Phantom Soldiers, Haunted Ships, and Spooky Old Forts: A Ghost Hunter’s Guide to the US Military

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Believe it or not, the United States Military Academy at West Point has a history of cadets seeing ghosts, an experience that is surprisingly common across the US military. Composite by Coffee or Die Magazine.

Composite by Coffee or Die Magazine.

The USS Hornet earned nine battle stars in the Pacific during World War II. In addition to its reputation as an accomplished warship, the aircraft carrier is also famous for being known as the most haunted vessel to ever sail in the US naval fleet. Phantoms are said to lurk belowdecks, and apparently, they can be heard whispering in the night. These eerie occurrences are made even more bone-chilling by the fact that many men have died aboard the Hornet. During her nearly 30 years in service, the ship lost more than 300 sailors, many to either accidents or suicides.

Decommissioned in 1970, the USS Hornet is now a floating museum in Almada, California. Visitors, many of them drawn to the museum by the chance to have a paranormal experience, can take overnight tours of the ship led by bona fide ghost hunters. Over the years, guests have reported all sorts of unusual activity, including hearing voices, seeing strange shadows move through rooms, and feeling as if someone had brushed against their arm.

While the USS Hornet’s ghost problem might seem like an anomaly, paranormal activity is actually a common theme in the wider world of the United States military. From old prisoner-of-war camps and blood-soaked battlefields to far-flung island outposts and the neo-Gothic-style West Point barracks, there’s no shortage of spooky places that were once or are currently occupied by American troops. Here are five of the more famous examples.

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Gate Ghosts of Kadena Air Base

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The “Ghost of Gate 3" at Kadena Air Base in Okinawa, Japan, was allegedly captured on security footage and uploaded to YouTube in 2008. US Air Force photo.

US Air Force photo.

Today, nearly 18,000 American service members, more than 4,000 Japanese employees and defense contractors, and their families call Kadena Air Base home. Located on the Japanese island of Okinawa, the airfield was seized by American troops during World War II and now serves as a strategic air base in the combined mission to defend US and Japanese interests in the Asia-Pacific region.

In the decades since WWII, Kadena Air Base has come to be known as one of the most haunted US military installations in the world. While local Okinawans and US service members stationed at Kadena have reported numerous ghost sightings over the years, one apparition in particular seems largely responsible for its reputation as a hub of paranormal activity: the “ghost at Gate 3,” a shadowy, humanlike figure who occasionally looms into view of the base’s northeastern checkpoint (aka Gate 3). A video uploaded to YouTube in 2008 allegedly shows the ghost crossing the road leading in and out of the base. Of course, whether that’s what the video actually shows is impossible to say, but apparently, it looks pretty convincing in person — so convincing, in fact, that some local guards refuse to man the post. In some instances, rather than a shadowy figure, guards have described seeing a bloodied soldier wandering the premises.

West Point’s Haunted Room 4714

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The New York Times reported a story about a “ghost guard” that appeared in the cadet barracks in 1972. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons and screenshot from The New York Times. Composite by Coffee or Die Magazine.

Composite by Coffee or Die Magazine.

The United States Military Academy at West Point is one of the most prestigious educational institutions in the country. Located in central New York, the academy occupies an old hilltop fort overlooking the majestic Hudson River. It’s a beautiful campus — but is it haunted? According to at least one West Point graduate, the answer to that question is yes.

Jim O’Connor attended West Point in the 1970s. He claims that during his freshman “plebe” year he experienced a series of unusual events while residing in room 4714 of the North Barracks’ 47th Division. In a 2011 interview, O’Connor recalled witnessing toilet paper unravel itself, showers turning on and off, and even an actual ghost. He claimed that one night he woke up to discover a phantom soldier standing by his bed. O’Connor screamed in terror, and the apparition vanished before his roommate could see anything. According to O’Connor, the ghost soldier had glowing eyes, stood about 5-foot-6, had a scraggly mustache, and wore a 19th-century American cavalry uniform.

Phantom Prisoner Spirits at Fort Delaware

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A Civil War reenactor at Fort Delaware on Memorial Day in 2012. The site is frequented by Civil War history buffs and people interested in paranormal activity. Wikimedia Commons photo.

Fort Delaware, located on a small island in the Delaware River, is advertised as one of the most haunted places in America. The historic, pentagon-shaped military fortress once served as a Union Army camp during the Civil War. At one time, the camp housed nearly 13,000 Confederate prisoners of war, and the conditions inside were so bad that the inmates fought over rats to eat. Fort Delaware remained an active military installation during both World Wars but was subsequently abandoned and turned into a state park in 1951.

These days, Fort Delaware is a popular tourist destination for both Civil War history buffs and ghost hunters. People have reported strange noises coming from the upper level of the fort, which is inaccessible to visitors and supposedly empty. For example, some have reported hearing what sounds like a cannon being rolled across the floor. An old laundry room within the fort is also said to be a hotbed of paranormal activity. Visitors have claimed that the clothes that still hang on the clothesline inside the room will appear as if they are blowing in the wind even though the windows are shut.

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Spine-Chilling Screams at Warren AFB in Wyoming

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A brutal murder of a Native American woman by US cavalry soldiers in the 1920s haunts F.E. Warren Air Force Base in Wyoming. Airmen have reportedly heard the woman’s screams in the middle of the night. US Air Force photo.

In 1867, President Abraham Lincoln and the US Congress established Fort D.A. Russell near Cheyenne, Wyoming. For 60 years, Fort D.A. Russell served as a home base for various cavalry regiments and contributed troops to a succession of major conflicts, from the Great Sioux Wars of 1876 to World War I.

Today, the old fort is known as F.E. Warren Air Force Base, and though the troops stationed there are now airmen, it’s apparently still inhabited by a legion of dead cavalrymen. The most famous paranormal incidents are said to have involved the apparition of a Native American woman who was brutally raped and murdered in the 1920s by men dressed as cavalry soldiers. The crime occurred along White Crow Creek in what today is the base’s recreational campground. According to the US Air Force’s 90th Space Wing office of public affairs, airmen have been startled awake in their dormitories by the sound of spine-chilling screams coming from the campground. On one occasion, Warren authorities were alerted to the pleas for help and conducted a four-hour search, but they found nothing out of the ordinary.

Ghosts of Antietam’s National Battlefield

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The sunken road where much of the bloodshed occurred at the Antietam National Battlefield in northwestern Maryland is also known as “Bloody Lane.” Visitors are convinced it is haunted because of unusual paranormal activity there. Wikimedia Commons photo.

The Antietam National Battlefield in Sharpsburg, Maryland designates the site of the Civil War’s most vicious battle. On Sept. 17, 1862 — the single bloodiest day in American history — more than 23,000 Confederate and Union soldiers were killed, wounded, or went missing in action. The most intense fighting during the 12-hour battle took place along a sunken road known today as Bloody Lane. The Antietam National Battlefield Visitor’s Center opened to the public in 1963, and ever since, there have been numerous reports of paranormal activity along Bloody Lane. Some visitors have claimed to have seen ghostly figures walking the grounds, dressed similarly to the rebel soldiers who fought there. The common reports, however, don’t involve actual ghost sightings, but come from visitors who describe hearing gunfire and smelling gunpowder in the air.

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Matt Fratus is a history staff writer for Coffee or Die. He prides himself on uncovering the most fascinating tales of history by sharing them through any means of engaging storytelling. He writes for his micro-blog @LateNightHistory on Instagram, where he shares the story behind the image. He is also the host of the Late Night History podcast. When not writing about history, Matt enjoys volunteering for One More Wave and rooting for Boston sports teams.
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