Crossing the Line

After the hostilities ended in Desert Storm, my ship headed home by way of Australia. This journey included crossing the equator, a cause for celebration aboard US Navy vessels.

[Insert here a description of the shellback ceremony and it’s history.]

Desert storm was probably the tail end of old-school initiation rites in the Navy. Hazing fell out of favor in the 1990s. Shellback (crossing the equator) initiation was undoubtedly a form of hazing.

On the Missouri, our commanding officer placed a number of restrictions on us that were not at the time common. For example he allowed no video recording of any kind. Still photography only. Also, he forbade physical punishment of any kind. Just two years prior, I underwent a ritualized form of mild torture with Mayeye with my shellback initiation. That was a board a different ship. Sailors cut pieces of old firehose and fashion them into a shillelagh. Basically it was the neighbors farm I have a fraternity spanking paddle. We were made to crawl around on her hands and knees while the veteran sailors who had already crossed the equator spanked us with fire hoses.

There are many accounts of some of these ritualized hazing’s that were definitely crossing a line. A Vietnam era sailor once told me about “greasings” that happened when he served in which they would use a grease gun to grease someone’s backside. During my time in the Navy, it was common to “tack on” crows. Tacking on a crow involved punching someone in the arm on top of their new newly acquired rank insignia (it has an eagle, nicknamed a crow) on their left arm to keep it from falling off. It was sort of a superstitious good luck ritual to prevent someone from being reduced in rank because of a captains mast or other punishment.

Crossing the eater equator actually took multiple days. For many days prior to the big day, psychological games were played with one another. The old-timers would harass the new sailors about how awful it was going to be. The “pollywogs” or sailors who had not yet crossed the equator, would sometimes stage a revolt. The “wog revolt” was never successful. It was always quelled. The shellbacks always took over in the end.

The evening before crossing the line involved a beauty contest. At the time I served it was all mail crew. We had a “pollywog queen.” So the “prettiest” man from every division had to dress up like a lady and tried to win the beauty contest. If you won the beauty contest, you got to sit next to King Neptune and observe the festivities on the next day. Without looking it up, I would be really surprised if the beauty contest tradition still exists. In 1991, the crews of warships were 100% male. That is no longer the case. Times change, and so do traditions.