Pandemic forces scaling back of traditional Navy Birthday celebration

With COVID-19 sharply curtailing the ability to conduct large-scale public events, the traditional formal Navy Ball, held annually to commemorate the Navy’s Birthday, has been replaced this year by a simpler, more intimate cake cutting ceremony.

Taking place 11:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Oct. 13 outside at the Parade Field onboard NAS Patuxent River, the gathering will feature retired Capt. Glen Ives, a former commanding officer of Pax River from 2006 to 2008, as Guest of Honor and speaker.

“This year’s event will focus on the ‘Victory at Sea’ and the 75th anniversary of World War II,” said Logistics Specialist 1st Class Jason Detore, leading petty officer of the Navy Birthday planning committee. “Sailors will also be presenting speeches about some of the [Navy] battles that led to U.S. victory, and the base Skipper is going to cut the cake at the end. Anyone with base access is invited to attend. Face masks are required and we will be observing physical distancing guidelines.”

According to Naval History and Heritage Command, an Oct. 13, 1775 resolution of the Continental Congress established what is now the United States Navy with “a swift sailing vessel, to carry ten carriage guns, and a proportionable number of swivels, with eighty men, be fitted, with all possible despatch, for a cruise of three months…” After the American War of Independence, the U.S. Constitution empowered the new Congress “to provide and maintain a navy.” Acting on this authority, Congress established the Department of the Navy on April 30, 1798.

In 1972, Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Elmo R. Zumwalt authorized official recognition of Oct. 13 as the birthday of the U.S. Navy. Since then, each CNO has encouraged a Navywide celebration of this occasion “to enhance a greater appreciation of our Navy heritage, and to provide a positive influence toward pride and professionalism in the naval service.”

“The Navy Birthday planning committee was formed back in April,” Detore said. “We started planning the Navy Ball — programs, tickets, fundraising — knowing there’d be challenges, but as the weeks turned into months, we learned it wasn’t going to take place. Next, we transitioned to planning a picnic with games, but it was decided we couldn’t mitigate that, so we had to scale it back again.

The Navy Ball is a big deal, and to not have it is a big deal, but we still wanted to put on a display of respect for our Navy. Kudos to our Sailors for all the hard work they put in during this process.”