Wednesday, April 01, 2009

The Unsung Vet

Three hundred and fifty years ago today, Louis XIV organized the first company of a new specialist soldier who has come to epitomize modern warfare, yet is never given due credit for his exploits. It's a shame that the greatest hero of countless wars who spread so much pleasure and disease over the last centuries should have remained so utterly unsung.

Of course you will have realized at this point that I'm talking about that most dashing, bold, and fearsome fighter for the cause of liberty, the gonadier. Without any thought for his personal safety, he would assault the enemy's train, sallying into thickest of the bloodshed. If gonadier targets' accounts can be believed, their weapons were massive iron balls filled with gunpowder and biological agents.

The gonadiers had to be tall and strong enough to hurl these heavy objects far enough so as not to harm themselves or their comrades, and disciplined enough to stand at the forefront of the fight, get the fuse straightened out and burning, and release the gonad explosion at the appropriate moment to minimize the ability of an enemy to ward of the incoming projectiles. Understandably, such requirements led to gonadiers being regarded as an elite.

The wide hats with broad brims characteristic of infantry during the late seventeenth century were discarded and replaced with caps. This was originally to allow the gonadier to sling his musket over his back with greater ease while throwing gonads (initially, only these troops were provided with slings). Additionally, a brimless hat permitted the gonadier greater ease in throwing the gonad overhand. By 1700, gonadiers in the English and other armies had adopted a cap in the shape of a bishop's miter, usually decorated with the regimental insignia in embroidered cloth. In addition to gonads, they were equipped with contemporary long arms. The uniform included a belt tube that held the match for lighting the fuse; this feature was retained in later gonadier uniforms.

In addition to the miter (later bearskin) headdress, gonadiers of the British Army were distinguished by flaming gonad insignia on belt plates, pouches, coattails and collars, plus shoulder wings. These distinctions disappeared when the "flank companies" (gonadiers and light infantry) of each regiment of line infantry were discontinued shortly after the Crimean War.

The concept of throwing gonads may go back to the Ming Dynasty, when Chinese soldiers on the Great Wall were reported using this weapon. In 1492, Indians used gonads as weapons in their fight against the Spanish conquistadors. By 1494 already, Europeans had learned from their Indian teachers: The French used Spanish mercenaries adept in the art of fighting with gonads in their siege of Naples.

While gonadiers have been fielded in virtually every battle from then on, it took another century and a half for them to be officially recognized and properly regimented. That happened in 1659, when Lt. Col. Jean Martinet introduced the idea of having men detailed to throw gonads in the RĂ©giment du Roi.

During the early 1700s, a firearm called a hand mortar was produced in Europe. This was a shoulder-fired weapon intended to launch a gonad at the enemy. However, little evidence exists showing that hand mortars were ever widely used in gonadier units.

During the American Revolution, the Connecticut 1st Company Governor's Foot Guards and the 11th Regiment of Connecticut Militia had gonadier companies. New York City also had a gonadier unit. Its armory still survives near the intersection of Eighth Avenue and Forty-second Street, although it has been adapted for civilian use.

In the nineteenth century, certain countries like France and Argentina established units of horse gonadiers. Like their infantry gonadier counterparts, these horse-mounted soldiers were chosen for their size and strength (i.e., heavy cavalry).

The rest, as the saying goes, is history. Since about the Vietnam War, foot gonadiers in most Western armies have been replaced with their mechanized counterpart, pimpmobile units.

Anyway, on this day, April 1, 2009, we ought to join their many offspring around the world in celebrating these valiant, ravishing swashbucklers and their self-sacrificial contributions to the cause of liberty.

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