CROSSING THE EQUATOR IN WARTIME – A MEMORIAL

By John Sayers

It’s August 1943 and war is raging in the Pacific. You’re aboard a U.S. Army Transport headed into action on the next island that has to be recaptured. So, you’re checking your equipment and your rifle, totally focused on the next battle, right?

Wrong. On August 24, 1943 you’re being dunked by a ceremonial King Neptune as your Transport crosses the Equator, and you cross it for the first time! Anyone who has traveled by ship crossing the Equator will recall the traditional ceremony which is like – but in no way related to – baptism by immersion! What is surprising is that it would take place in the middle of a war.

And this isn’t a makeshift piece of paper. It’s a business-card size piece that is formally printed aboard the SS Noordam, a Holland-America Line ship that had been taken into military service as the United States Army Transport (USAT) Noordam. So Corporal Charles W. Hopkins received this card, signed by the ship’s Captain, and presumably carried it in his wallet for the duration of the war in the Pacific. That’s two more years!

As ephemera, it’s pretty beaten up and tired looking. As a tiny moment in history, over a year before ferocious battles on Tarawa and Iwo Jima, it’s priceless and quite likely unique. Did Cpl. Hopkins fight in any of those battles? Where did he go and what did he do after his induction into the realm of King Neptune? We will never know, but obviously he survived. And here’s why we know…

The website billiongraves.com shows a Cpl. Charles W. Hopkins (1920-2001) in the Missouri Veterans Cemetery in Springfield. If this tiny card was his, it survives as a quiet memorial to Cpl. Hopkins and his service to our country.