It’s a deep, deep well over there, and now that I have about fourteen tabs open with articles of theirs I want to check out, I am up to my clavicles and sinking fast. First off, one of my all-time favorite rasslers: the incomparable Mick Foley.
You would have a tough time finding a professional wrestling fan who could argue with the insane badassitude of Mick Foley. A long time veteran of the ECW, WCW and WWF/WWE, Foley was well-known for being a total crazy bastard who went out there and put his body on the line every single night, doing the craziest shit you could ever think of and risking serious physical pain and permanent bodily damage purely for the sake of entertaining fans who might never fully appreciate it.
Mick Foley got his start wrestling the ECW circuit in the late 80s as Cactus Jack, where he spent much of his time being backdropped onto barbed wire boards and face-planting tables. During one match, he suffered severe second-degree burns when he was thrown into some explosives that went off in his face. He won the Tag Team Belt once in ECW, and in 1995 defeated Terry Funk to win the title of “King of the Death Match”, which is probably the most badass title you could think of. It sounds like something out of The Running Man or something.
After a brief stint in WCW, Foley burst onto the scene in the WWF in 1996 wrestling as the mentally-deranged Mankind. His humorous persona and complete lack of any sort of self-preservation instincts led him to become a huge crowd favorite, and during his career he would win the Tag belts eight times, the WWF Championship three times and would be the first ever WWF Hardcore champ.
After he realized that he had to stop taking serious blunt trauma to the head on a weekly basis, Foley released his autobiography, Have a Nice Day: A Tale of Blood and Sweatsocks. The book topped the New York Times bestseller list and contained thoughtful insight into his wrestling career, and many people learned that in addition to making a career out of being a human pinata, Mick Foley also had a brain in his head and a gift for writing. Since the success of his autobiography, Foley released a follow-up book, a couple of children’s books and two full-length novels, all of which have found success.
During his career, Mick Foley received eight concussions, had part of his ear ripped off, lost most of his teeth and required over three hundred stitches for wrestling-related injuries. The guy sacrificed his body for the sport, and left everything out on the mat. He gave it all and did it with a smile on his face, and that’s the mark of a true badass.
Over the course of a unique career, Foley was indubitably the wildest Wild Man of them all. I remember when the Foley autobiography came out; the book was serially excerpted at length someplace or other, of which series I read the all. BOTW wasn’t just whistling Dixie in their praise, either: a completely spellbinding page-turner, a peek behind the veil into a strange and mysterious world, and so intelligent and well-written as to almost defy credulity at times. It was a real ripper of a fun read, what I saw of it; I’d bet that even people with little or no real interest in pro wrestling would still find it a difficult book to put down.
Naturally, then, it has now been added to my Amazon Wish List. Hey, don’t hate me ’cause I’m beautiful.
Another interesting thing about Mick Foley is that, among his peers and competitors, he was almost universally well-liked and respected. I used to have a couple of minor insider connections to the world of rasslin’, and from them I know that that is NOT the norm with most of ’em. There are intense rivalries both inside the ring and out, even real dislike among some of those guys. Their personal drive and natural competitiveness combine to exacerbate any such friction well beyond the realm of trifling social discomfort and right into imminent-threat-of-physical-violence territory. Despite that, most everybody thought quite highly and spoke warmly of Foley, and had great respect for him. Or so I’ve been told, at least.
Next up, another world-champeen Wild Man, and a lifelong personal icon of mine.
Gregory “Pappy” Boyington was a part-Sioux, part-Irish World War II fighter ace who could drink any man under the table, routinely kicked the crap out of his enemies in back-alley fistfights, cold-cocked at least two superior officers, and still somehow found time to blast a couple dozen Japanese Zeroes out of the air with his quad-mounted .50-cals. He was the first American fighter ace of World War II, flew two of the coolest fighter aircraft of the war, held officer positions in a couple of the United States’ most famous fighter squadrons, and is probably one of the only human beings in military history to personally accept a Medal of Honor that had originally been issued to him posthumously.
From the moment Greg Boyington was wheels-down from his flight with Pangborn, he was obsessed with planes. He built and collected model planes, went to any air show he could, and eventually learned to fly and got his pilot’s license. In 1926 he moved to Tacoma, and then from there he enlisted in the University of Washington, where he did ROTC and played on the UW wrestling, boxing, and football teams. In 1935 he enlisted in the Marine Corps as an aviator, and quickly earned a reputation as a dude you super totally did not want to step to. In addition to being easily one of the best pilots the USMC had to offer, he was also a hardcore troublemaker on the ground as well. He loved to get drunk, gamble, and challenge his buddies to wrestling matches in the middle of crowded bars. He kicked the crap out of townies whenever they messed with him. One time he got super hammered, stripped naked, and tried to swim across the San Diego Bay in the middle of the night (he eventually had to be fished out of the river by his comrades). Another time he punched a superior officer in the fucking face in an argument over a girl, even though Boynton was married at this point and the girl in question was super totally not his wife.
…Eventually Boyington pissed off his (AVG/Flying Tigers) commander a little too hard, and in 1943 he got into a heated argument with his commander that ended up getting Boyington dishonorably discharged from the Flying Tigers. Which, honestly, is kind of badass if you think about it. Luckily for him, the United States was formally in World War II at this point, so the grizzled old fighter ace just immediately walked into a recruiting office, swore the Oath of Allegiance, and was posted as a Lieutenant in Marine Fighter Squadron VMF-122.
In true Boyington fashion, within a couple weeks of being reinstated to the USMC, he got into a huge argument with his CO and almost got discharged again.
At this point in the war, the U.S. was in the heat of the fighting against the Japanese all across the Pacific, and the fighting had left many Marine aviation units shattered and fragmented. Boyington was coming back from injury himself, and his mission was pretty simple – take whatever available men and equipment you can find, form them up into a fighter squadron, and hurl it into the fray as quickly as possible.
The unit he came up with would become perhaps the most famous Marine Corps aviation squadron in American history: VMF-214, the Black Sheep Squadron.
The Black Sheep Squadron initially consisted of 26 pilots, including some Royal Canadian Air Force vets, a Los Angeles police officer, and a couple Marine pilots who had already earned themselves a couple enemy aircraft kills during the war. They were equipped with the Vought F4U Corsair, one of the most badass aircraft of the Pacific Theater, and shipped out to the front to try their hand at annihilating some Japanese aircraft. Boyington, who was now known among his men as “Gramps” or “Pappy”, because at thirty years old he was by far the oldest man in the unit (I’m reminded of Julius Caesar weeping at the statue of Alexander), flew his first mission with the Marine Corps on September 14, 1943, when his squadron escorted a group of dive bombers on a raid against a Japanese supply base. Two days later, Pappy Boyington became one of the very few American aviators to ever become an “Ace in a Day” – meaning he killed five dang enemy aircraft in a single mission. For most other badass aviators, getting Ace in a Day is the kind of thing that I’d write an entire article about, detailing every bank, turn, and machine gun burst in excruciating detail. But Pappy Boyington’s story is so over-the-top bonkers insane that it barely warrants an entire paragraph among the list of exploits in his life. Just know this – the was outnumbered, under attack, and facing an overwhelming force of some of the most battle-hardened, experienced fighter pilots in the world, and he walked away with five more Japanese flags painted on the nose art of his Corsair.
VMF-214 continued attacking Japanese bases as part of the Bougainville Campaign, which was the Allied American and Aussie mission to re-take the Northern Solomon Islands by striking out from bases in the Papua New Guinea region. And as Marine Corsairs dove, banked, and opened fire all throughout the skies above the region, you might as well have called the place Pappy New Guinea because the freaking Black Sheep Squadron was walloping asses up and down the Pacific. On October 17, 1943, 25 Marine Corsairs engaged and killed 20 enemy Zeroes without losing a single man. Another time, Pappy was leading his flight group when he got a radio signal from a Japanese aircraft, hailing the Marines in English, pretending to be an American ship and asking Boyington to identify his location. Boyington’s b.s. meter was off the charts, though, and he wasn’t about to fall for that weak sauce. He told the Japanese pilot exactly where he was… except he gave the position at 5,000 feet lower than the altitude the Marines were flying.
When the Japanese squadron showed up for their ambush, the Marines dove down with the sun at their backs and wiped out twelve Zeroes in just minutes of dogfighting.
Lots, lots more to the incredible story of one of America’s greatest badasses. Next up, one for casual American hero Matt Bracken: SEAL Team Six.
The now-legendary Team Six was formed in October 1980, in direct reaction to the clusterfuck of epic proportions that resulted when the Americans tried to rescue a group of civilians who had been taken hostage in the U.S. Embassy in Iran and failed so miserably that the Joint Chiefs decided, fuck it, we need to put together a team of guys whose only job is to kick terrorists in the scrotum until they cough up their marbles and then force-feed their own marbles back to them. Team Six was actually just the third SEAL team formed by the U.S. Navy, but the Admirals gave them number six because it’s a much cooler number than three, and also because it might confuse the Soviets into thinking that we had way more of these guys than we actually did. Interestingly, the unit doesn’t go by Team Six anymore, instead calling itself DevGroup or DEVGRU, which is short for “Development Group” or something equally boring and innocuous. The rationale behind changing the name to something that sounds like a financial consulting firm or a team of overworked video game designers was basically just so that nowadays high-ranking Admirals can honestly stand in front of TV cameras and say shit like, “There’s no such thing as SEAL Team Six,” without lying. While I can understand and appreciate the whole “plausible deniability” thing, I should also mention that I have absolutely no intention of referring to a company of terrorist-eviscerating asskickers as The Development Group for the purposes of this article.
The general consensus is that we basically know about only a miniscule percentage of the badass operations Team Six has carried out in its career saving the world from terrorists, communists, vampire Nazis, and god-knows whatever the hell else out there is trying to kill us, but the shit we know about is pretty much totally fucking awesome. Commanded in the early days by Richard Marcinko (a man I intend to cover in much more detail in a later Badass of the Week article), Six’s first operation was to parachute into a small island off the coast of Puerto Rico in the middle of the night, attack a terrorist camp, and recover a portable nuclear device from the clutches of a group of madmen. Now, if that’s the sort of shit these guys were doing on their first mission, you can only imagine where it goes from there. Like, for instance, in 1985 thirteen SEALs from Team Six rescued Governor-General Sir Paul Scoon when he and nine members of his staff were taken hostage in his mansion in Grenada. Six briefly made tennis a badass sport, fast-roping down onto Scoon’s tennis court from a helicopter while the Grenadan army shot machine guns and anti-aircraft cannons at them. The operatives, completely unfazed by staring death in the face while suspended in mid air from a rope, charged ahead and freed the Queen’s Representative on Grenada by storming the mansion and clearing it of enemy troops with a dickload of bullets and concussion grenades. After securing the hostages, the SEALs, realizing they were cut off from extraction, then proceeded to hold the position against a full-on counter attack by basically the entire fucking Grenadan army. These 13 dudes held the position, staring down tanks, APCs and grenade launchers with little more than sniper rifles and small arms. Not only did Scoon get out safely, but all 13 SEAL team members survived, and none of the hostages were killed.
Their operational record only gets more impressive. In 1989, Team Six worked with Delta Force to capture notorious criminal drug lord Manuel Noriega from the jungles of Panama. In the days before Desert Storm they swam around in SCUBA gear disarming anti-ship mines in the Persian Gulf, and then when the war started they were fast-roping onto Kuwaiti oil platforms, wiping out the Iraqi defenders and re-taking the positions before the enemy could set fire to them. In the late 90s ST6 searched for war criminals in Bosnia. In 2009 they freed an American crew taken prisoner by Somali pirates in a manner so fucking badass that it belongs in an action movie: A team of SEAL Team Six snipers simultaneously coordinated three long-range shots from the rocking deck of one ship to another – the first two popped the heads off a pair of pirates patrolling the upper decks, and the third shot went through a porthole window and drilled a pirate who was holding the American ship’s captain at gunpoint with an AK-47, killing the scurvy scalawag before he could pull the trigger.
(As a weird side note, SEAL Team Six has also worked as a security force for every Olympic Games since 1984. This seems like overkill, but hey, if you’re going to station Colonel John Matrix as a mall security guard outside the fucking food court, you can be damn sure that’s the safest Panda Express in the known universe.)
Lots more fascinating stuff here, too. Minor quibble: SEAL Six wasn’t just led by Marcinko; according to his own autobiography, he was the guy who conceptualized it, created it, staffed it, and commanded it until he ran afoul of some petty personal politicking and was eventually hounded right into prison on trumped-up charges.
There are people out there, though, who are skeptical of many of Marcinko’s claims and regard him as a bit of a braggart—even a bullshit artist—prone to overstating his accomplishments, records, and influence. My late cousin Reggie—a career Navy fighter pilot who had some personal familiarity with Demo Dick—was one of those, albeit mildly. He did like and respect Marcinko generally, to be sure. But upon finding out that that I was a big fan of Marcinko’s writing, he tactfully suggested that a lot of it needed to be taken with a grain of salt. Reg seemed to think that Marcinko’s biggest talent was for self-promotion, I think.
Marcinko’s original concept for Six was of a lean, adaptable group of highly-trained warriors, small in number (only 75 shooters in the beginning) and operating more or less independently, answerable only to a highly streamlined, compact, and entirely fat-free chain of command. The clever idea of misleading our adversaries by calling it SEAL Team Six was Marcinko’s too. I think Marcinko was very wise in his original concept of Six’s structure and role; unfortunately, things haven’t quite worked out that way since his departure. SpecWar DEVGRU now has seven “squadrons,” consisting of nearly two thousand men. The ideal of an elite, stripped-down fighting machine capable of extreme operational flexibility, speed, and adaptability seems to have been traded in for fatty gobs of REMF bureaucracy and bloat, an apparently inescapable curse afflicting the whole country these days.
Whatever your opinion of Marcinko, the SEAL Six story is another worthwhile read from the BOTW collection. And to think, I still have eleven more of these open BOTW tabs to get around to yet.