Tuesday, November 11, 2008

You do not *vote* pirates off the seas. You engage them, rake, and scuttle them.

On this Veteran's Day my thoughts are of my wonderful father and his service in the U.S. Navy. He had a story that he loved to tell and I loved to hear of his time in the service. I want to share that story.

Unlike his own father who had served in the Navy during World War 2, my father had the fortune of serving at a relatively peaceful time in our nation's history. Shortly after Naval Boot Camp he was assigned to a destroyer escort where he spent a lot of time peeling potatoes, painting stuff, etc. You get the picture.

The Crossing the Line ceremony has been around as long as their have ships sailing the seas. Essentially it's a ceremony in which seasoned sailors (Shellbacks) initiate those sailors who are crossing the equator for the first time (Polly-wogs.)

The whole thing actually takes a couple of days and is fairly structured. On the evening before the ceremony the Shellback enlisted servicemen "take over" the ship from the officers, who essentially step aside for a couple of days. That evening the Wogs are allowed a sort of mild uprising before they are hazed during the ceremony the next day.

The ceremony itself varies but it usually involves things like beatings, crawling through tubes of rotten garbage, dips in the ocean, kissing the fattest guy on the ship's belly when it's covered in grease, etc. It ends with King Neptune bestowing the title of "Shellback" on the Polly-wogs and a beauty contest involving sailors dressed as women.

On my father's crossing he was part of a particularly large class of Wogs totalling over 60 sailors. They were blessed with a group of Shellbacks who were real son's of bitches. These guys spent the days as the ship approached the equator telling the Wogs in excruciating detail how this Crossing the Line ceremony was going to be the most notorious ever. The beatings were going to be especially brutal and the garbage especially gross.

Dad and his fellow Wogs did what any rational sailors would do under these circumstances: they revolted. On the evening before ceremony they attacked the Shellbacks and locked them up. My dad was part of a group of five guys that took on a radio operator that was a real bear of a man. As dad described the fight their were guys getting thrown around the room as they all tried to hold this giant down.

Eventually they took the ship. They through the giant tube of garbage overboard, elected their own "officers" and partied in their skivvies. As the ship crossed the equator it wasn't under the flag of the United States but instead under a hastily painted Polly-wog flag. My dad was a pirate.

Of course they had to let the Shellbacks out and the hazing took place anyway, under conditions twice as brutal as promised. As my father would tell this story some forty years after it had taken place his eyes would light up at the memory. In his eyes it was worth it.

Upon completion of the ceremony my father was given a certificate that looked exactly like the one below. This certificate hung in his office above his degree in electrical engineering which tells you the importance to which dad held this event. Because while service and duty are important, sometimes we have to be pirates. Even if it's only for a day.


Randal Graves said...

kissing the fattest guy on the ship's belly when it's covered in grease

I'm suddenly even more glad I never joined the military. ;-)

ladybug said...

That's the best story ever!...I'll have to relate some choice ones of the beaniac's "other" dad...a real hippie pot smoker who managed to join the National Guard specifically to get out of going to Vietnam.

Dean Wormer said...


Me too.


Thanks. That sounds a little too much like the GW Bush story for my tastes.

Life As I Know It Now said...

my hubby was in the navy too--he hated it at the time but looks back on it fondly. he says that while he was in the navy he ate a lot of potatoes and gravy.

Don Snabulus said...

Good pa. Good story.

Nothing like a good-spirited temporary mutiny. ;)

Dr. Zaius said...

Ha! That's an awsome story!