Sunday, October 21, 2007

Today In History - The Oldest Surviving Warship...

... afloat in the world was launched at Boston, MA on October 21, 1797. The ship was, and still is, the USS Constitution. There is some irony in the fact that the ship named Old Ironsides (because during the historic battle against HMS Guerriere, at least one cannonball was seen to bounce off of her hull) was launched in Boston harbor and that Boston is in the heart of a state that regularly infringes upon peoples' rights under our Constitution especially by restricted shooting irons (firearms). Yet, I guess there is hope for us all as long as symbols like her, symbols of our great nation, of our freedoms, of our rights, and of our determination to protect them, survive. I have visited this wonderful ship at least once, and if I remember right, maybe twice. Once in Boston, and I am not sure of the other time, but probably also while in Boston. It is a marvelous piece of craftsmanship, and an awe inspiring vision of our nation's power.

An interesting fact about this ship is that it was made up of parts from virtually the whole country at the time it was constructed. Timber from Maine to Georgia was used, some of her cannon were forged in Rhode island, and Paul Revere supplied the copper sheathing for her hull, and also supplied other copper parts such as spikes.

From 1798 (when she first went to sea) until 1830, the Constitution under various commander recorded many victories at sea. These victories included the bombardment of Tripoli in our war against the Barbary Pirates, and numerous sea battles in the War of 1812. In 1830 she was declared unfit for sea duty; and it was recommended that she be scrapped. Over this there was an outcry from the American public as is expressed in the following poem by Oliver Wendell Holmes:

Old Ironsides
Ay, tear her tattered ensign down!
Long has it waved on high,
And many an eye has danced to see
That banner in the sky;
Beneath it rung the battle shout,
And burst the cannon's roar;
The meteor of the ocean air
Shall sweep the clouds no more.

Her deck, once red with heroes' blood,
Where knelt the vanquished foe,
When winds were hurrying o'er the flood,
And waves were white below,
No more shall feel the victor's tread,
Or know the conquered knee;
The harpies of the shore shall pluck
The eagle of the sea!

Oh, better that her shattered bulk
Should sink beneath the wave;
Her thunders shook the mighty deep,
And there should be her grave;
Nail to the mast her holy flag,
Set every threadbare sail,
And give her to the god of storms,
The lightning and the gale!

Thanks in part to the poem, public outrage was fanned, and the Constitution was refitted instead of being scrapped. It then served the Navy until decommissioned in 1882. Since then she was refitted and restored several times. Although towed to many ports as part of an exhibit, the USS Constitution did not again set sail from the 1882 decommission date until about 116 years later, when in 1997 she set sale as part of her 200 year anniversary celebrations. In 1954, Dwight D. Eisenhower (a president of the USA for those of you who are too young to remember, or just too poorly versed in US history) and the then Congress, recommissioned her, and assigned her a permanent commission in the U.S. Navy. She currently serves as a United States ship of state, and is manned by a U.S. Navy crew. What an honor it must be to serve aboard her.

If you ever get the chance to visit her, take it, it will be well worth the time and effort.

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All the best,
Glenn B