Why the Only Triple-Landlocked State Has Its Own Navy

If you are the boss, be careful who you leave in charge when you leave town. You might come home to find some big changes have taken place in your absence.

That’s what happened in 1931 when Nebraska Governor Charles Bryan took a little vacation. He was out of the state for a few weeks, leaving Lieutenant Governor Theodore W. Metcalf as Acting Governor.

Apparently, there wasn’t a lot to do, and Metcalf got a little bored. To spice things up a bit, he created the Great Navy of the State of Nebraska and appointed a couple of dozen “prominent Nebraskans” as Admirals.

A few oddities might jump out at you about this tale. In the first place, creating a navy isn’t something you would expect a fellow to do when he is just keeping the governor’s seat warm for a couple of weeks. Secondly, 20-25 Admirals seems a wee bit excessive for a brand-new navy that doesn’t have any sailors, let alone any ships.

Oh yeah… There’s also the trifling fact that Nebraska is nowhere near any oceans. It is landlocked. More than that, it is surrounded by states that are landlocked. If that weren’t enough, all of the surrounding landlocked states are, themselves, separated from an ocean by at least one state or Canadian province. Nebraska is, in fact, the only triple-landlocked state in the USA.

Nebraska (in red), surrounded by the ten double-landlocked states (in yellow)

When Gov. Metcalf returned from his vacation and learned what had happened, he does not appear to have been very upset. After all, he now found himself as commander-in-chief of a navy that wasn’t there when his vacation started. Despite its distressing lack of salt water, ships, or sailors, the Great Navy of the State of Nebraska remains and has flourished. Thanks to Gov. Metcalf’s successors, the navy has had as many as 100,000 Admirals appointed to its ranks in the past 92 years.

There were also an unknown number of women appointed as “Yeomanettes” in 1934. A few letters of appointment have surfaced, but there is no other information on record about them. It appears to have been a brief attempt to give some recognition to women, or it may have been an honorary title for the Admirals’ spouses.

The Great Navy of the State of Nebraska has become an institution that allows for special recognition of citizens of significance. It is no longer a requirement that appointees be “prominent,” but they must be residents of Nebraska who have performed some meaningful act or service to the state or community.

Appointment certificate of President Gerald Ford

Although being appointed as an Admiral earns the recipient a fancy title, it carries no military command authority, salary, pension, or other benefits. It does, however, come with a snazzy certificate of appointment that is suitable for framing. It contains a dictate from the governor that reads, “And I do strictly charge and require all officers, seamen, tadpoles, and goldfish under your command to be obedient to your orders as Admiral — and you are to observe and follow, from time to time, such directions as you shall receive, according to the rules and discipline of the Great Navy of the State of Nebraska.”

If you know a Nebraskan who you think has earned his or her sea legs and deserves commendation (even if he or she is already a member of the militia without knowing it), a nomination form is available on the Nebraska gubernatorial website. It specifies that “Admirals in the Great Navy of the State of Nebraska are individuals who have contributed in some way to the state, promote the Good Life in Nebraska, and warrant recognition as determined by the Governor.” It also states that you may not nominate yourself.

According to the Nebraska Admirals Association’s web page, some of its most esteemed members include Bill Murray, Bing Crosby, and Bill Gates. It even includes Gerald R. Ford (who was born in Nebraska), who must have considered it quite the demotion to go from being Commander-in-Chief of the armed forces of the United States to an Admiral without a single ship. Even so, it’s the thought that counts.

The record-keeping for the Great Navy of the State of Nebraska is about as scarce as its inventory of aircraft carriers, but it appears that 28-year-old Cody Uhing is the youngest Nebraskan to hold this admiralty.

Even more lacking than record-keeping, apparently, is the vetting process. Among the ranks of distinguished Nebraskans who have been promoted to Admiral is former Gambian dictator Yahya Jammeh.

Whoops. Whoever vetted that one should be classified “man overboard.”

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