Tag Archives: Crossing the equator

From Pollywog to Shellback

4 Jul

I wanted our offering today to have a patriotic theme but not necessarily flag waving. We know how hard our military trains and sacrifices for our freedom but we don’t always know about their “fun” traditions. Bill kindly agreed to share his experience of progressing from Pollywog to Shellback. I enjoy this kind of story; if you have one I would love for you to share it- Onisha

  Go Navy

      By Bill Lites

I went into the U.S. Navy when I was eighteen years old. No war raged at the time, but I had plenty of adventures.  The one thing I remember most clearly wasn’t boot camp with its marching, fire fighting, and KP duty, nor was it swabbing decks, painting everything that didn’t move, or midnight watches out in the freezing weather, once I was aboard ship. The thing I remember most is crossing the equator.

My first ship assignment out of boot camp was the aircraft carrier USS Coral Sea. After a 6-month cruise to the Mediterranean, the ship was scheduled for a complete two-year overhaul in the New York shipyards.  However, the NY yards were full, so the ship was reassigned to the Bremerton shipyards in Washington State.  The ship was too big to go through the Panama Canal, so we had to sail all the way around South America to get to Bremerton.  That’s how I ended up changing my status from “Pollywog” to “Shellback” in U.S. Navy terms.

Before Modification

After Modification


The restrictions on initiations for Navy traditions in the late 1950’s were far less than they are today.  The “Pollywogs” were lined up, in our dungarees on the flight deck, where the ship’s “Shellbacks” had setup the festivities.





We were brought before “King Neptunus Rex” and his “Royal Court” for trial and sentencing.  First, we had to run the “gauntlet”- wet canvas clubs filled with rags.  Then on to the “tunnel of fear”- a tube,  barely large enough to crawl through on our elbows, filled with garbage. Unfortunately, this had made some of the guys going through before me sick, and that only added to the stench.   As we exited the tube, we were hit with a fire hose to clean us up so we could pay homage to the “Royal Family”. The “Royal Baby” was one of the fattest guys I’d ever seen.  “Davy Jones” would smear his huge belly with mustard as we were forced to our knees to kiss his “Royal Belly Button.”  As we did, “Baby” pulled our head into his stomach so our entire face was covered with mustard.  Then it was on to the dunking pool where we had to “Walk The Plank” as we were pelted with rotten garbage and dumped into the pool.  There were other equally gross things we had to do but I’ve managed in erasing most of them from my memory.

As you can see, it was an experience I remember well.  When you couple that with the “Crossing the International Dateline” which I did the next year on a different ship on the way to Japan you can see how these were the memorable experiences in my otherwise mundane U.S. Navy career.

I’ve heard the saying, “They also serve who only stand and wait.” I looked it up. It was the last line of John Milton’s poem, “On His Blindness,” written after he went blind. It comforts me to know that although I didn’t serve in a war, still I did my best to serve my country.

What I’ve come to understand is that no matter how talented and skillful we are, or what disabilities we may have, everyone was created by God for a purpose and has a place in this world.

Psalm 139

Order of the Rock – Transitioning the Rock of Gibraltar

Order of the Deep – Crossing the Equator

Order of the Golden Dragon – International Date Line

Typical Order of the Deep Certificate

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