Still a Pollywog, by Grace
by Michael Stevenson

   I am happy to say that I am still a pollywog, and that
situation is by the grace of God. A "Pollywog" is a sailor
who has either never crossed the earth's equator on a US
Naval vessel or has not yet participated in the initiation
ceremony associated with that event.

   Therefore it can be said, that there exist two types of
people in the US Navy.  "Pollywogs" as described above,
and "Shellbacks", those who *have participated in the
initiation associated with the crossing of the equator.
Again, I stand before you as a Pollywog, by Grace.

1. Crossing the Equator
   The reason for crossing the Equator, is due to any
given ship's assignment south of the Equator such as the
annual "Unitas" cruise to carry out operations and
visitations with South American countries.  This was my
reason for crossing the equator in the summer of 1981.

   As that day (of the crossing) approaches, a polarization
of the crew quickly takes place;  Shellbacks vs Pollywogs.
The Shellbacks are running the show with big smiles on
their faces,  because they make preparations for hazing
(making life miserable for) the Pollywogs who (in "shame")
have never been elevated to their ranks for lack of
traveling across this great dividing line of the earth,
(north and south) at zero degrees latitude.

   However, there is hope for them, in that they are given
a golden opportunity to degrade themselves by participating
in an initiation ceremony from Hell.  The ceremony is
officially sanctioned by the US Navy. Once completed, a
lowly Pollywog becomes a "Shellback" and if by glorious
chance, he (or she, now) crosses the equator at the Prime
Meridian (zero degrees longitude) ....that sailor becomes
a "Golden Shellback."

 2. The Ceremony
   The ceremony at the crossing is actually a hazing event,
and as stated before is officially sanctioned by the
command. This means not only that a plague of some sort is
received after successful completion of the initiation,
but that it would be unheard of and inexcusable not to take
part in the same. In such an event, a person's military
rank means nothing.  Lieutenant, Ensign, seamen, it makes
no difference.  If you are not a Shellback- you are a lowly
Pollywog (period).

   For the initiation ceremony a long chute is constructed
on the main deck made of material and/or plastic. But what
this discussion is leading to, is what is waiting at the
end of the tunnel. The tunnel is only high enough so that
one may crawl through it.  It may be fifty feet in length.
The tunnel is then filled with all of the garbage, 
deliberately held over from the last several meals on-board
the ship, especially for this event.  You can imagine what
garbage one or two days old stored in a giant plastic trash
bag smells like.

   After deriding words from the senior Shellback, the
Pollywogs line up, and begin their crawl through this
tunnel one by one.  The first ones to crawl through the
garbage have it better than the latter ones.  That is
because people tend to get violently ill as they tunnel
through (ugly but true).  Along the way Shellbacks take
swings at the people crawling through the chute, all in the
name of tradition (and fun?).  The point here is that for
the born-again  believers on-board the USS Stump DD978 that
day, there was an objection to what waited at the end of
the tunnel.

3. The End of the Tunnel
   A group of believers in the Lord Jesus Christ, who were
both Born-Again Christians, and shipmates on-board that
vessel, had a decision to make as to participation in this
event.  Some would call it mere fun.  Some would say, "Be
a "regular guy" (and crawl through stinking garbage), while
participating in the most grotesque debauchery imaginable.

   Perhaps this is something that guys do.  After all, the
US Navy had been around for two hundred years before we had
arrived. So perhaps we should have blinked our eyes at this
degrading performance and gone along with the event for
traditions sake and for cohesion of the crew.  We probably
would have, if it was not for the climatic event at the end
of the tunnel.

   At the end of the tunnel was a throne.  Seated on this 
throne was a stand in for Neptune; the god of the sea.  He
wore a crown and in his right hand was the famous three 
prong spike lance which Neptune is always depicted as

   Of course in actually, he was simply the largest
Shellback on the ship with the biggest belly who sat in 
representation of the "god of the sea".  In our case (the
crew of the USS Stump) it was the First Class Signalman.
 He weighed close to 290 pounds and was very round. On his
belly- cooking grease was smeared which the Pollywogs were
suppose to lick off with their tongues.  The idea was that
Neptune was the "god" of the Sea and that it was his line
(the Equator) which the Pollywogs were daring to cross.
Therefore they had to pay homage to him.

4. A Born-Again Decision
   In determining whether or not we would participate in the
initiation, the act of kneeling before "Neptune" was the
deciding factor.  Outside of that anyone of us would have
probably agreed to go through the initiation.  Not because
we wanted to, but because it was unheard of not to. It
should be understood that as one continues his career in
the US Navy, that the question will arise from time to time
and at various commands, "Are you a Shellback?", each time
this situation of crossing of the Equator rises.

   But the thought of bowing down to another god -- no 
matter what form he came in, was entirely out of the
question  for me.  For most of the Christians on-board the
USS Stump, (seven to nine of us who professed Jesus as Lord),
there seemed to be an immediate accord as to the gravity of
sin involved in bowing down to this symbolized god. It was
as if the moment the concept fell on our ears, each one
knew it was out of the question for them, as well.  There
was one fellow who struggled hard with it- I guess because
he was a "snipe" (engineering division).  His peers were
all for it and looking forward to the event. Nevertheless-
in the end, he also refused to participate.

5. The "Crew's Rec"
   When the day of the initiation to Shellback event came,
the ship's Captain ordered that we who had refused to
participate in the event be confined to the "Crew's Rec".
And so we were- but as I remained in there the entire
morning there was never a doubt in my mind that we had made
the right choice.

   It was sort of a surrealistic situation because as we
(who were not necessarily in total unity on other matters),
found ourselves walking through the entrance to the Crew's
Rec... without words-- found ourselves to each have the
same testimony.  We all looked at each other at some point,
for the most part in total silence.  My own thoughts were
of what it must of been like for the believers of the first
and second centuries AD, who were herded together by people
such as Saul of Tarsus, and imprisoned for their faith in
Christ Jesus.  Ok we were not imprisoned but stigmatized,

6. Stigmatized
   In the end we were stigmatized for not having
participated, and (I heard mentinoed) met with disapproval
from the C.O. of the ship and certain other crew members,
and were certainly denied a Shellback's plaque.   We were 
a matter of discussion onboard for a short while. Long
after I had left the USS Stump, from time to time that
question I mentioned earlier when conversing with other
people on active duty about cruises I had made, did come up,
such as, "Well, are you a Shellback?".   After answering
"no" I was faced with the burden of explaining why.

  The incredible social peer pressure in this situation is 
the burden that I am writing to you of.  For righteousness
sake, we had gone against the flow of a major tradition of
the organization we were a part of.  But I do think that
after-the-fact, some sailors on-board the ship who did take
part in the event saw wisdom in the decision that we had
made (whether believing the Gospel or not)-- but especially
the ones we had been witnessing Christ's gospel to.


Salvation Station


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 Web Author:Michael Stevenson Updated: 12/16/2004 7:08PM