Historical Facts and Trivia

"Heads up" - Former Sea Services personnel. If, in years past, you have ever been lying around a ship’s berthing compartments, dying for a candy bar or pack of crackers, but since the ship was not out beyond the 3-mile limit, the "geedunk" was not open. What do you do? Well, about that time a shipmate, passing through your compartment says "the roach coach is on the pier," Eureka, your hunger pains will be satisfied. Has this ever happened to you?
If this sounds Greek to you, then the following naval glossary and word history may help. . .
GEEDUNK - To most sailors the word geedunk means ice cream, candy, potato chips, and other assorted snacks, or even the place where they can be purchased. No one, however, knows for certain where the term originated, but there are several plausible theories.
  1. - In the 1920’s a comic strip character named Harold Teen and friends spent a great amount of time at Pop’s candy store. The store’s owner called it The Geedunk, for reasons which were never explained.
  2. - The Chinese word meaning a place of idleness sounds something like a gee dung.
  3. - Geedunk is the sound made by a vending machine when it dispenses a soft drink in a cup.
  4. - It may have derived from the German word tunk - meaning to dip, or sop either in gravy or coffee. The ge is a German unaccented prefix denoting repetition. In time it may have changed from getunk to geedunk. Whatever the theory we use to explain geedunk’s origin, it does not alter the fact that Navy people are glad it all got started.
GOAT LOCKER - Entertainment on liberty took many forms, mostly depending on the coast and opportunity. One incident which became tradition was at a Navy-Army football game. In the early sailing years, livestock would travel on ships, providing the crew fresh milk, meats, and eggs, as well as serving as ships’ mascots. One pet, a goat name El Cid (meaning chief) was the mascot aboard the USS New York. When its crew attended the fourth Navy-Army football game in 1893, they took El Cid to the game, which resulted in the West Pointers losing. El Cid (The Chief) was offered shore duty at Annapolis and became the Navy’s mascot. This is believed to be the source of the old Navy term, "Goat Locker." MIND YOUR P’s AND Q’s - Nowadays a term meaning "Be on your best behavior." In the Old Days, sailors serving aboard government ships could always get credit at the waterfront taverns until pay-day. As they would only pay for those drinks which were marked up on the score-board, the tavern-keeper had to be careful that no Pints or Quarts had been omitted from the customers list.
CHIEF PETTY OFFICERS - An Executive order issued by President Benjamin Harrison dated 25th of February 1893, and issued as General Order No.409 of 25 February 1893, gave a pay scale for Navy enlisted men. It was divided into rates and listed Chief Petty Officers. Both the Executive and Circular No. l listed Chief Petty Officers as a distinct rate for the first time and both were to take effect on the 1st of April 1893. It appears that this is the date on which the Chief Petty Officer rate actually was established.
NAVY COLORS - On the 27th of August of 1802, the Secretary of the Navy signed an instruction which set a pattern for the dress of the U.S. Navy Blue and Gold.
UNIFORM REGULATIONS - The first uniform instruction for the U.S. Navy was issued by the Secretary of War on 24 August 1791. It provided a distinctive dress for the officers who would command the ships of the Federal Navy. The instruction did not include a uniform for the enlisted man, although there was a degree of uniformity. The usual dress of a seaman was made up of a short jacket, shirt, vest, long trousers, and a black low crowned hat.
FOULED ANCHOR- The foul anchor as a naval insignia got its start as the seal of the Lord Howard of Effingham. He was the Lord Admiral of England at the time of the defeat of the Spanish Armada in 1588. During this period their personal seal of the great officer of state was adopted as the seal of his office. The fouled anchor still remains the official seal of the Lord High Admiral of Great Britain. When this office became part of the present Board of Admiralty, the seal was retained on buttons, official seals, and cap badges. The Navy’s adoption of this symbol and many other customs can be directly attributed to the influence of the British Naval tradition. The fouled anchor is among one of them.
THE CPO FOULED ANCHOR - The Fouled Anchor is the emblem of the Rate of Chief Petty Officer of the United States Navy. Attached to the Anchor is a length of chain and the letters U.S.N.
KHAKI - Originated in 1845 in India where British soldiers soaked white uniforms in mud, coffee, and curry powder to blend in with the landscape. Khakis made their debut in the U.S. Navy in 1912 when they were worn by naval aviators, and were adopted for submarines in 1931. In 1941 the Navy approved khakis for on-station wear by senior officers and soon after Pearl Harbor chiefs and Officers wee authorized to wear khakis ashore on liberty.
BROWN SHOES - In 1913 high laced shoes of tan leather first appeared in Uniform Regulations and were authorized for wear by aviators with khakis. The color changed to russet brown in 1922. Uniforms exclusive to the aviation community were abolished in the 1920’s and reinstated in the 1930’s. The authorized color of aviators shoes has alternated between brown and black since then.
BELL BOTTOM TROUSERS - Commonly believed that the trousers were introduced in 1817 to permit men to roll them above the knees when washing down the decks, and to make it easier to remove them in a hurry when forced to abandoned ship, or when washed overboard. The trousers may be used as a life preserver by knotting the legs and swinging them over your head to fill the legs with air.
THIRTEEN BUTTON ON THE TROUSERS - There is no relationship between the 13 buttons on the trousers and the 13 original colonies. It was not until the broad fall front was enlarged that the 13 buttons were added to the uniform and only then to add symmetry to the design.
FLAT HATS - Were first authorized in 1852. The flat hat was eliminated on 1 April 1963 due to non-available materials. The original hats had unit names on the front, however, unit names were taken off in January of 1941.
WHITE HAT - In 1852, a white cover was added to the soft visorless blue hat. In 1866, a white sennet straw hat was authorized as an additional item. During the 1880’s the white "sailors hat" appeared as a low rolled brim high-doomed item made of wedge shaped pieces of canvas to replace the straw hat. The canvas was eventually replaced by cotton as a cheaper more comfortable material. Many complaints on quality and construction led to modifications ending in the currently used white hat.
JUMPER FLAPS - The collar originated as a protective cover for the jacket to protect it from the grease or powder normally worn by seamen to hold hair in place.
STRIPES AND STARS ON JUMPER UNIFORMS - On 18 January 1876, Rear Admiral Stephen B. Luce recommended a collar with stars and stripes as a substitute for the plain collar used on the frocks of seamen. Three stripes on the collar was proposed for all grades, with the stripes on the cuffs to indicate grade. One strip for E-1, etc.
DISTINGUISHING MARKS/RATING BADGES - In 1841, insignia called "distinguishing marks" were first prescribed as part of the official uniform. An eagle and anchor emblem, forerunner of the rating badge, was the first distinguishing mark.
In 1886 rating badges were established, and some 15 specialty marks were also provided to cover the various ratings. On 1 April 1893, petty officers were reclassified and the rating of chief petty officers was established.
Until 1949 rating badges were worn on the right or left sleeve, depending on whether the person concerned was on the starboard or port watch. Since February 1948, all distinguishing marks have been worn on the right sleeve between the shoulder and elbow.
RIGHT ARM RATES - Established in 1841 and disestablished 2nd of April of 1949, originally signified men of the Seaman branch. During WWII these rates included Boatswains Mate, Turret Captain, Signalman, Gunners Mate, Fire Controlman, Quartermaster, Mineman, and Torpedomans Mate. Other ratings wore rates on the left sleeve.
MEN’S NECKERCHIEF - The black neckerchief or bandanna first appeared as early as the 16th century and was utilized as a sweat band and collar closure. Black was the predominant color as it was practical and did not readily show dirt. There is no truth to the myth that the black neckerchief was designed as a sign of mourning for Admiral Nelson’s death.
NECKERCHIEF SQUARE KNOT - There is no historical significance to the knot other than it was a knot widely used by sailors which presented a uniform appearance.
DUNGAREES - In 1901 regulations authorized the first use of denim jumpers and trousers, and the 1913 regulation originally permitted the dungaree outfit to be used by both officers and enlisted personnel with the hat of the day.
DITTY BAG - Ditty bag (or box) was originally called ditto bag because it contained at least two of everything: two needles, two spools of thread, two buttons, etc. With the passing of years, the "ditto" was dropped in favor of ditty and remains so today. Before WWII, the Navy issued ditty boxes made of wood and styled after foot lockers These carried the personal gear and some clothes of the sailor. Today the ditty bag is still issued to recruits and contains a sewing kit, toiletry articles and personal items such as writing paper and pens.
CLOTHES STOP - A small diameter cord, approximately 12 inches, used to tie laundry to a clothes line - the early Navy clothes pin. Issued to recruits until 1973.
ENLISTED WOMEN - The first enlisted women’s uniform was comprised a single breasted coat, blue in winter and white in the summer. Long gull bottomed skirts and a straight-brimmed sailor hat, blue felt in the winter and white straw in the summer, black shoes and stockings.
BOATSWAIN’S PIPE - No self-respecting boatswain’s mate would dare admit he could not blow his pipe in a manner above reproach. This pipe, which is the emblem of the boatswain and his mates, has an ancient and interesting history. On the ancient row-galleys, the boatswain used his pipe to call the stroke. Later, because the shrill tune could be heard above most of the activity on board, it was used to signal various happening such as knock-off and the boarding of officials. So essential was this signaling device to the well being of the ship, that it became a badge of office and honor in the British and American Navy of the sailing ships.
AVIATION GREEN UNIFORM - In September 1917 the "Forestry" Green uniform of the U.S. Marine Corps was authorized for aviation officers as a winter working uniform. The earliest use of the uniform by enlisted men came in 1941 when chief petty officers designated as Naval Aviation Pilots were authorized to wear the uniform. In November 1985 Aviation Working Greens were authorized for wear by women in the aviation community.
NAVY GRAY UNIFORM - Gray uniforms in the same style as khaki were first introduced on 16 April 1943 as an officers uniform. On 3 June 1943 the uniform was extended to include Chief Petty Officers. On 31 March 1944 cooks and steward were rmitted to wear the gray uniform. The Navy abolished use of the "grays" on 15 October 1949.
COCKED HAT - A hat worn by officers with ceremonial uniforms commonly refereed to as a "fore and aft" hat. During the 1700’s the hat was worn parallel to the shoulders, but in the 1800’s was modified to be worn with the points to the front and back. Wearing of the Cocked Hat was discontinued on 12 October 1940.
TATTOOS - A tattoo of a pig on one leg of a sailor and a rooster (cock) on the other is a charm against drowning.
ANCHORS AWEIGH - Music written by Bandmaster, Lieut. Zimmerman. In 1906, Lieut. Zimmerman was approached by Midshipman First Class Alfred Hart Miles with a request for a new march. As a member of the Class of 1907, Miles and his classmates "were eager to have a piece of music that would be inspiring, one with a swing to it so it could be used as a football marching song, and one that would live forever."
SPLICE THE MAIN BRACE - "Splice the main brace, all hands forward to" is a summons to an extra ratio of grog for work well done. From the book A Sailor’s Treasury by Frank Shay, Copyright 1951.
DAVY JONES - Davy Jones and His Locker American Sailor would rather not talk about Davy Jones and his infamous locker. They are ready enough to refer to him and his dwelling place, but just leave him an indefinite, unbodied character who keeps to his place at the bottom of the sea. Pressed, they will profess that they do not know what he looks like, his locker is to them something like an ordinary sea chest or coffin, always open to catch any sailor unfortunate enough to find himself in the sea. Some English sailors incline to the belief that his name is a corruption of Duffer Jones, a clumsy fellow who frequently found himself overboard. From the book a Sailor’s Treasury by frank Shay Copyright 1951.
The only time Davy comes to life is in a ceremony of crossing the line. Then he is usually impersonated by the smallest sailor on board, given a hum, horns and a tail, and his features made as ugly as possible. He is swinish, dressed in rags and seaweed, and shambles along in the wake of the Sea King, Neptune, playing evil tricks upon his fellow sailors. From the book a Sailor’s Treasury by frank Shay Copyright 1951.
Old sailors, rather than speak of the devil, called him Deva, Davy or Taffy, the thief of the evil spirit; and Jones is from Jonah, whose locker was the whale’s belly. Jonah was often called Jonas, and as Davy Jones, the enemy of all living sailors, he has become the mariner’s evil angel. To be cast into the sea and sink is to fall into his locker and have the lid popped down on one. It is generally agreed that the Christian sailor’s body goes to Davy Jone’s locker, but his soul, if he is a proper sailorman, goes to Fiddler’s Green. From the book a Sailor’s Treasury by frank Shay Copyright 1951.
SCUTTLEBUTT - Navy term for rumor. Comes from a combination of the word "scuttle," to make a hole in the ship’s side, causing her to sink, and "butt," a cask used to hold drinking water. Scuttlebutt literally means a cask with a hole in it. Scuttle describes what most rumors accomplish if not to the ship, at least to the morale. Butt describes the water cask where men naturally congregated, and that’s where most rumors get started.
SHOW A LEG - In the British Navy of King George III many sailor’s wives accompanied them on long voyages. To avoid dragging the wrong "mate" out of the rack at reveille, the bosun asked all to "show a leg" If the leg wore silk, its owner was allowed to sleep in. If the leg was hairy and tattooed, the owner was forced to "turn to."
DEVIL TO PAY - Originally this denoted a specific task aboard ship such as caulking the ship’s longest seam. The "Devil" was the longest seam on the ship and caulking was done with "pay" or pitch. This grueling task was despised by every seaman and the expression came to denote any unpleasant task.
KEELHAUL - An extreme punishment given in which an offender was tied hand and foot, with heavy weights attached to his body. He was lowered over the ship’s side and dragged under the ship’s hull. If he did not drown, which was usually the case, then barnacles usually ripped him, causing him to bleed to death.
SKYLARKING - Originally, skylarking described the antics of young Navymen who climbed and slid down the backstays for fun. Since the ancient word "lac" means "to play" and the games started high in the masts, the term "skylacing." Later, corruption of the word changed it to "skylarking."
NAVY MASCOTS - The Navy mascots name is Bill XXVIII (28), there have been 2 cats, 1 dog, 1 carrier pigeon. Goats have been the mascot since 1904.
OLDEST U.S. MILITARY AWARD - The Navy’s Medal of Honor, authorized December 21,1861, is the oldest continuosly use military award in America. Source US Military Medals: 1939 to Present. Foster and Borts, Medals of American Press.
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LTC Daniel D. Smith, Sr (TN)*

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