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Combat Kitsch: Murphy's home to the world's best-travelled armadillo

This stuffed armadillo's not just a bar mascot; it's a decorated war hero.


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photo: courtesy cooper barber

Cooper Barber, Jason Call and Andrew Howell pose with Murphy's armadillo in Kandahar, Afghanistan.

 

Every war has its unsung heroes. This month, one of these brave souls will, at long last, be recognized for his contributions to the war effort.

This is the story of a humble stuffed armadillo, deployed from his perch at Murphy’s Bar & Grill in support of Hawaii-based military units for almost 20 years.

“It’s a hideous looking creature. It has stubby legs and a tail that resembles a rat. It’s got wispy hair all over him, but you can’t see the hair unless you get up close. It’s kind of disgusting,” says Capt. Cooper Barber, the armadillo’s most recent handler.

Barber, a helicopter pilot, just returned from a yearlong deployment to Afghanistan with 2-6 Cavalry Squadron of the 25th Combat Aviation Brigade.

“We would go out every day and provide reconnaissance and security in very hostile areas. The armadillo saw some action,” says Barber.

Awarded any medals that the soldiers receive, the armadillo gains a new wooden baseplate for each deployment, where the colorful ribbons are pinned. He’s accumulated an impressive rack that includes a Purple Heart, a Bronze Star and an Air Medal. Rumor has it that he also has a confirmed kill.

Besides missions, he’s made special appearances at events like unit Christmas parties and photo ops with the helicopters to send home. “Mostly, though, he was displayed so everyone could see what a badass he is,” says Barber. He was also in danger of being stolen by other soldiers to bring on their helicopters and display in other settings. “We had to keep our eye on him.”

The tradition started in the mid-’90s with Navy sailors who stole the armadillo—originally a gag gift from the bartenders to owner Don Murphy—and took him on a nuclear submarine for the WESTPAC training mission. A tour in Bosnia followed. Military patrons of Murphy’s passed the tradition to one another, and so the Army units started deploying the brave creature when the Gulf War conflicts began.

“They’d hint around that the time was coming to deploy the armadillo. They always seem to do it the night before they deploy,” says longtime Murphy’s bartender Jonathan Schwalbenitz.

Taking the armadillo to the front lines, “reminds you that it’s just a matter of time for you to go back and be with all your buddies. Who doesn’t like remembering their favorite bar?” Barber says.

Barber said he’s not sure exactly how the armadillo’s return ceremony will play out this time around. “We’re returning from a pretty hostile deployment, so we’ll just be unwinding. I’m sure there’ll be some toasts and cheers given out. But, mostly, it’s just a drinking activity,” he says.

The armadillo probably won’t stay on the shelf next to the shuffleboard for long. But where will his next deployment be, as the Global War on Terror winds down?

“Maybe he’ll go to Africa or Korea,” says Barber. “We all enjoy it so much, I’d be surprised if the tradition doesn’t continue somewhere.”

Did you know? Forget about adopting an armadillo as a pet—it's illegal to bring a live one into the state of Hawaii.

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