Crossing the Line
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
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!