A veteran naval officer who has saluted from cereal boxes for 50 years -- Cap'n Crunch -- may not be a real captain after all, AFP reports.
The US Navy faced a flurry of questions after the culinary website Foodbeast pointed out the cereal seaman's blue uniform carried only three stripes -- giving him the rank of an American naval commander.
The news came as a crushing disappointment to many fans of the avuncular seafarer, including the blogger who uncovered his lower rank, Charisma Madarang of Foodbeast.
"The cheery Santa Claus in blue Napoleon hat is really just a big, fat LIAR," Madarang wrote.
Forced to confront the controversy, the US Navy acknowledged Crunch was one stripe short of a captain.
"We have no record of a CAP'N or Captain Crunch serving in the US Navy," spokesman Lieutenant Commander Chris Servello told AFP.
But he sought to downplay allegations Crunch was an imposter and said the word captain could be used in a more general sense.
"We don't take issue with the idea that a Commander (in command) could be called 'Captain' because of his positional rank, i.e. Captain of the ship," Servello wrote in an email.
The Cap'n himself launched a defense on his Twitter feed, @RealCapnCrunch, as his supporters rallied to his flag.
"Regarding today's rumors... of course I'm a Cap'n! It's the Crunch -- not the clothes -- that make a man," he wrote.
The official history records Cap'n Crunch taking to the high seas in 1963, when the sugary children's cereal was launched by Quaker Oats, which has since put out a range of flavors including peanut butter, "chocolatey" and cinnamon roll Crunch.
He has commanded the S.S. Guppy ever since, all the time fending off his foe, the pirate Jean LaFoote, whose hostility is often defused with offers of sweet cereal.
Perhaps due to the cereal's less than nutritious reputation, Quaker's website has appeared to hide its association with the Cap'n in recent years. But Horatio Magellan Crunch -- his full name -- has stayed afloat.
Crunch found solace in Shakespeare as he lamented on twitter the kerfuffle over his rank.
"So much fuss about my name. O, be some other name. What's in a name? That which we call Cap'n Crunch, by any other name would taste as sweet."
As for the generations of children who mistakenly believed he was a genuine captain, the US Navy said there was no cause for concern.
"This discussion is an excellent opportunity for children everywhere to learn about our Navy and the ranks and insignias of the sea services," Servello said.