Pranksters Put Fake Ensign's Portrait On Pentagon Wall; It Stayed For Months

Apr 17, 2012
Originally published on April 17, 2012 6:15 pm

The must-read story of the day if you're into practical jokes has to be The Wall Street Journal's piece headlined "Walk The Prank: Secret Story Of Mysterious Portrait At Pentagon."

As Melissa Block and Audie Cornish will explain later on All Things Considered, last year some pranksters hung a portrait on a hall in the Pentagon with a plaque saying it was "Ensign Chuck Hord. USNA circa 1898. Lost at sea 1908."

There is no such person.

The guy in the frame is retired U.S. Navy Capt. Eldridge "Tuck" Hord III, who is very much alive. His portrait was commissioned by his proud parents after Hord's 1982 graduation from the U.S. Naval Academy and over the years was copied by the photographer and turned into something of a running joke by his friends.

It is, after all, a remarkable likeness. A dimple-jawed Hord gazes confidently at you. He looks like he could be from almost any decade from the past 100 or 150 years — except, perhaps, for that perfectly coiffed hair.

According to the Journal, one copy attended Hord's "farewell party [in 2005] when he left the Pentagon office to take a new post in Diego Garcia, an Indian Ocean atoll where the Navy has a base. He left the portrait with his officemates, who placed it on the wall above his old desk."

Then last July, one of those buddies had the bright idea to put the "Ensign Chuck Hord" plaque on the frame and hang it "on a previously unadorned hallway."

"I said, 'you know, it shouldn't be stuck in this small office here in the bowels of the Pentagon," says the main prankster, Canadian Lt. Col. Brook Bangsboll tells NPR. "It should be somewhere more prominent." He and his team embarked on "The Project," their code name for the secret prank.

The portrait stayed on the wall for seven months, until the Journal "asked Pentagon officials about the long-lost sailor's suspiciously modern hairstyle."

So now, Ens. Hord is leaning against a cubicle wall on the floor of an office where Hord once worked. Until, we suspect, he appears in some other mysterious spot.

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Transcript

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

Once, in the long corridors of the Pentagon, there hung a portrait of a sailor as a young man, sharing the same hallowed walls as pictures of storied generals, such as George S. Patton and Dwight D. Eisenhower.

MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

The young man's name, according to its plaque: Ensign Chuck Hord, United States Naval Academy, circa 1898, lost at sea, 1908.

LIEUTENANT COLONEL BROOK BANGSBOLL: It was a lot more interesting saying lost at sea than, you know, whatever.

CORNISH: Well, whatever is more like it. That's Lieutenant Colonel Brook Bangsboll of Canada, who used to work in the Pentagon's liaison office. He covertly hung the portrait in the hallway early one morning last July.

BLOCK: We read about it today in The Wall Street Journal. The portrait is not a painting. It's actually just a textured photograph. And it was taken after the sailor graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy in 1982.

CORNISH: That explains the subject's anachronistic coif. Hello, 1980s.

BANGSBOLL: He obviously does have quite poofy, blown-dried hair, which kind of made it fun.

BLOCK: And actually the sailor's name isn't even Chuck. It's Tuck. That's a nickname. More formally, he is Captain Eldridge Hord III.

CORNISH: And he wasn't lost at sea. He lives in landlocked Burke, Virginia.

BLOCK: So why was his portrait on the wall at the Pentagon? Turns out, the picture had become a sort of joke among his friends. And when he retired a couple of years ago, he left it with his officemates, where it sat and collected dust.

CORNISH: Until Lieutenant Colonel Bangsboll had an idea.

BANGSBOLL: I said, you know, it shouldn't be stuck in this small office here in the bowels of the Pentagon. It should be somewhere more prominent. So that's what kind of led us to the plan to actually put it up in a more conspicuous place.

(SOUNDBITE OF "MISSION IMPOSSIBLE" THEME)

BANGSBOLL: To keep it somewhat secretive, it was referred to as The Project.

(SOUNDBITE OF "MISSION IMPOSSIBLE" THEME)

BLOCK: Well, the project was successful for about seven months. It hung on a Pentagon wall until The Wall Street Journal inquired.

CORNISH: Now it leans against a cubicle wall in the office where Captain Hord once worked. He never liked the photograph. But his friend, Lieutenant Colonel Bangsboll, says the prank was worth it.

BANGSBOLL: It's gone exactly the way I think myself and my fellow colleagues wanted it to go. We wanted it to be something that was bigger than life and that had a history of its own.

BLOCK: And now it does. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.