9 Facts You May Not Know About the Navy on its 239th Birthday

Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Jonathan Greenert and Master Chief Petty Officer of the Navy Mike Stevens cut a birthday cake with the most junior sailor in attendance to celebrate Navy's 239th birthday. Navy photo by  Peter D. Lawlor

Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Jonathan Greenert and Master Chief Petty Officer of the Navy Mike Stevens cut a birthday cake with the most junior sailor in attendance to celebrate Navy’s 239th birthday. Navy photo by Peter D. Lawlor

Steadfast to the bitter end, Navy tradition isn’t all rum punch and pollywogs. On its 239th Birthday, here are nine things you may not know about the United States Navy:

1. Bravo Zulu means “well done”

Through World War II, sailors who did well were told “Tare Victor George,” which was code for “well done.” After the war, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) was formed and it standardized communications. NATO created a system of B-flags for administrative communication. The last B-flag was BZ. The Allied Naval Signal Book created the phonetics for each letter and BZ became Bravo Zulu.

2. So explain gun salutes …

Sailors fire a 40 mm saluting cannon. Navy photo

Sailors fire a 40 mm saluting cannon. Navy photo

Often confused with the three-volley salute seen performed at military funerals, the 21-gun salute is a different ceremony entirely. Performed with cannons, the gun salute originates in the days of wooden ships and broadside cannons, when if a ship fired a volley in salute, it was powerless to defend itself for as long as 20 minutes while it reloaded the battery. When approaching ships fired a volley, shore batteries and forts would know the ship represented no threat. In time, this grew to become a gesture of respect, with both land and sea batteries firing odd-numbered volleys back and forth.

Today, the Secretary of the Navy has the final say on which ships and stations may fire gun salutes. A national salute of 21 guns is fired on Washington’s Birthday, Memorial Day, Independence Day and to honor the President or heads of foreign states. Additionally, ships may — with approval from the office of the Secretary of the Navy — provide gun salutes for senior officers using the following protocol:

  • Admiral: 17 guns
  • Vice Admiral: 15 guns
  • Rear Admiral (upper half): 13 guns
  • Rear Admiral (lower half): 11 guns

All gun salutes are fired at five-second intervals and total an odd number.

3. Fouled anchors


CPO_collarIf an anchor is fouled, it means the line or chain is wrapped around the shank and fluke arms. This indicates the anchor is no longer suitable for use. These retired anchors are usually displayed for decorative purposes on base or in Navy communities. The symbol is also part of the Chief Petty Officer rank insignia. When used in body art, the fouled anchor represents a tour across the Atlantic Ocean.

4. The story behind the art

Though tattoos are discouraged in today’s Navy, sailors for hundreds of years tattooed themselves as souvenirs to show where they’d been and what they’d gone through. Here is a short (and far from comprehensive) list we collected from sources around the Web of imagery you may encounter among saltier sailors, along with what each item means.

  • Swallows: Home (each denotes 5,000 miles at sea)
  • Compass/Nautical Star: Never losing one’s way (each denotes 10,000 miles at sea)
  • Trident: Special warfare
  • Rose: A significant other left at home
  • Twin screws or props on one’s backside: Propels one forward through life
  • Rope: Deckhand
  • 
Octopus: Navy diver
  • Dolphin: Wards off sharks
  • Sharks: Rescue swimmer
  • Polar bear: Sailed the Arctic Circle
  • Dragon: Sailed the Pacific
  • Fouled anchor: Sailed the Atlantic
  • Turtle: Crossed the equator
  • Gold dragon: Crossed the International Dateline
  • Gold turtle: Crossed the International Dateline and the Equator where they intersect
  • Emerald fouled anchor: Crossed the Prime Meridian
  • Emerald turtle: Crossed the Prime Meridian and the Equator where they intersect
  • Full-rigged ship: Sailed around Cape Horn
  • Helm: Quartermaster
  • Pin-up girls: Company at sea/port call
  • Hula girls: Sailed to or ported in Hawaii
  • Dagger through a swallow: Signifies a lost comrade
  • Pig and chicken: Superstition to keep from drowning
  • The words “HOLD FAST”: Signifies a deckhand’s tight grip on the lines

5. Mind your Ps and Qs

Sure, you want to write your lowercase letters correctly, but this wasn’t originally a grammar warning. Instead, according to the U.S. Fleet Forces Command, it was a way of keeping bar bookkeepers — and their seafaring patrons — honest in waterfront taverns. In centuries past, sailors often had bar tabs on credit, with barkeepers making marks next to each patron’s name under P for pint and Q for quart. Minding one’s Ps and Qs meant both settling up and also staying somewhat sober as to keep an accurate count on what one had consumed.

6. A sign inside the camo

Navy tests a new lookMuch like the Marine Corps camouflage pattern upon which the Navy version was developed, Navy “digis,” as they are often called, have tiny Navy emblems printed inside the pattern. Next time you’re close to a sailor, see if you can spot one.

7. Tossing a Dixie Cover under the Bridge

For many a short-timer, crossing under the Coronado Bridge (or any other bridge near home port) marks a moment of reflection. Should the sailor stay in or get out? Because sailors are often superstitious, many leave the decision up to the sea, tossing their cover into the deep. If it floats, the sea is asking them to stay. If it sinks, it’s time to move on.

8. In the Navy there are no windows, walls or bathrooms

The Navy has rich diction, but don’t get it mixed up. Ships don’t have walls; they have bulkheads. They don’t have windows; they have portholes. Your left side is your port side and the right side is starboard. The mess deck is where you eat and the deck is where you walk. Above your head is an overhead, not a ceiling or roof. If you need a toilet, you will find that in the head, and the rack is where you sleep.

9. The Legend of Bill the Goat

United_State_Naval_Academy_Logo-sportsBill the Goat has been the Naval Academy mascot since the early 1900s. Legend has it that a Navy ship once had a goat for a pet, and on the way home to port the goat died. Two ensigns were entrusted to have the goat stuffed, but got distracted by a Naval Academy football game. One of the ensigns allegedly dressed up in the goatskin and pranced around at halftime. The crowd loved it and Navy won the game.

Photos: Athletes Dive into Competition at Navy Trials for Warrior Games

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NORFOLK, Va.–Wounded warriors from the Navy and Coast Guard are gathering here this week to compete to represent their service at this fall’s Warrior Games. Forty athletes will be selected to represent Team Navy in Colorado Springs against other branches of the military in swimming, basketball and other sports.

The USO is supporting the Navy Trials with on-site logistics help and refreshments for athletes.

-Photos by Sandi Moynihan

USO Pacific VP Harris Marks 25 Years of Serving Troops

USO Senior Vice President of Operations Alan Reyes presents USO Pacific Regional Vice President Carly Harris a 25-year service coin Friday at USO Arlington in Virginia. Photo by Samantha Quigley

USO Senior Vice President of Operations Alan Reyes presents USO Pacific Regional Vice President Carly Harris a 25-year service coin Friday at USO Arlington in Virginia. Photo by Samantha Quigley

Carly Harris is an ever-present supporter of America’s troops. On Friday, she got a little recognition of her own.

Harris, USO Pacific regional vice president, was honored for her 25 years of service to the organization during a ceremony Friday afternoon at the USO offices in Arlington, Va.

Harris’ USO career includes stints as director of operations for USO Europe, a leading role in the development of the USO’s presence in Southwest Asia, and the director’s post at USO Wiesbaden/Mainz.

Congratulations Carly!

‘A Big Smile and a Bullhorn’: Admiral Praises USO After Chicago Airport Experience

On occasion, the USO gets notes of appreciation from senior military leaders. Now-retired Army Gen. Carter Ham lauded the USO’s efforts in helping the freed Algerian oil-workers-turned-hostages back in January.

RDML Kirby, John

Rear Adm. John Kirby

Rear Adm. John Kirby, Navy Chief of Information, dropped one of those notes to USO Senior Vice President of Marketing and Communications Frank Thorp two weeks ago. Kirby had just watched his son, Colin, graduate boot camp and traveled with him to Chicago O’Hare International Airport where he encountered a familiar sight.

Here’s the story in Kirby’s words:

[T]he real purpose of this note is to let you know how utterly impressed I was by the USO volunteers at O’Hare airport.

As I mentioned, my son graduated from Navy boot camp last Friday. I had the great fortune to be there with my wife. What a day.

Late that night, as they typically do at [the Navy Recruit Training Command], the new sailors were sent by bus to the airport to await their flights out. Colin was going to Charleston on a flight that left at 0600. Some kids weren’t leaving until after noon.

Didn’t matter. RTC dropped them all off at O’Hare at around 0100 to wait.

Who was there to meet them? A USO volunteer with a big smile and a bullhorn.

He separated them into groups based on their departure times, then marched them all up to the USO facility to drop off their gear and relax. Some stayed there. Some, like my boy, opted to go somewhere else to eat.

But all of them were made to feel welcome and proud. All of them were treated like war heroes by the staff there.

And it was the middle of the night.

I have to tell you, I got a little thick in the throat watching those volunteers check these kids in and answer their questions (some had never traveled on their own) and make them feel special.

They didn’t have to do that. But somehow, I got the feeling that they really believed they DID have to.

We didn’t stay with Colin all the way till his departure time. Some parents did. We figured he’d want a little time with his buddies. Besides, we weren’t worried about him.

He was at the USO.

–Preface by USO Story Development

Video

2013 Warrior Games Highlights

The fourth annual Warrior Games has come to a close in Colorado Springs, and though it was close competition with the Army in every event, the Marines brought home the Chairman’s Cup once again.

“Congratulations to all of the 2013 Warrior Games competitors,” said Charlie Huebner, chief of Paralympics for the U.S. Olympic Committee, during the closing ceremony. “While we celebrate medals, this competition is really an example of how sport can change lives. We hope these service members and veterans don’t stop here. The goal is for them to return home and get involved in sport programs in their communities.”

The competition formally ended Thursday night at the U.S. Air Force Academy in a ceremony honoring the nearly 200 wounded troops and disabled veterans who represented their services in the inaugural Warrior Games.

Troops and veterans from the U.S. and Britain competed in a week-long series of paralympic-type events at the U.S. Olympic Training Center and at the academy. They were challenged as individuals and as teams in shooting, swimming, archery, sitting volleyball, cycling, wheelchair basketball and track and field events.

The USO and all of the volunteers from Colorado were proud to stand by the side of these elite athletes throughout the week of Paralympic competition. Please enjoy this montage of footage from the past week of Warrior Games competition.

–Video and story by Joseph Andrew Lee, USO staff writer

Happy (Belated) Birthday, Navy!

Group of Navy men leave the Wailuku USO club for a tour of the scenic sights on Maui. These tours are arranged by USO. WWII era 1942 - 1947 (Photo from USO archives)

We’re so sorry, Navy!  We meant to wish you Happy 235th Birthday yesterday.  Really, we did!  We hope we can make it up to you with this rarely seen vintage photo from WWII.

ADM Gary Roughead, CNO delivered a special message on the US Navy’s Birthday and we wanted to share that with you, too.  Here’s to another great 235 years…