Pipe aboard Flag rank officers to a Navy ship
By Stephen Sherman, May, 2001. Updated June 27, 2011.
When Guy Bordelon, "the Navy's first prop ace in Korea," returned to USS Princeton, he was welcomed by the ship's band, banners, marine sideboys, and a personal greeting by the Commanding Officer, Captain O.C. Gregg. Princeton's official action report further noted, "Movies and still pictures were taken."
When I wrote that paragraph, I didn't know what a "Marine sideboy" was, and so indicated with a parenthetical question mark. Pat Corey (USMC, Ret.) was kind enough to enlighten me in the following e-mail. Thanks Pat!
I spent a hitch in the radar shop of a Navy Fighter Squadron during the Cuban Crisis (VF101). Early on I served as a Sideboy during a Change of Command ceremony at NAS Memphis.
Sideboys usually are used to "pipe" aboard officers of Flag rank and above to a Navy ship. The visitor (or new Captain) comes aboard via the gangplank or main ladder. Protocol calls for a boarding military officer to come to attention, turn aft to face the colors at the stern and salute them, then face front to salute the Officer of the Deck and state "Request permission to come aboard, sir." Permission is given and the salute is returned. A Bosun then pipes him aboard and from four to eight "sideboys" line both sides of the passageway where he first steps on to the ship.
They salute as the "pipe" is blown, dropping their hands at the command "Two" from the Bosun after the dignitary has passed. He is then met and led aboard by the officer(s) detailed to escort him to his destination.
In my day, contingents of Marines usually served aboard Capital Ships (always on ships carrying a Flag Officer) and acted in the "Master at Arms" capacity and usually the First Lieutenant (de facto Police Chief) was a Marine Officer. They were assigned the protocol procedures, ran the brig, acted as escorts and "sideboys," enforced the ship's rules and regs and were assigned to the various "Masts" which were like summary courts. A version of this is also used ashore, usually during a Change of Command, and usually at the entrance to the new Skipper's office building. I've also seen it used at the Squadron level in a hanger at the entrance to a podium area set aside for the welcoming speeches to a new Skipper. Look at footage from the early astronaut recoveries where they exited the chopper and were escorted to the main hatch of the Carrier's island and you'll see the "sideboys" lined up with the Bosun at the main hatchway.
I also consulted my Brother-in-law who's a retired Marine chopper pilot. He spent several years ferrying President Reagan around in Marine One and also served time (his words, not mine) at the Pentagon where protocol "matters." Following is his response.
Sideboys continue to be used for ceremonial arrivals and departures, both afloat and aboard ships, with the number dependent upon the rank or position of the honoree. In general, Navy Captains and above (and equivalent ranks from other services) rate Sideboys, although the honor is extended to ship captains of lesser rank. Civilian dignitaries receive similar honors, dependent upon their position (there's an elaborate chart for who rates what - Sideboys, cannon shots, ruffles and flourishes, etc.). Marines have traditionally been included as Sideboys when available, but the tendency today is to include a cross-section of personnel drawn from the duty section. When a Marine detachment is embarked, they more commonly form as a detachment separate from Sideboys for honor ceremonies.
Marines aboard ship have traditionally been employed for security (specifically, special weapons) and gunnery duties, with ship's captains also rating Marine aides/stewards for personal service. They traditionally augmented Master-at-arms details, but the leadership for this function was/is the ship's First Lieutenant. Originally, the Master-at-arms personnel were drawn from the bosun's mate ranks, as deck division personnel tended to be the toughest group aboard ship. They now are drawn from all rates and ratings, including women, and have become a professional police force, with their own training and standards.
Happy New Year,
I hope this gives you a feel for the term "sideboys" and helps you understand the extra esteem accorded to a mere pilot to be piped back aboard by Marine Sideboys.
I'm very glad to supply you with this info, even if it is more than you wanted to know. I appreciate what you've done on the internet to spread the word about Naval and Marine aviation during a period which has been unheralded - namely the Korean War.
So why was Guy Bordelon accorded the honor of being welcomed by Marine sideboys?
He was a US Navy Corsair pilot trained in night warfare, who saw action just at the end of the Korean War. As Communist planes, 'Bedcheck Charlies', were coming in at night to harass the UN bases some night-fighting expertise was needed, and they called in Bordelon, in June 1953.
Shortly, he had shot down four of the nocturnal intruders. The next night, June 30, he was flying CAP north of Inchon, when once again he was vectored onto some unknown targets. He got behind the bogeys, which he identified as Lavochin La-11 fighters. Bordelon's own words, from Eric Hammel's Aces at War, Vol. 4, pick up the story:
The La-11s were in a loose trail formation, so I pulled in right behind the last one and gave a "Tallyho!" on enemy bogeys. I was cleared to fire, and at once opened on my targeted La-11. Two short bursts of cannon fire was all it took. This La-11 began to burn, and it dove straight down into the ground.
The lead fighter started to follow the burning aircraft down, but I closed to point-blank range and immediately opened fire on it. This target turned left, then right, and started to climb as I gave him another burst. With that, he exploded in flames and fell apart. I followed the largest burning mass down to 500 feet and saw it crash near my first kill. "Over so fast?" I thought.
Read more about Guy Bordelon's experiences aboard USS Princeton and his 5 night kills. Bordelon had a number of unique distinctions as a Korean War ace. He was the only US Navy ace in that conflict, only night-fighter ace, and the only prop-aircraft ace (all the others flew jets, F-86 Sabres).
- e-mail from Pat Corey, (USMC, Ret.)
- Korean Combat Action Reports for Carriers - select this item, and then select Princeton. The reports are large .pdf files and take some time to download, but they provide a fascinating picture of these events.
- Aces at War, Vol. 4 by Eric Hammel
- Korean War Aces by Robert F. Dorr et al, an Osprey 'Aircraft of the Aces' series