide.

I kept that certificate for years, then when my wife of that era split, she took it with her and, I'm sure, destroyed it knowing that was the worse thing (except, possibly, death) that could happen to me!

I'm 71 years old now and have just about decided to go to Fort Bliss one more time before I die just to look up the Ozzlefinch and see for sure which way the wind is blowing! Wish me luck!

Jim Alexander


Note differences

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from Harry G Birmingham Jr
- received Mar 2010

click to enlarge

from Salvatore A. DiGeronimo
- received July 2015

from Eugene Muhlenkamp

An Art Work Project

Aug 2012
Karbler, Daniel L BG USARMY (US)

Gentlemen, [He also addressed alanndee @ cox . net ]
Though I have departed as the ADA Commandant and assumed command of the 94th AAMDC, I thought you would like to see the Oozlefinch mascot project I commissioned during my time as the Commandant. The project is finished -- I think you will enjoy the pictures. So you can understand the size, the small blue screen in the neck is where the person's face looks out.
I think they did a terrific job.
Best regards to you both.
Dan Karbler

from Jones, Donnie Jr - October 27, 2018
Here’s pic from missle storage bay 1 PI -36 painted in 1963 and pic of my dad getting award from Pgh mayor David l Lawrence for protecting Pittsburgh. He was in charge of the Anti aircraft guns while the bases were being built, then worked with the Oakdale Missle Control center .

Other Awards

Member 602 AAA Missile Bn

from Eugene Muhlenkamp