While planning this shindig, I did some research into what this tradition was all about :-) I found similar, though different info, depending on whether the "wetdown" was for an officer or enlisted person.
Wetting Down- Many officers choose to celebrate promotions with a promotion party or "wetting down." This custom began when a newly promoted officer had his new insignia placed in a glass of "spirits" to "wet it down." He was then given the order to drink every drop until it was dry. Today, promotion parties are held in homes or the Officers' Club - individually or in groups - formally or informally; but, they all include friends joining together to celebrate a proud moment in an officer's career.
A "wetting down" is a promotion party that is normally held at someone's home or at the club. It is usually an informal function, and may be held by one Marine or by a number of Marines who have been promoted. The Marines may include their wives or dates for this celebration.
Sometimes among the enlisted ranks, the senior Marine in attendance will "wet down" the newly promoted Marine with a liquid of his choice.
This is a party an individual gives when a promotion is received. The original idea was to pour a drink over the new stripe, thus wetting it down. This was supposed to make it blend with the older and presumably more tarnished stripes. Naturally, there was no point in pouring a drink over the stripe without having one himself. Since it was also a celebration, he would, of course, offer his fellow shipmates a drink. That's how it all started. Today, the newly promoted individual almost always orders a completely new set of stripes for the uniform. Tarnished braid, once considered the proud salty hallmark of a sea-going man, is now considered shabby. Traditionally, the party was held on the first payday after promotion or at the first liberty port. The invited guests consisted solely of one's fellow shipmates. In the modern Navy the party may be held somewhat later, although timeliness is still considered important. The guest list frequently includes wives, husbands, dates and other friends. The party can be held at someone's home, the club, or anywhere the individual(s) wish to hold it. Often several people celebrating new promotions join together to give one big party.
My theory on this difference is that metal rank insignia are a comparatively new circumstance for the enlisted ranks. While it is easy and reasonable to drop a metal rank insignia to the bottom of a glass, it would be quite awkward to stuff a fabric rank insignia in there... and you'd get fabric-fuzzies in your beer!!! As the person who signed for the building, though, I'm glad we were promoting officers... I wouldn't want to have to clean the floor after the enlisted version :-)
On another note, this page from China Lake references another possible origin, which I've never heard elsewhere!
Paul and Marc were both promoted on Dec. 15th, 1998. Paul's promotion to CWO4 took place in the Crow's Nest, HQ "White House" Building, MCAS Iwakuni, Japan. He was promoted by Col. Dunn; his kids (John and Ashley) got to pin on the new rank, and as his wife, I had the honor and privilege of "punching it in"! :-)
|Left: Marc & Paul working hard to BBQ the food for the masses! They also had lots of help, though this photo doesn't show that.
Right: Thanks to the work of several people, there was a ton of good food to be enjoyed.
|We had quite a crowd there, for most of the party, including Mr. and Mrs. George Vorhauer! We were very happy to see this retired EOD Marine, out and about after his recent cancer surgery :-)|
|There's a pool table at the Slipway Club, where the party was held; it kept the kids occupied for hours.|
|Before the kids left the party at 6 pm, the guys cut their cake, so everyone could have a piece. Boy, was that cake good! It was polished off, by the end of the night, too!|
I'm going to try to get some photos from a video that was taken, showing the toasting portion of the evening...
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