How the "Happy Hooligans" got their name
Published April 16, 2008
What's in a name?
Possibly no other Air National Guard has a nickname as well known as the "Happy Hooligans."
Where did that nickname come from?
The North Dakota Air National Guard's 178th Fighter Squadron commander in the mid 1950's was Brig. Gen. Duane S. Larson (retired). Because of his fatherly instincts, (then major) Larson became known as "Pappy" to his entire squadron.
His men were dubbed "Hooligans" for their mischievous antics. Locally, they became known as "Pappy and his Hooligans."
Because of his striking resemblance to the Steve Canyon comic strip character, "Happy Easter," the squadron was soon known as "Happy and his Hooligans," and later shortened to the "Happy Hooligans" (around 1958). Soon everyone around the base was using the nickname "Happy Hooligans" to describe the squadron.
According to unit lore, the name really took hold because of events at a 1950s summer camp at Volk Field. Legend has it the 178 Fighter Squadron had to march on the ramp to make up for the late night shenanigans of throwing all the "brass" out of bed after the club closed for the night. While marching on the
ramp the next day with their 178th FS commander at their side, Maj. Duane Pappy Larson, the 119th Group Commander, Lt. Col. Marsh Johnson, called the Squadron a bunch of Hooligans to which someone answered "we might be Hooligans but we are happy Hooligans."
In the early 1960's, the North Dakota Air National Guard was searching for a motto to set them apart from other units (similar to the Pittsburgh motto: "Have no fear, a Sam is near"). A contest was held to choose an official nickname; no names received topped "Happy Hooligans," so it was officially adopted as
our unit's nickname.
In 1964, during the ANG Rick's Trophy competition, "Happy Hooligans" was painted on the unit's F-89J aircraft. This was the first time it appeared on the aircraft, but since then, each North Dakota Air National Guard aircraft has carried that motto/logo prominently displayed on the tail.
After our nickname gained national renown, the question was raised concerning a cartoon character bearing the same name. Some investigating turned up the following facts:
The comic strip "Happy Hooligan" was created by Frederick Burr Opper and made its debut in Hearst's Sunday comic sections in New York and San Francisco on March 26, 1900, and ran intermittently until 1932, when Happy Hooligan had to be abandoned by its creator because of his failing eyesight.
Happy Hooligan was Fred Opper's classic Irish tramp with a tin-can hat and distinctly ruddy nose.
He was portrayed as the simple innocent whose impulsive undertakings nearly always landed him in the hands of the law. Despite his continued ill-luck, Hooligan lived up to his name by remaining always optimistic, and his enormous smile became a quick symbol of the new comic strip art form to millions of readers.