Naval ceremonies originate as far back as Phoenician and Greek navies, perhaps even further. Common dangers, shared experiences and victories contribute to a sense of camaraderie which binds sailors together with common traditions, proven practices and ancient customs.
The U.S. Navy, long on organization of explicit and exacting discipline, proudly carries on the more venerated customs, heroic traditions and dignified ceremonies, such as the decommissioning ceremony you are witnessing today.
The origin of some of these ceremonies, traditions and customs of today’s Navy were not always clearly recorded. Many were derived from ancient customs and laws of the earliest seafarers, passed down through countless generations of sailors, adopted by our Navy more than two hundred years ago and still practiced today. These tried and tested customs have also had a profound influence on today’s Navy Regulations.
Today’s decommissioning ceremony and its participants are re-enacting a tradition that is two hundred years old.
All vessels without an embarked flag officer fly the Commissioning Pennant on the mast. When an officer of flagged rank is embarked, the pennant is replaced with flag Officers colors, hence the name “flagship”. The commissioning pennant is blue at the hoist, with a union of seven white stars, red and white at the fly, with two horizontal stripes. The pennant symbolizes the moment when the life of the ship begins.
At the close of today’s ceremony, the Commanding Officer will order the Officer of the Deck to “haul down the pennant, the Jack and the Ensign”. The historic words signal the official retirement of the ship.
March 15, 2005