Decommissioning Ceremony
Decommissioning United States Ship SHENANDOAH (AD 44)
15 August 1983 — 13 September 1996


The ceremony that decommissions a ship of the United States Navy is not prescribed by Naval Regulations. It is a time-honored tradition that signifies the ship’s retirement from the active fleet. Custom has established that this ceremony be formal and impressive; a solemn occasion on which we pause to reflect upon the rich heritage of this ship and the United States Navy.

The symbols used in today’s ceremony have their origins in antiquity. During the Middle Ages, the mark of knights and other nobles was a “coach whip pennant” called a pennon. The size of these pennons, as well as their diverse splendor, signified the relative rank and importance of the noble it heralded. During the infancy of modern naval seapower, these nobles rarely embarked upon seagoing vessels, but when they did, they flew their pennons from the most visible place on the ship, usually the forecastle or atop the main mast.

Perhaps the first recorded use of the commissioning pennant, independent of feudal heraldry, dates to a 17th century battle between the Dutch and the English. Dutch Admiral Martin Haperton Tromp hoisted a broom at his mast head to indicate his intention to “sweep the English Navy from the sea.” The gesture was soon answered by British Admiral William Blake, who hoisted a horse whip to indicate his intention to chastise the Dutch. The British carried out their boast and ever since a narrow coach whip pennant, symbolizing the original horsewhip, has been the distinctive mark of a vessel of war and has been adopted by all nations.

The commissioning pennant, as it is called today, is blue at the hoist, with a union of seven white stars; it is red and white at the fly, in two horizontal stripes. The pennant is flown at the main by vessels not embarking flag officers. In lieu of a commissioning pennant, a vessel with a high ranking officer or official embarked flies his own personal flag or command pennant.

At the close of today’s ceremony, the Commanding Officer will order the Officer of the Deck to “Haul down the pennants, the Jack and the Ensign.” These historic words, and when the commissioning pennant is finally lowered and handed over to the Commanding Officer, signal the official retirement of the ship.

Today’s decommissioning ceremony is a solemn occasion on which we honor the men and women who have given their time, their energy, their talents and for some, their very lives to fulfill and surpass the hopes and dreams of those who stood at the commissioning ceremony in San Diego, California, on 15 August 1983; who have been “entrusted with the challenge to make SHENANDOAH the best ship possible”, and have risen above and beyond to meet all expectations.

Source: USS Shenandoah (AD 44), Decommissioning Book

Sunset over Shenandoah

“It is not the critic who counts, not the one who points out how the doer of deeds might have done them better.

The Credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred with sweat and dust and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs and comes short again and again; who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotion, and spends himself in a worthy cause; who if he wins, knows the triumph of high achievement; and who, if he fails, at least fails while daring great, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory nor defeat.”

—Theodore Roosevelt

Decommissioning Ceremony ~ Special Guest: SHENANDOAH’s 1st C.O., Tom McNicholas, Jr.