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4 American Honorary Titles

I've spent half a century writing for radio and print (mostly print). I hope to still be tapping the keys as I take my last breath.

No. They don't do this anymore in America, but they have other trophies on offer.

No. They don't do this anymore in America, but they have other trophies on offer.

Admirals of Nebraska

The Midwestern state is not only landlocked; it’s triply landlocked. The states that border Nebraska are landlocked, as are the states that border them. So obviously, Nebraska needed admirals to command its nonexistent navy.

The title is in the gift of the Governor and is awarded to people who have made a significant contribution to society. Admiral is the only rank available in Nebraska’s Navy; recipients don’t have to work their way up from powder monkey. Those receiving the honour must have “contributed in some way to the state, promote the Good Life in Nebraska, and warrant recognition as determined by the Governor.”

However, it’s not clear how Queen Elizabeth II and Mickey Mouse qualified. There are no duties attached to the title, nor is there any remuneration. But recipients do get a nifty scroll.

Nebraska Admiral award to former Israeli Prime Minister Levi Eshkol.

Nebraska Admiral award to former Israeli Prime Minister Levi Eshkol.

The honorific came about in 1931 when a mischievous lieutenant governor created the office. Democratic Governor Charles Bryan went on holiday, leaving Republican Lieutenant Governor Theodore Metcalfe in charge. But Metcalfe was peeved that his boss had left him very little to do, so he created the Great Navy of the State of Nebraska.

Since then, Nebraska admirals have sprouted like cornfields in the spring. They have been chosen for glory from many spheres of endeavor and include such luminaries as George W. Bush, Bob Hope, and Big Bird.

Keeping records seems to be a challenge for the Nebraska Navy, but estimates of the number of honorees range as high as 100,000. The real U.S. Navy, with all its nuclear-powered aircraft carriers, submarines, and other warships, gets by with just 225 admirals.

Colonels in Kentucky

The world's most famous non-colonel colonel is Harland Sanders of the Kentucky Fried Chicken franchise. The award goes back to the early 19th century when holders of the title actually had military roles, but over the years, it became simply ceremonial. It wasn't until the 1930s that a society formed among the state's honorary colonels. Its main purpose was to perform charitable works.

Sanders got his elevation to the honorary rank in 1935 courtesy of Governor Ruby Laffoon, long before his KFC business became a worldwide phenomenon. Gov. Laffoon quickly seized the public relations potential of creating colonels, so he drew W.C. Fields, Mae West, Fred Astaire, and Bing Crosby into the society.

Only about a third of Kentucky's Colonels are actually Kentuckians.

When the Ohio River Great Flood of 1937 devastated the state, the star power of the Kentucky Colonels helped raise a lot of money for relief efforts. The Kentucky Colonels have been behind fundraising efforts to support medical education and a cancer treatment centre, among many other ventures.

But the bestowing of the award is not without controversy. Governor Steve Beshear (in office from 2007 to 2015) got a bit carried away by issuing 16,500 colonel commissions each year, which rather debased the currency of the accolade.

Also, didn't the powers-that-be rather slip up a bit when they made Sarah Palin a Kentucky Colonel?

These guys just voted to bust Col. Sanders down to private.

These guys just voted to bust Col. Sanders down to private.

The Order of the Long Leaf Pine

North Carolina has a toast that is raised on appropriate occasions:

“Here’s to the land of the long leaf pine,
The summer land where the sun doth shine,
Where the weak grow strong and the strong grow great,
Here’s to ‘down home,’ the Old North State!”

Recipients of The Order of the Long Leaf Pine get a certificate (of course) and the highly coveted right to propose the North Carolina toast at any time.

Qualification for the award follows the usual pattern of going to people “who have made significant contributions to the state and their communities through their exemplary service and exceptional accomplishments.” It’s usually handed out when the recipient retires.

Notable inductees reflect the association of North Carolina with NASCAR, with drivers Dale Earnhardt, Jeff Gordon, Benny Parsons, and Richard Petty among recipients. NASCAR team owners Richard Childress and Rick Hendrick also have the Order of the Long Leaf Pine.

Indiana Sagamore of the Wabash

In Algonquian, a sagamore is a person of great wisdom who can be called upon to advise a chief.

In 1946, Indiana Governor Ralph Gates was heading to a conference of governors when he was told that Kentucky intended to make him a colonel. Feeling he had to respond in kind, Gates made Kentucky Governor Simeon S. Willis a Sagamore of the Wabash, a title that had not existed before. This was deemed to be a neat idea, and it has remained the gift of the Indiana Governor ever since.

In the 1940s and '50s, Governor Henry Schricker turned the awarding ceremony into a politically incorrect festival by plonking an Indian war headdress onto recipients. He then gave forth with oratory while On the Banks of the Wabash was played on an accordion in the background. Sounds awesome.

The Indy Star tells us that "There are thousands who have received the honorarium, including astronauts, musicians, actors, and politicians." However, a cynic might suggest that the words "person of great wisdom" and "politician" do not belong in the same sentence.

This award was given to inventor Daniel Mark Cundiff. Another recipient is TV host David Letterman.

This award was given to inventor Daniel Mark Cundiff. Another recipient is TV host David Letterman.

Bonus Factoids

  • Americans no longer have aristocratic titles attached to them, but the British monarch does bestow honorary knighthoods on some U.S. citizens. Among recipients have been Presidents Dwight D. Eisenhower, Ronald Reagan, and George H.W. Bush. If Donald Trump is waiting for a call from Buckingham Palace, he should be advised it will be a long wait.
  • Governor John H. Chafee inaugurated Commodore of the State of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations in 1968. Its goal was “to assist and stimulate economic enterprise within Rhode Island by direct action through education, economic promotion, and hospitality.” However, it seems to have become defunct. Maybe, Rhode Island is now deemed to be sufficiently developed.
  • Kentucky does not have an exclusive lock on the colonel-awarding trade. Suitable citizens can also receive the title in Georgia, New Mexico, and Tennessee. Texas hands out admiral commissions in addition to Nebraska.
  • Surely, the most ridiculous honorary award ever handed out was when North Korea’s thuggish dictator Kim Jong-il named himself the “Eternal Bosom of Hot Love.”


This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2021 Rupert Taylor