by Max Lonzanida
Naval History and Heritage Command
October 31, 2018
Uniformed service members boarding the USS Wisconsin (BB-64) for military ceremonies will stop and render a salute just before setting foot on its teak decks. Tom Dandes, the Special Events Coordinator with the Hampton Roads Naval Museum, provides a quick briefing in the museum’s gallery just before going aboard for those taking part in a military ceremony.
One of the things that Dandes points out is if the National Ensign is flying, and a reminder to those in uniform to render proper courtesy with a salute. Thereafter, groups in uniform are led onto the iconic Iowa-Class battleship; and like clockwork, those in uniform halt, execute a facing movement to the left and render a salute to the National Ensign flying aft before proceeding to board.
This is a scene repeated throughout the week as the Museum hosts re-enlistments, retirements, and promotions aboard the USS Wisconsin.
While photographing a promotion ceremony for Ensign Alfred Canoy with the Naval Medical Center Portsmouth; something peculiar caught the attention of visitors. Ensign Canoy proceeded to board the ship after rendering a salute; and cradled like a football in his arm was a wooden bull. The bull was finished in a dark stain, and was ornately decorated. When asked about the bull, Ensign Canoy replied simply that it was a naval tradition of the most Senior Ensign to carry the bull; and hence the term Bull Ensign.
According to the Naval History and Heritage Command, a Bull Ensign is, in-fact, the most Senior Ensign in a Naval Command. The US Navy adopted the rank of Ensign in 1862, and steeped in tradition, it was thought that the practice of being a Bull Ensign was enacted shortly thereafter.
Bull Ensigns are responsible for planning wardroom activities, teaching and mentoring less senior Ensigns, planning social events, and assisting other Ensigns in getting their qualifications. Opposite of a Bull Ensign is a George, the lowest ranking Ensign in the wardroom; who is referred to not by the name but the acronym JORG (Junior Officer Requiring Guidance).
The Bull itself, as carried aboard by Ensign Canoy, served as a focal point of expression and pride.
The ornately decorated Bull was carried gingerly during the promotion ceremony in front of the iconic turret #1. Afterwards, newly minted Lt.j.g Canoy carried it while shaking hands with members of his command and it was held high during group pictures afterwards.
It even accompanied the group to lunch afterwards. We were told afterwards that the command’s Bull was eventually passed on the day afterwards to another Ensign in the command.
About Hampton Roads Naval Museum
The Hampton Roads Naval Museum is one of ten Navy museums that are operated by the Naval History & Heritage Command. It celebrates the long history of the U.S. Navy in the Hampton Roads region of Virginia and is co-located with Nauticus in downtown Norfolk, Virginia. Admission to the museum is free, simply by-pass the ticket line downstairs and take the elevator or stairs to the museum on the second deck. The museum is also proud to host military ceremonies, such as re-enlistments, retirements, and promotions for area commands free of charge aboard the U.S.S Wisconsin and in the museum’s gallery.