USS Bataan Raises Church Pennant for Burial at Sea

The USS Bataan recently conducted a burial at sea for former US Navy Sailors, some veterans from World War II.

“Raise the church pennant and lower the colors to half mast,” was spoken in a solemn and firm tone over the ship’s general announcing system. The ensign was lowered and the burial detail prepared to send their shipmates to the deep…

“Being buried at sea is meaningful,” said Bataan Chaplain Cmdr. Steven Souders. “It has tradition. So as Sailors begin to see these traditions, it begins to build that legacy in them.”

The families…will receive a ceremonial folded flag, and the shell casings from the rounds fired during the 21-gun salute. A letter from the captain, a chart listing the latitude and longitude of where the cremains were committed, and still photos of the ceremony will also be provided.

The use of a “church pennant” may be unfamiliar to most.  Under US law (4 USC 1) the Naval church pennant is the only flag or pennant which may be flown higher than the US flag:

No other flag or pennant should be placed above…the flag of the United States of America, except during church services conducted by naval chaplains at sea, when the church pennant may be flown above the flag during church services for the personnel of the Navy.

In this archival photo from the 1940s, the church pennant flies above the National Ensign (US flag) on the USS Trippe while in the Panama Canal Zone. (US Navy photo)

Until 1975, the only church pennant contained the Christian cross, as noted in US Naval publication NTP 13(B) (also here), Chapter 17.  In 1975 a Jewish pennant was added:

In one historical recounting, the pennant dates back centuries and indicated to opposing sides that a religious service was underway — meaning a ‘ceasefire’ was in effect.  In the US Navy, it appears to simply indicate that services are being conducted.