These military ghost stories will have you hiding under your Woobie
"I'm not a true believer in all of that stuff," said one former Navy SEAL. "But I saw what I saw."
Editor’s note: A version of this article originally ran on Oct. 29, 2016
All the battles fought on American soil early in American history mean that the military has its fair share of ghosts. From the Revolutionary War through World War II, these ghosts are fabled to be felt lingering through veterans cemeteries, on decommissioned ships, and even in the barracks where they died.
Though some of these spirits are considered harmless, these five hair-raising military ghost stories will have you hiding under your woobie with a flashlight.
The USS Hornet
Commissioned in 1943, the Navy’s USS Hornet saw its fair share of combat during World War II. While stationed in the Pacific, it helped to sink more than 1,400 Japanese vessels. However, at least 300 sailors died aboard during its 27 years in service in combat, by accident, and by suicide. Now a museum, the Hornet is said to be home to a number of ghosts. Some museum workers and visitors report hearing voices and feeling cold in certain parts of the ship.
Curator and former Navy SEAL Alan McKean said, “I’m not a true believer in all of that stuff. But I saw what I saw. One day I saw an officer in khakis descending the ladder to the next deck. I followed him and he was gone. I have no explanation for it.”
The Battle of the Alamo
The Battle of the Alamo in 1836 was the culmination of the Texan struggle for independence. The site in San Antonio is now essentially a cemetery for the 182 Texans defenders and 1,600 Mexican soldiers who were either killed or wounded in the fight. Their remains were dismembered, burned, and dumped in the San Antonio River, and tales of paranormal activity surfaced just a few days after the battle.The first account of ghosts at the Alamo came when Mexican Gen. Juan Jose Andrade, who made camp several miles away, sent a colonel with a contingent of men to burn the Alamo soldiers’ bodies to prevent the spread of disease. The men instead came back, having forsaken the mission, because six diablos or “devils” were guarding the front of the old Alamo mission.
And over the last 80 years, visitors to the site have reported seeing small boys tagging along in groups before disappearing, hearing the clatter of horse hooves on the pavement, and spotting an eerie man and small boy jumping from the roof of the Alamo mission.
The Cold Harbor Battlefield
Cold Harbor Battlefield in Virginia hosted one the bloodiest battles in American history. During the Civil War, it was the site of Union Lt. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant’s Overland Campaign from May 31 through June 12, 1864. When it finally ended, Confederate losses hit nearly 5,000 and Union casualties were estimated to be more than 12,000.
Visitors to the site report seeing apparitions of soldiers wandering the grounds or performing battle maneuvers. Orbs are often spotted at night, and many locals report the sound of horses clopping along Route 156. Some even say they can smell gunpowder in the air.
The cemetery beside the Battlefield park is reportedly haunted by a little girl’s dressed in white with a bonnet and a very pretty face. Legend has it that she died falling out of the window of the Gravekeeper’s house, which still stands today. On occasion, you can purportedly even see the little girl peeking out from the window. The same house is also supposedly the gravesite for a hundred hastily buried Civil War soldiers.
The USS Arizona
Pearl Harbor in Honolulu, Hawaii, marks the resting place of 1,102 of the 1,177 sailors killed by a Japanese attack on the USS Arizona during the attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, which launched the United States into World War II. Those who died didn’t go peacefully, which makes Pearl Harbor ripe for ghosts.
One of its more famous ghosts, “Charley,” has been there so long and his presence so well documented that it isn’t uncommon for local officers to respond “That’s just Charley” when water faucets turn themselves on, radio stations switch, or heavy doors swing back and forth inexplicably. However, he’s harmless.
Many of those who visit the memorial built over the Arizona feel inexplicable sadness and pain. But one of the most harrowing ghost stories regards a sailor who was shot after leaving his post during the Pearl Harbor bombings. He is said to haunt the deck of the sunken ship at low tide.
The Jefferson Barracks
The Jefferson Barracks in Missouri was opened on October 23, 1826, named in honor of former president Thomas Jefferson who died earlier that year. Over the course of its history, it was used as a military staging area and a VA hospital, and a graveyard was established there in 1863.
Most of the scariest stories revolve around the barracks headquarters. A number of soldiers who have held guard positions there reported seeing a ghostly sentry who would challenge them while on-post. He supposedly has a gory, bleeding bullet hole in his head, and is said to be so frightening and aggressive that some guards have deserted their posts after encountering him.
According to lore, the sentry was a guard who had been killed in a munitions raid. He is believed to confront the living guards at the post because he is still on duty, and sees them as enemy trespassers.