What exactly is a Dining Out you ask?
***ALERT*** (There’s about to be quite a bit of Naval tradition thrown your way)
We can go way back to times before drinking on U.S. Naval Warships was banned by Josephus Daniels (1914). Formal dinners in wardrooms afloat and messes are among the finest traditions of military institutions. Traditions between Navy and Marine Corps’ differs slightly. The Marines mess nights were held in Washington D.C., while the Navy functions were in wardrooms of ships anchored in foreign ports.
The practice of formal dining-ins was usually reserved for entertaining foreign officers during official port calls. In all instances of on-board entertaining, toasting with wine was very much a part of the formal dinner. After alcohol was banned on Naval ships, without wine, the tradition became dormant in the Navy. In part, we can thank the Marines for preserving the time-honored custom of dining-in.
Despite the obstacles of the twentieth century, the tradition of dining-in has not died out. Veterans of old days remember and revive the tradition at every opportunity. They recognize the important role these occasions play in preserving the traditions of Naval service.
Finally, after 5 years in the U.S. Navy, I was invited to a Dining Out. And I was SUPER EXCITED about it! On 2 other occasions, I missed the Dining Out by about a month each time because I was transferring right when they started planning.
This Dining Out would be held on May 29th, just a few days before the Battle of Midway, which is why the theme easily became “Battle of Midway”.
Sitting next to me, a pilot was placed in charge of the festivities (good thing too, cause SWO’s are the worst with fun…). Great news was that he wanted me to help, the bad news was that he wanted me to help.
1700 Cocktail Hour
1745 15-Minute Warning (Dinner Chimes)
1755 Call to Dinner (Officers’ Call)
1800 Arrival of the Head Table
1805 Grace / Welcome remarks / Posting the colors
1810 Presentation of the Grog
1815 Parading of the Beef
TBD Ease Springs
2000 Guest Speaker Remarks (Dessert & Coffee)
2030 Wardroom Skits / Limericks / Ditties / Informal Toasting
2100 Passing of the Port
2115 Formal Toasting
2130 Mess Adjourned & Social Hour
0100 Event closes
1. Members of the mess should arrive within 5 minutes of the opening of cocktail hour, and never after the Guest of Honor.
2. All members of the mess should make every effort to personally greet the President and introduce themselves to the Honored Guest before dinner.
3. Do not over-indulge in alcohol.
4. Do not bring cocktails or smoking materials from cocktail hour to the dinner table.
5. Do not forget to ask for permission to excuse yourself (or your guest) from the Mess if the need presents itself.
6. Remember to keep your glass charged during all toasts, both formal and informal. It is considered poor form and bad luck to toast with water, to refuse to participate in toasts.
7. There should be no toasting during dinner.
8. Toasts and comments shall be kept within the limits of good taste and mutual respect. Women, politics, and religion are not discussed in the wardroom or mess. Degrading or insulting remarks will be frowned upon by the membership.
9. Applause or gaining attention from the mess will be accomplished by rapping a spoon against the table.
10. One will fall into disrepute with their peers if the pleats of their cummerbund are not properly faced.
11. One will also be painfully regarded if the clip-on bow tie rides at an obvious list.
12. Avoid purposefully altering the uniform to present a non-uniform appearance.
13. Tomfoolery, shenanigans, and hijinks are encouraged. Guests without jokes, limericks, and the like will probably be fined.
14. Do not get caught for infractions or you may be fined. Be prepared to answer punishments as given out by the President, whether or not you plan on committing any violations.
15. Spouses and personal guests of members of the mess should not participate in any hijinks unless they too are prepared to graciously accept the punishments given by the President.
16. Witty rebuttals may alleviate or ameliorate your fines; however, they may also exacerbate or exaggerate your punishment. Tread this road cautiously!
17. Do not hesitate to enthusiastically discharge your punishment. A good spirit and good spirits are the best defense against a distasteful task.
18. Do not leave the party until the President and Guests of Honor have departed.
VIOLATIONS OF THE MESS
For any violation of an item listed below you are immediately sent to the grog as punishment. What’s the grog you ask? Well don’t worry, we’re going to talk about that here in just a minute.
1. Untimely arrival at proceedings.
2. Failure to present oneself to the President or imbibing/smoking prior to
presenting oneself to the President.
3. Haggling over date of rank.
4. Loud and obtrusive remarks in a foreign language or in English.
5. Improper toasting procedure.
6. Leaving the dining area without permission from the President. Military
protocol overrides all calls of nature.
7. Carrying cocktails into the dining room.
8. Foul language.
9. Being caught with an uncharged glass.
10. Not rising to speak with the President (or Mr. Vice).
11. Rising to applaud particularly witty, succinct, sarcastic or relevant
toasts, unless following the example of the President.
12. Commencing a course before the President (or the senior woman at the head
13. Placing a bet or wager.
14. Telling an off-color or unrefined story.
15. Discussing issues of a controversial nature.
16. Opening the hangar doors (shop talk).
17. Failure to laugh at any joke rendered by an Honored Guest or the
18. Improper attire.
19. Failure to recognize an inverted cummerbund or wearing a clip-on bowtie
at an obvious list.
20. Behaving in such a manner as to be mistaken for a Marine, Sailor, Soldier
21. Removing articles of clothing from oneself or others.
22. Maintaining too low a profile, regardless of its tactical application.
23. Haggling over penalties assessed.
Breaches of etiquette and violations of the mess may be noted at any time by the President, Vice President, or any member of the mess.
Members bring infractions to the attention of the President by raising a point of order.
Infractions may warrant punishment as dictated by the President. The President may delegate or share this authority, allowing members to become subject to the wrath of the Vice. If the validity of the charge is questioned, members may vote by rapping their spoons on the table.
The President may require members to drink of the grog, entertain the mess with a limerick or jokes, or both. Additionally, he may direct a member of the mess to perform any other task as he sees fit, or any combination thereof.
Members not prepared to answer for their infractions will only earn further punishment. Certain members of the mess may be frequent violators, such as Mr. Vice.
It is also not uncommon for the President to be charged with at least one violation. If the President must leave his position at the head table, he shall appoint another individual to assume his position.
Any trip to the grog bowl shall be carried out as follows:
a. Arrive in front of the grog bowl at the position of attention.
b. Fill a glass with the grog, then about-face to face the mess.
c. Toast the mess, and drink the grog.
d. About-face once more and put the glass back on the table.
f. Promptly return to your seat.
g. Except for the words “To the Mess!” one is not allowed to speak while carrying out this punishment.
HISTORY OF THE GROG
Grog was not invented to cure scurvy. It later became that, but not initially. Grog came about as a result of Admiral Vernon’s concern that the straight-up rum that was initially issued to Royal Navy sailors was too strong and he wanted it watered down.
“In an order issued at Port Royal in 1740, British Royal Navy Admiral Vernon called for rum served to naval crews to be ‘mixed with the proportion of a quart of water to every half pint of rum,’ resulting in a concoction that was one part rum to four parts water. The new concoction needed a name. It was no longer rum, and it no longer had the kick to be called ‘kill-devil’. An ingenious solution presented itself to some anonymous seaman. Admiral Vernon had a fondness for wearing a coat made of a material called ‘grogram’, a woven fabric stiffened and weatherproofed with gum. Vernon’s nickname among sailors was “Old Grogram,” and so his new rum was dubbed “grog”. The name stuck.”
(From “And a Bottle of Rum” by Wayne Curtis)
The story of how rum came to be issued to sailors in the first place is abit related to health at sea but it was mostly a marketing success story.
The by-product of producing cane sugar on the Caribbean plantations was molasses. They had tons of it and couldn’t figure out what to do with it. Someone figured out that it could be distilled and rum was born. The island plantations produced tons more rum that could be consumed locally. A consortium of plantation owners convinced the Royal Navy that rum was a health drink and the royal Navy ordered straight rum to be issued to all hands twice per day. This did not cure scurvy, but it sure made the Sailors happy.
A related fun fact:
George Washington’s estate, Mount Vernon, is named in honor of Admiral Vernon. Washington’s older half-brother, Lawrence Washington, named it Mount Vernon in honor of Vice Admiral Edward Vernon, famed for the War of Jenkin’s Ear and capture of the lightly-defended Portobelo, Colón. Vernon had been Lawrence’s commanding officer in the British Royal Navy, and when George Washington inherited the property he retained the name.
Another related fun fact:
The Royal Navy had strict requirements for the potency of the rum that they purchased. Every batch was tested, which basically required the rum to be ignited. If the liquid caught on fire, it was “proof” that the rum was distilled to the right level. Hence, alcohol % today is measured in “proof”, such as “100 Proof”.
THE GROG OF TODAY
Today when you make grog it’s supposed to be a bunch of liquors and things mixed together so its not the most pleasant concoction. Nobody should love being sent to the grog. With the amount of senior people at this particular Dining Out, we had a pretty tasty grog that everyone was drinking even when they weren’t in trouble!
ADDRESSING THE MESS
1. The member will stand at the position of attention and address the Vice President, “Mr. Vice, (Rank & Name) requests permission to address the Mess.”
2. Mr. Vice will address the President: “Mr. President, (Rank & Name) requests permission to address the Mess.” (Note: Mr. Vice has the unconditional option to deny or forward the request)
3. Should the President grant permission, the member will address the Mess and state the charge.
4. If the nature of the address is to accuse a member of an infraction, the President has the option of allowing accused to respond to the accusation, consider charges only, or dismiss the accused on and fine the accuser. An accused member may request that a “sea lawyer of repute” respond to the accuser in his stead.
5. When addressing the Mess, do not break the position of attention without permission. This requires the individual to request permission to “speak and move about freely.”
6. Members denied permission to address the Mess must wait a minimum of five minutes before again requesting permission.
7. The Head Table is not required to request permission and may address the Mess directly.
2. The President proposes the first and last toasts of the evening.
3. It is neither necessary nor proper to drain the glass at the completion of each toast. A mere touch of the glass to the lips satisfies the ceremonial requirements. Glasses shall always be charged, until the toast, “To the Navy,” upon which the glasses should be entirely drained.
4. The port wine shall always be passed to the left and shall not leave the table until all glasses at the table have been charged.
5. The Arrangements Officer, in preparing the script for the evening shall take into account the Honored Guests who will be present.
6. Formal toasts will be printed in the program to enlighten the guests.
7. Informal toasting may occur any time after the toast to Missing Comrades. Members shall rise and address Mr. Vice to present their desire or reasoning for the toast, and end with the words of the toast.
8. Toasting to places or things is improper. Thus when proposing a toast to a command, one must be careful to speak of the command as an organization of people rather than as a geographical location or facility. When toasting individuals, it is proper to toast the individual’s position, but not to toast them by name.
Well, that idea came from the CHENG on my last ship. He had 100 good ideas, many of which I’ve since replicated and this came about because of him specifically.
One day he told me a story about his Chief’s Initiation Night. I know I know, that’s pretty secretive stuff and we aren’t supposed to know anything about it, but I always love a good story. He told me about how they performed a skit for the chief’s for one of the battles and he narrated the skit while everyone else performed it.
Maybe I could do that with the Battle of Midway?
When I first told Patrick my vision I wasn’t sure exactly what he would think. But he loved the idea and immediately gave me full freedom when it came to creativity, which was a very good thing, because I needed it.
That night I went home and pulled my Midway 1942 by Philip D. Grove Book off the shelf and wrote the first draft. It was pretty easy to see that this would be a much bigger production then a few people running around with squirt guns.
How was I even going to make ships and plane costumes for the performers to wear?
It was pretty obvious I was going to have to hire a creative director, and I found just the right guy. Based on a photo his wife had shown me of the cardboard fire truck he had made as his Halloween costume so his son could be a fire fighter, he was just the person to be creative director for the Battle of Midway Skit.
As soon as I told him my ideas he took it to the next level, and blew my entire vision out of the water. 2 days later he brought in pictures of an aircraft carrier prototype and I was floored. This was going to be so good!
That next weekend, we got together with a couple of friends after requesting some help, and we made all 7 carriers and 8 aircraft.
In the skit we would act out the carrier battle between American and Japanese forces, sinking all 4 Japanese carriers and the USS Yorktown, a badly damaged U.S. Carrier that came to the fight last minute.
With a couple of pictures of the first prototype, and a copy of the skit, I was requested to come to a meeting with Patrick to brief the 3 star admiral for his approval.
GETTING THE SKIT APPROVED
When it was my turn to brief the skit, I immediately went into the details, wasting no time. As I talked I passed around copies of the skit itself and pictures of our initial props. They couldn’t say no. (at least that’s what I was thinking in my head). Matt, the creative director had done an awesome job! But they also didn’t say yes, I would have to wait until they reviewed it and got it approved by the 4 star Admiral.
The next morning when I came into the office, I had a message to call one of the Commanders that works in the 3 star office. They were going to let us perform the skit!
So, back to the Dining out.
Once all the guests had picked up some anti pasti and prosecco, the party really started. As we mingled around the sun started to set and as soon as everyone was asked to take their seats, the food started being passed around.
Dinner went on for quite some time, as it always does in Italy. At the end of dinner, Admiral Ferguson gave a speech on the Battle of Midway and the leaders involved in it.
FOR YOUR VIEWING PLEASURE,
THE MOST ACCURATE ACCOUNT OF THE BATTLE OF MIDWAY EVER SEEN
Afterwards we got everyone together for a quick picture. The skit ended up being a huge success!
The icing on the cake was when Admiral Ferguson came over to say he loved the skit and thank everyone for the participation. I got a coin from the 3 star and a lunch invite from the 1 star. Wow! It was a pretty successful night, lot’s of laughing, so much fun, just a great day to enjoy living in Italy as part of the United States Navy.
This article appeared first on The Cassey Excursion.