Why does the cook shine the bell on United States Navy ships?

On United States Navy ships, a tradition that may seem odd to the uninitiated is the act of shining the bell. This task is generally assigned to the ship’s cook and is an important part of the ship’s historical protocol. While it may appear to be a mundane activity, it holds a vital significance in our nation’s armed forces.

The ship’s bell is an essential element of naval traditions. Each vessel is issued a bell when it is commissioned, the sound from which is used to mark the passage of time. The bell is rung every half hour to signal the time of day, providing the crew with a constant reminder of their responsibilities and duties, and in case of emergencies, the bell may be used as a signal to warn and alert the crew.

In earlier days, during naval battles when guns were fired, the crew would not be able to hear the bell, so the captain would order a man with a drum or a whistle to beat time to ensure everyone on board stayed on schedule. The tradition of keeping the bell polished and shiny began to ensure that it was always visible to the crew and the other ships. It was also to ensure that its sound was clear and could be heard loud and clear.

The job of keeping the bell clean was initially assigned to a junior sailor or an ordinary seaman. It was during World War II that the task of polishing the bell was passed on to the ship’s cook. With the cooks being in charge of the galley, the heart of the ship, where all the meals were cooked and served, they were the ones responsible for keeping the bell in immaculate condition.

Polishing the bell had not only functional significance, but it also served as a reminder of the ship’s history and tradition. The cook would take time to recount naval stories and ship’s legends, creating a camaraderie that was shared amongst the crew. Shining the bell acted as an initiation ceremony for the new members of the crew, helping to instill pride, honor and loyalty embedded in the naval culture.

In essence, the polishing of the bell has become a symbolic act. It celebrates the ship’s history and the sailors who sailed on her. It’s a sign of respect and pride for both the ship and the American flag she flies. Although it may seem like a trivial task, it’s as important as any other task that each member of the crew has been given on board of our naval vessels.

The tradition of polishing the bell is a time-honored practice that has stood the test of time. It’s an essential part of the United States Navy’s culture, showcasing the values of respect, duty, and honor. Today, modern ships may have bells that are electronically controlled, but the value attached to this tradition remains unchanged.

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