The Shellback Ceremony

Letter from U.S. Army Lieutenant, on a ship in the Pacific, to wife at home in Iowa, U.S.

March 23, 1945


Today, before I forget it, I’m going to tell you about that shellback ceremony when we crossed the Equator. I meant to send the certificate home, but forgot to, so will hang on to it now because it’s rather attractive and I don’t want to fold it. They also give you a little pocket card to carry in your billfold, so you don’t have to worry about going through the thing again.

TheĀ accompanying mimeographed form shows the general setup of the day. Right after breakfast we were all assembled in the dining room, and several of the ones among the group who had made themselves conspicuous by some sort of behavior, were called out and made to talk or perform in front of the group. The dining hall had passageways along two sides; and those 4 nurses stood up there and all confessions, remarks, etc. were addressed to them. Especially enjoyable were the vocalizings of a few of the captains who had trailed around the nurses since they came on board. Everybody got quite a kick out of their disconuforture [sic]. While we were assembled, the various minions of Neptunus Rex circulated among us, under the fiendish direction of the “Lord High Sheriff” and made us get on our knees, smile brightly, and administered well-placed whacks with folded belts. After a half-hour or so of this we were allowed to recess for awhile in preparation for the real initiation ceremony on deck.

Well, when they called us out, we had a regular inquisition line to go through. As we stepped out to go through the line, we were greeted by the full force of a ship’s salt water hose–then were were several back-side slappers to go by, and believe me, they laid on with a [illegible]. Then we were forced to kneel before his Majesty, and bow to the floor. Next we had to “kiss the baby”–a crewman, who had an odious collection of mustard and other reeking spices, mixed up into a paste, spread over his stomach, and we affixed there–with our lips. Ugh! Then we scrambled on hands & knees to the “Royal Barbers”–they didn’t hit me so badly, because my hair was short, but some of the Romeos with their long wavy locks were shorn to the scalp in assorted patterns. (The next day there were more shaved heads on board than you could count.)

Then we passed through another belt line up to a big tank–oh, I forgot–after the shearing, two devils smeared your lead liberally with the same vile mixture of spices that was on the “baby’s” stomach; and when we got to the tank, we were tossed in bodily, backwards.

And thus I became a shellback. It was several days before I, or my clothes, stopped reeking. Everybody had a tremendous good time, and it was a real relief from the monotony of the voyage.

A typical day began with breakfast at 8:00. At breakfast we made sandwiches for noon–there were always cheese & cold meats to use for that purposes. We had fresh butter, all we wanted all the time. Here is a typical breakfast–all served, remember, on fine china, and silver dishes–boy, what luxury. A cup of fruit–prunes, apricots, & peaches, or perhaps fruit cocktail; cereal, eggs & bacon, toast, and fresh fruit. There were always rolls, both bread & sweet. We didn’t now what we had, then.

Honey, I’ve got to stop–I just got word I’m leaving here at noon today. Got to get ready. Don’t know for sure where I’m going–I’ll let you know as much as I can.

I love you, dearest–‘bye now. Finally, something’s doing. I’ll be thinking of you all the way.

Your Dwight

Links to view original scanned pages:
23 March 1945 1
23 March 1945 2
23 March 1945 3
23 March 1945 4



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