A sailor’s hazing-filled transition from a slimy pollywog to a trusty shellback during an equator line-crossing is a naval tradition unlike any other.
Ritualistic pain, immensely questionable sanitation and excessive humiliation have seemingly forever been a requirement of entering King Neptune’s royal court and becoming a son or daughter of the god of the sea.
It’s a rite of passage that dates back over 400 years, when seasoned mariners sought to test new shipmates to ensure they were capable of withstanding long voyages at sea. Hundreds of years later, versions of the ceremony continue to be observed by navies throughout the world as a way to boost camaraderie and provide a welcome respite from the daily rigors of life at sea.
The hazing festival, intended to be inescapable, traditionally allows no one the chance to be spared the prerequisite misery prior to joining the ancient order of the deep.
Not even President Franklin D. Roosevelt, who was aboard the USS Indianapolis when it crossed the equator in 1936, was exempt from at least some form of embarrassment.
“You will accept most heartily and with good grace the pains and penalties of the awful torture that will be inflicted upon you to determine your fitness to be one of our Trusty Shellbacks,” the president’s summons read.
Less than a decade after Roosevelt became a shellback, the U.S. Navy was sailing for the Pacific and war with Japan, but despite the gravity of the time, salty sailors made sure their green shipmates adhered to the time-tested tradition of the line-crossing.
Now, thanks to the Smithsonian Channel and the naval officer who originally filmed the festivities, you can enjoy enhanced color footage of that very tradition from aboard the USS Knox.
The footage does not disappoint.