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“Bucky Badger”: Not the UW Mascot

by Keith Nitka, Battleship Operations Manager

Did you ever notice how looking for one item will bring you to something else; completely unrelated but still of interest and importance? I was looking for something about mail and I found an article written by Lt. Rob Raine. Lt Raine was the PAO or Public Affairs Officer on the ship at the time and the article was in an installment of “Wisconsin Family Ties”. For those of you not familiar, “Wisconsin Family Ties” was a newsletter of sorts that was sent under the direction of the Commanding Officer, USS Wisconsin during her final commissioning from 1988 to 1991. It was contributed to by all the divisions on the ship with little articles written about what the division was working on at the moment and any news of interest to family members. The newsletter was sent to the person on record with the crewmember to receive it. My copies went to my father John, living in New Hampshire at the time. In the issue mailed in August of 1990 there is an article that I would like to share here and expand a little on it. 

“Bucky Badger, the Legend Continues 

By LT Rob Raine 

The figurehead on a ships bow has long been a nautical tradition, both for Navy ships and civilian merchants. The cinematic stereotype of these figureheads (thanks to such notable swashbucklers as Errol Flynn and Douglas Fairbanks) has always been a rather over-endowed and scantily clad young miss. Figureheads are not seen much very often on modern warships, however, just over 90 years ago, the “other” Battleship Wisconsin (BB-9), did have a figure head, not scantily clad, but ‘fur’ clad. 

WISCONSIN’S figurehead was a Badger, the state animal. His name (yes, he’s a he) was ‘Bucky’. Unlike the usual 20-pound furry rodent, ‘Battleship Bucky’ weighed in at a hefty 1,200 pounds. His hide is cast from the bronze cannons captured from the Spanish Fleet at Havana, Cuba in 1898. He rode atop a shield bearing the word ‘Forward’, the Wisconsin’s state motto. 

The state and the ship chose ‘Bucky’ because the badger is tenacious in defending his territory. Close in on him and he will growl and snarl; take a second step and he will hiss; take the third step at your own peril. Badgers are tough and vicious; nothing stops them when they are pushed to far. 

Bucky was mounted just below the bridge on USS WISCONSIN (BB-9), standing America’s ground on the oceans of the world. From his high vantage he could look to the far horizons as the ship sailed, and look he did. In 1907-08 WISCONSIN sailed around the world with Theodore Roosevelt’s ‘Great White Fleet’. ‘Bucky’ saw the world through the eye’s of America’s Manifest Destiny, calling in distant lands: Australia, Japan, China, England and South America. 

In 1920 WISCONSIN arrived in Philadelphia, her final resting place. Two years later she was sold as scrap ands broken up, a continent away from the Union Iron Works in San Francisco, where she was built. ‘Bucky’ like his nocturnal namesake, disappeared. 

Sixty-four years later, as USS WISCONSIN (BB-64), one of the mightiest, most modern surface war ships in the world, was undergoing her recall to active service, ‘Bucky’ Badger returned. A researcher spotted the hefty rodent reposing peacefully in the Superintendent’s garden at the United States Naval Academy in Annapolis, MD. Apparently he had been there all along. 

Swift research by members of the Wisconsin State Historical Society confirmed that the rodent relaxing in the garden was indeed the illustrious ‘Bucky’. Further calls from Wisconsin Governor Tommy G. Thompson and USS WISCONSIN (BB-64) Commanding Officer, Captain Jerry M Blesch, unearthed the wily ‘Bucky’. Yellow Freight Company arranged for his triumphant return to his ‘home of record’, Madison Wisconsin. 

Presently ‘Bucky’ Badger is on four-year loan to the state of Wisconsin from the United States Navy. He is on display, atop his shield, just outside the Governor’s office in the state house in Madison.”     

After reading this article, I did a little research myself and after you sift through the pages upon pages about the University of Wisconsin’s sporting teams I found a small article written about our “Bucky”. The article was written in 2019 by John Hart and covered everything in Lt Raines article with the addition that its still there, in Madison, Wisconsin. I did a little more research and with some assistance from Scott Roller at the Wisconsin State Historical Society I found out that “Bucky” was on loan to the State Historical Society for an exhibit to coincide with the USS WISCONSIN (BB-64) recommissioning and then in 1989 he was moved to the State capitol building. The 4-year loan starting in 1988 subsequently turned into a thirty-year loan. Bucky is still owned by the US Navy and the United States Naval Academy Museum is the custodian. Roller told me that the Wisconsin State Historical Society will need to make arrangements for “Bucky” to go back to the USNA museum soon but as of today “Bucky” still resides in the Wisconsin State Capitol building where guests and employees alike rub his nose daily for good luck.