Shipwreck - The Only GI Joe

    I want to talk to you a bit about the character Shipwreck from the cartoon GI Joe.  The reason I want to talk about it is because most people take him as a joke.  This is partially due to the fact that that's the way they portrayed him.  But let me tell you, he is no joke.  He is one of the few characters on GI Joe that was fairly well representative of the character type he portrayed.

    Even before I served in the Navy, Shipwreck was my favorite character.  He embodied everything I ever knew about the Navy. I had lots of Navy role models in my family, and many of the characteristics displayed by Shipwreck could be seen in my family.  However let me start off with getting you acquainted with his statistics.  These come directly from the GI Joe File Card (Backed up by the Marvel Comics GI Joe Order of Battle Volume I).

    Now, for those of you that don't understand all of this, lets break it down.  His Grade, or rank is CPO, for those who don't know what this means, that is a Chief Petty Officer or just "Chief".  Unlike the other members of the GI Joe team, they didn't actually give his pay grade.  A Chief is an E-7, which equates to a Marine Gunnery Sergeant, an Army Sergeant First Class or an Air Force Master Sergeant.  This individual is senior enlisted (but we'll get into that more later).  His Primary Military Specialty (or Rating) is Gunners Mate, now in the navy there are two types of Gunners Mates; GMG and GMM.  A GMG is a Gunners Mate (Guns), an individual who specializes in small and large caliber projectile firing weapons.  A GMM is a Gunners Mate (Missiles), an individual who specializes in various missile systems.  However since he is a Chief, his rating is simply GMC (Chief Gunners Mate).  His Secondary Military Specialty (Rating) is Machinist.  In the Navy he would be an MM (Machinist Mate), however, individuals in the navy are not authorized to have two ratings.  Granted, it is only just a cartoon, but to theorize on this, he may have started his career as a Machinist Mate then changed ratings (a common practice in today's navy), but based on his character biography that mentions the Mekong Delta and river operations there may be another explanation for this as well.  You see, Sailors who served in Vietnam in riverine operations were cross-trained to perform the jobs of other ratings, this was especially true of personnel assigned to PBR and Swift Boat crews.  They would be able to fix the engines as well as pilot the boat and service the weapons.  Considering that his card had him going to Gunnery school, it is safe to assume that he is indeed a Gunners Mate.

    Now that we have established that he is a Chief Gunners Mate (GMC), lets get a little deeper into the documented life of Shipwreck.

   If he grew up in the shadows of the San Diego Navy Yards, the odds are good that his father was a sailor, but that is speculation.  What is important is to try and nail down his age.  The mere fact that it states that he served in the Mekong Delta means he is dated as Vietnam era.  The earliest possible age, with parental consent back in those days was 16, so lets go with that.  U.S. involvement in Vietnam technically started in 1965 and ended in 1975.  Using those dates, as a base, Hector X. Delgado (Shipwreck) was born between 1949 and 1959.  So when the series was airing, in 1985, he had to be between 26 and 36 years old.

    These figures fit the math because in the Navy, there is something called high year tenure.  Essentially, if you haven't been promoted to the next higher rank by a specific time, you must retire from the service.  The high year tenure, at the time of the series, for Chief's was 22 years.  At his oldest, Shipwreck was 2 years away from retirement.  So the Vietnam issue and the other reported engagements (i.e. Carrier ops in the middle East) are technically accurate.  All Navy sailors stationed on the east coast "put time" in Gitmo (Guantanamo Bay, Cuba), and if you're stationed in Japan, you're in Yokosuka (I've done both myself).

    Another minor thing that may seem bothersome is that as a Chief, he was wearing the wrong uniform.  The blue, bell-bottomed uniformed is referred to as the Dungaree uniform . . . a working uniform.  Chiefs wear Khaki's.  However this wasn't the case before the Vietnam war.  During those time, they wore dungarees but wore a Khaki combination cover (hat).  The White Hat (dixie cup, squid lid) is only for enlisted sailors E-6 and below.  I'll let this one slip.  The three striped under and one rocker over the "crow" is the distinct insignia of a Chief Petty Officer.

    Now that that is out of the way, let me get to my defense of the man.  Let's start with the fact that he got very little respect.  This is one of the things that really bothers me, so I am going to bottom line it.  Shipwreck was a Chief, regardless of how much of a clown they portrayed him as.  A Chief is a senior enlisted manager.  In the Navy, Chief's are respected more than most officers (though they don't get saluted).  Now based purely on the character data, Shipwreck was way senior in rank (i.e. E-7 or above) to most of the Joe team.  Here's how the chain of command breaks out.

Position (Theoretical)
Brigadier General
Commanding Officer
Air Force
Air Officer in Charge
Medical Officer *1
Coast Guard
Lieutenant Junior Grade
First Lieutenant
Executive Officer
O-2 *3
Air Force
First Lieutenant
Air Department Head
Second Lieutenant
Armor Department Head
Warrant Officer 4
Navy Division Officer
Wild Bill
Warrant Officer 4
Air Division Officer
Flint *4
Warrant Officer 2
Ground Division Officer
Lift Ticket
Warrant Officer 2
Air Officer
First Sergeant
Command NCOIC *5
Gung Ho
Marine Corps
Gunnery Sergeant
Marine Corps
Gunnery Sergeant
Sgt. Slaughter
Marine Corps
Gunnery Sergeant
Chief Petty Officer
Note 1: Officers in the Medical Corps (Doc) are not allowed to command forces outside of the Medical Corps, therefore an officer junior in rank to Doc would actually take command.
Note 2: The Coast Guard is part of the Department of Transportation and therefore not a branch of the Armed Forces except in time of war where they then fall under the jurisdiction of the Navy.  Cutter could not command Department of Defense forces except in time of war.
Note 3: In the GI Joe Order of Battle they have him as an O-5 (which is a Lieutenant Colonel in the Air Force), but titled as a First Lieutenant, but his Figure card has him as an O-2 1st Lt., so that is what I rank him as. 
Note 4: All material places Flint as and E-6, but label him as a Warrant Officer.  I place him as a W-2, which is the most junior Warrant Officer.
Note 5: Non-Comissioned Officer in Charge, the Senior Enlisted Advisor.

    The remainder of the GI Joe team is junior to all of the members listed above and therefore must take orders from them.  Of course there never seemed to be any real respect for rank within the teams because I have lost count of the number of times that officers like Wild Bill or Ace ended up taking orders from Duke, a Seargent.  But in the enlisted ranks, respect is paramount so because of the lack of respect given to Shipwreck, most of the team was repeatedly in direct violation of the Uniform Code of Military Justice (the laws that govern members of the military).  Specifically:

    Article 91 - Insubordinate Conduct Toward Warrant Officer, Noncommissioned Officer or Petty Officer
    Article 92 - Failure To Obey Order or Regulation
    Article 94 - Mutiny or Sedition

    Of course Shipwreck himself has been guilty of:
    Article 86, 87, 88, 89, 90, 91, 92, 93, 94, 95, 107, 115, 116, 117 for sure and probably most of the others.

    A real sailor.

    So what are his endearing traits?  Other than his natural resentment of authority, he embodies sailors (at least in my mind).  He likes to party and drink, even if it is YoJo Cola.  He likes the ladies.  Several episodes specifically involve his chasing of the skirt.  In the episode The Germ Shipwreck in the one who comes up with the solution for beating the blob.  At the same time he is hitting on Cover Girl . . . now there is a sailor.  He's confident in his male sexuality, so he has no problem putting on a dress if it helps defeat Cobra like in Pyramid of Darkness.  But he is also a team player.  He loves a good fight and is willing to pull his share of the load if need be, but prefers to be the consummate Chief and supervise those junior to him.

    He has a smart mouth and loves to tell sea stories.  In Once Upon A Joe, he tells a great story to a bunch of orphans with the main character being named Ship Shape.  The thing is, he also has a soft side and a true love of the Navy and of being on a ship.  In the episode Sink The Montana he laments the loss of the Battleship by saying that "she (the ship) had the lines of a lady and the punch of a dockhand".  He is a man who wants love (real love vice liberty in the Philippines love).  In Memories of Mara, he falls in love with a woman who turns out to be a mermaid.  Later she returns in a two part episode called No Place Like Springfield where she is his wife and he has a kid.  It was too bad it was all a plot by Cobra and he is really heartbroken.  He is close to his family and when they are threatened, like in Captives of Cobra where his nephew is kidnapped, he gets serious and takes care of business.

    Of course, even when he is totally playing the clown, he still shows the saltiness that is the sailor.  Perfect example is in the Most Dangerous Thing In The World.  He is promoted to Colonel, and that isn't even a Navy rank.  He shows clearly that he isn't cut out to be an officer, but works just fine as a Chief.  It must also be said that his expertise in things nautical. Unlike the other Joe's who seem to be able to do anything, anywhere, Shipwreck knows his limits.  That isn't to say that he won't volunteer, like in The Wrong Stuff where he becomes an astronaut.

    Of course not everything is great about Shipwreck, but much of that is due to the scripts.  First and foremost is that damn parrot Polly.  I totally hated that parrot.  It was annoying, and useless.  A sailor would not encourage any bird, no less a parrot to perch on or about his uniform.  Any sailor will tell you how much of a pain in the ass it is to get stains out of a set of Service Dress Whites or a canvas white hat.

    I hate Polly!  Polly must die!

    But don't just take my word for it.  Buzz Dixon, who was a writer for the show says that Shipwreck was his favorite character was Shipwreck. He says he that always looked for excuses to bring him in.  Steve Gerber stated "write him like Popeye, play him like Jack Nicholson.1"

    Here is some Shipwreck information related to the cartoon.

Episodes Shipwreck Has Appeared In (Alphabetically)
Arise, Serpentor, Arise
Bazooka Saw A Sea Serpent
Captives of Cobra
Cobra Claws Are Coming...
Cold Slither
Computer Complications
Eu Du Cobra
Eye For An Eye
Flint's Vacation
The Germ
GI Joe: The Movie
GI Joe 2: Revenge of Cobra
Glamour Girls
The Greenhouse Effect
Lasers In The Night
Last Hour To Doomsday
Lights! Camera! Cobra!
Memories of Mara
Million Dollar Medic
Most Dangerous Thing In The World
Once Upon A Joe
The Pit of Vipers 
Pyramid of Darkness
Sink The Montana
Sins Of Our Father
Spell of The Siren
The Synthoid Conspiracy
There's No Place Like...
The Traitor
Twenty Questions
Where The Reptiles Roam
The Wrong Stuff

    Cartoons in the 80's all tried to make some lame attempt to validate itself as educational and GI Joe was no exception.  This bit was known as the "Knowing Is Half The Battle" segment.  A member of the Joe team would interact with kids doing something stupid or dangerous and teach them a lesson.  At the end, the kid would Say "Now I know," and the Joe team member would say "And knowing is half the battle."  Shipwreck had one, and it goes like this.

    The message was the importance on not stealing peoples stuff.

Click On The Pic
     The voice of Shipwreck was done by a guy named Neil Ross.  He did several other voices on GI Joe as well as some other cartoons like Transformers, Voltron and M.A.S.K.  He also does some voice overs for TV.  He does the voices of Eldoth, Scar and the Ogrillon monsters in the game Baldur's Gate.  His characters tend to sound like Jack Nicholson, and the sound clip seems to prove that considering that the quote comes from the movie The Last Detail.  His voice is one of my favorite voices to hear in cartoons.  The fact that he does the voice of Shipwreck also adds to the character of Shipwreck.  Neil's characterization adds to the swagger and bluster of the character.

    Now on the other hand, Shipwreck gets better representation in the GI Joe comic books, but then there wasn't as much having to pander to blatant comedy there than on the TV.  The ironic thing is that Shipwreck was one of the first characters to be reinstated in the new GI joe comic book series.  Perhaps someone else saw that this was an outstanding character.

    So there you have it, my defense of Shipwreck.  Now I have yet to find any sites dedicated to just Shipwreck, the best general GI Joe cartoon web site I have found is The Ultimate GI Joe Cartoon Website.  It was a great resource in my work.

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1. Information gathered from The Ultimate GI Joe Cartoon Website