Most people who visit the Navy Memorial in Washington, D.C., see a tribute to the nation’s seagoing service, but one man sees something very different: “Vomiting is present.”
Robert Royer told the Wall Street Journal that the signal flags flying at the memorial could be sending a message of men overboard, illnesses and icebergs.
The signal flags at the memorial, when read as letters, spell out “U-S-N-A-V-Y-M-E-M-O-R-I-A-L.” But Royer says if the flags were flown at sea, they would be read as codes, not letters.
A spokeswoman for the memorial points out in the article that the plaza and flags are meant to be symbolic, and the message will never be read at sea. There is also more than one way to translate the codes. For example, one flagpole at the memorial has the flags for M-E-M-O. It could be translated as “Vomiting is present (MEM). Men overboard (O),” the article said. However, it could also be translated as “Set the course (ME). I have struck a shoal (MO).”
In addition to each flag representing a letter or number, they also each have a meaning as assigned by the International Code of Signals, which is what Royer used in his translations. However, each flag also has another North Atlantic Treaty Organization code, which is classified.
Royer informed those at the memorial about his findings, but they decided not to make a change.