Photo: Ron Galella, Ltd./WireImage (Getty).
Growing up in the ‘80s, I had two great loves: G.I. Joe and WWF. But only one man successfully navigated his way through both important worlds. His name was Sgt. Slaughter. Sarge made me want to be a better American long before I had any idea of what that meant: hating foreigners like the Iron Sheik and Nikolai Volkoff. You probably figured I was good and done talking up the good Sergeant after my critically acclaimed 12 Most All-American Pop Culture Figures Ever list, but I wouldn’t be the great American that Sarge taught me to be if I stopped doing my part to spread his historical importance.
10 Sgt. Slaughter Facts:
He Really Was a Sergeant
Before he became the most feared man in any communist regime, Sarge went by his given name of Robert Remus. Unlike Captain Lou Albano, Remus actually earned his wrestling nickname as a Marine Corps drill sergeant on Parris Island. Presumably, this is where he learned to call people maggots. I’m hoping for the sake of defending freedom for eons to come that this was also where Sarge perfected one of his best finishing moves, the Atomic Noogie.
It Took Him Awhile to Realize Crowds Would Eat His Military Shtick Up
Photo: Daniel Boczarski (Getty).
It took Sarge a good six years of professional wrestling to finally cash in on our jingoist culture’s fervent embrace of his military past. He entered the ranks of squared-circle gladiators in 1974 using his real name, under the tutelage of WWE Hall of Famer Verne Gagne. He soon became masked goon Super Destroyer Mark II with his partner Super Destroyer Mark III (who was managed by Lord Alfred Hayes). Obviously, two guys with such similar sounding names had a hard time staying together, and the two split in bloody fashion. It wasn’t until 1980 that Remus embraced his USMC past, and within that year, he was fighting the WWF’s finest and calling them scum.
A Hero Needs His Heel
Photo: Ben Rose for Clear Channel (Getty).
Soon enough, Sgt. Slaughter would get the Apollo Creed to his Rocky: WWE Champion The Iron Sheik. Sarge took umbrage with the Sheik’s lack of respect for the Red, White and Blue, so in 1984 he spent the better part of a year teaching Sheik American values in Steel Cage Matches and Boot Camp Matches in nearly every state in the country.
Which Came First, the Wrestler or the G.I. Joe Figure?
To those of us who spent the majority of our heyday playing with action figures, it may seem like a chicken or the egg scenario, but wrestling is where Sarge first made his mark; he was only invited to join the elite G.I. Joe fighting team after achieving patriotic popularity in the ring. But he reached an entirely new audience in animated form by being Hasbro’s live action spokesperson for the toy line. Unfortunately, the WWF’s action figures were made by a different company, so Sarge had to pick between the two. He exited the WWF just before WrestleMania fever took over the world, and began wrestling in the AWA, where he soon became America’s Heavyweight Champion, all while battling the ruthless terrorist organization Cobra on the side.
Sgt. Slaughter is in Elite Company
Photo: Image Source (Getty).
Robert Remus, as the character Sgt. Slaughter, is one of only 14 people on the Wikipedia page detailing “A Real American Hero” G.I. Joe action figures modeled after real persons. He’s joined on that esteemed list by such notable names as William “The Refrigerator” Perry, Rowdy Roddy Piper, and Larry Hama, the writer of the comic books and one of the reason I never left the house from 1984 to 1988. Interestingly, there are 23 real persons who were made into the original 12-inch G.I. Joe figures, including George Washington, Colin Powell, Robert E. Lee, and Bob Hope. I wonder if Washington is spinning in his grave knowing he didn’t get the Kung Fu Grip?
Sgt. Slaughter Was a Traitor
After six years sitting out of the WWF, the man who defined American gumption came back to the ring as an Iraqi sympathizer during the Gulf War. “What hath God wrought?,” I quite clearly remember thinking. And I wasn’t the only red-blooded American outraged by such a treasonous act; “WrestleMania VII” had to be moved to a more-secure venue thanks to all the death threats against Sarge. So why would one of the proudest Americans ever turn against his country? Because America had gone soft, and Iraq’s brutal regime was tougher. And because Vince McMahon wanted a heel, and apparently Slaughter wanted to work for Vince, who obviously offered Sarge enough incentive to take the deal. Which, in retrospect, shows another aspect of Sarge’s deep-rooted patriotism: the capitalist side.
But America Is the Land of Second Chances
Photo: Jonathan Leibson/FilmMagic (Getty).
According to WWE’s bio on the Hall of Fame wrestler, “after The United States soundly defeated Iraq in the Gulf War and months of soul searching,” Sgt. Slaughter came to his senses. America accepted Sgt. Slaughter’s emotional apology to the American people and the WWE Universe, pleading in larynx-destroying fashion that he wanted his country back. And because Sarge was such a damn good American in the first place, and deep down none of us ever really bought that whole Iraqi shtick anyways, we forgave him. Shortly thereafter, he was parading around with “Hacksaw” Jim Duggan kicking ass in defense of liberty. And now he’s deservedly in the WWE Hall of Fame and serving as a WWE Ambassasdor. Hopefully such experience will set Sarge up nicely for an important international diplomacy post somewhere soon.
Sgt. Slaughter’s Got Soul
If you need any more proof that the ‘80s were one weird decade, listen no further than the Sarge’s full-length original LP, “Sgt. Slaughter and Camouflage Rocks America.” Here’s a sample of some of the poetry that lies within, from the should-have-been-huge song “The Cobra Clutch”:
“Sgt. Slaughter, everyone is behind you, Sgt. Slaughter, you defend our red, white, and blue, ’cause you love everybody in this land so much, but if somebody puts down America, you better beware of The Cobra Clutch.”
Which, of course, is another one of his patented finishing moves. I guess if you have finishing moves in the first place, you may as well have songs about them.
Sgt. Slaughter Even Fights Trucks
Photo via YouTube
In one of the more absurd cross promotions ever, Sgt. Slaughter challenged Big Foot, everybody’s favorite monster truck, to a tug-of-war. I’m not making this up, as you can see at about the 21-minute mark of this video. Apparently, because he was mad at machines for taking over American jobs, Sarge recruited a “Battle Battalion” who he whipped into shape for what can only be described as the most American event ever to take place.
Everybody Wants to Be Cobra Clutched
Photo: Ron Galella, Ltd./WireImage (Getty).
According to Sarge himself, he’s been challenged by well over 1,000 people to put them in the Cobra Clutch. Apparently, Ronald Reagan wanted to be so mistreated, but Secret Service got involved before it could go down. Although, Sarge did put Richard Nixon into his clutches for a photo op. And he’s put Donald Trump in the famed finishing hold “a few times.” Unfortunately, he ended up letting the Donald go.