USS Midway


Crossing the Line

By Bruce Lonardo



Another cool memory I have is of crossing the equator near Diego Garcia. However, the first time I crossed the equator was not aboard Midway. My first time was aboard USS Dixie, AD-14, but I was assigned to the Midway and it was the Dixie which had brought me to Diego Garcia. When I arrived there, I disembarked from the Dixie and reported aboard the USS San Jose, which brought me out to where the Midway was on station.

My first crossing of the equator and gloriously disgusting initiation as a fleet sailor and Shellback (the nickname for sailor's after they've been initiated) took place on December 13, 1979. This ceremonial practice is a tradition of not only the United States Navy, but other navies and institutions of sailing men since the days of wooden ships. As you know, until the ritual is over, the participating sailors are classified as "Pollywogs" or "Wogs" and this traditional initiation is affectionately termed "Wog Day."

For the Wogs who are about to be initiated, Wog Day begins by being assigned to his own Shellback. This Shellback acts as the Wog's personal task-master and overseer, closely monitoring the initiation process his assigned Wog is receiving. He insures his Wog passes through every phase of the ceremony's completely gross events. First off, the Wog has to wear his dungaree trousers inside out with his underwear worn on the exterior. The Wog also has to wear a plain white t-shirt with a big giant "P" painted on the front and on the back. In some cases, certain Wogs who are deemed "special cases" received a giant "SP" on their t-shirts.

On the day before this ceremony takes place, rebellious acts of defiance are committed by the Wogs against the Shellbacks. This is an attempt to avenge themselves for the inevitable grotesque harassment they will face on the following day. Unfortunately for me, on our day of fruitless liberation against the Shellbacks, a band of defiant Wogs, including myself, cornered a couple of Shellbacks on the starboard promenade deck of the Dixie. We were armed with a sizeable arsenal of huge water balloons and we delivered our liquid bombs with very impressive accuracy. We soaked the shit out of those poor bastards and in doing so; we sealed our fates for the next day! The next day, when we were made to wear our humiliating uniforms, one of the Shellbacks I water bombed the previous day graciously volunteered to be my overseer with as much enthusiasm as Napoleon probably had when he met Wellington at Waterloo. I not only received a big "SP" on my t-shirt, but my Shellback saw to it that the big "SP" was painted in bright red paint from my collar to my t-shirt tails on both the front and the back. With each shoulder sleeve similarly marked, my fate was sealed!

Breakfast was the first event of the day which, along with every other event, was mandatory to pass the initiation. It began with all of the Wogs being led to the mess decks on leashes held by their own Shellback. Crawling on our hands and knees and having to call out "GANG WAY!" repeatedly, we made our way from the berthing compartment to the mess decks. When we arrived at the mess decks we received our breakfast which, courtesy of food coloring, consisted of purple scrambled eggs, blue toast, green hash browns and red grits. We couldn't close our eyes because we had to look at what we were eating until our plate was empty!

After breakfast we were brought topside to begin our guided tours through the "Gauntlet of Grossness." From a designated starting point, all of us Wogs had to crawl upon our hands and knees down along a receiving line of Shellbacks - each one of them armed with a "shillelagh" consisting of a two foot section of fire hose with one end fashioned into a crude handle. The Shellbacks would slap the flat part considerably hard upon your butt for the entire length of the receiving line. After that we had to proceed (in the same manner) down another receiving line of Shellbacks who pelted us with eggs with food coloring inside them, rotten tomatoes, and other gross crap. This went on for a very long time and we were then paraded throughout the ship looking like walking barf bags.

At noontime we were brought back down to the mess decks for lunch - if it could be called that. Again, an entree of good food items which presented absolutely no appetizing appeal whatsoever because of the food coloring: green hot dogs with blue buns and purple sauerkraut, which really needs no help at all to look completely gross. In my opinion, Sauerkraut more than meets the definition of disgusting all by itself in its unaltered state. There were also red mashed potatoes and some other gross items like green spaghetti and blue ham. I passed on lunch and pretended that I wasn't hungry because I couldn't put myself through that freak feast twice in one day.

After lunch, it was back up on deck for all the Wogs to continue with the initiation activities. At one point in the initiation ceremony, they sat us in what was called a "dentist chair" which was just a chair the Shellbacks would strap us into. Two other Shellbacks then took bottles of mustard and ketchup and they'd place the nozzles in your mouth and squeeze them fiercely. They would then throw a bucket of sea water in your face to complete the treatment. We then had to face the absolutely most disgusting part of the entire initiation. We had to crawl through enormous industrial garbage bags formed into one long tunnel and filled with garbage, rotting and rancid swill, and even vomit from whoever lost their stomach ahead of you. I remember that this tunnel went on for a good thirty feet.

Upon exiting this enormous bowel of barf and botulism, we were blasted with sea water from fire hoses being manned by several Shellbacks. This brought us to the completion of the ceremony where we would have to kneel before King Neptune. This was someone dressed up as Neptune and traditionally, was someone with a huge belly covered with thick black grease. When the Wogs bestowed their homage to him upon bent knees, King Neptune would grab the heads of the unsuspecting lads and smear their faces all over his blackened belly. Another Shellback would then grab the back of your head and dunk your face into a big tub of sea water. When he pulled you up a few seconds later, he'd scream out "WHAT ARE YOU?" Most Wogs would rather dumbly reply "A POLLYWOG!" and so you'd be dunked again and immediately asked the same question "WHAT ARE YOU?" On the second attempt, I answered correctly "A SHELLBACK!" and King Neptune would sound off with some traditional decree that made it all official. With the initiation complete, we were now seasoned sailors - Shellbacks by any other name! About three or four days later, I was flown aboard the USS Midway fully initiated after my first equator crossing. I crossed the equator two more times on the Midway, but those times I took part in the traditional ritual as a Shellback. It's a fun tradition among sailing men that is as old as the sea itself!