The USS Constitution: The nation’s oldest commissioned warship

Did you know that the Frigate Constitution is a fully commissioned ship in the United States Navy?  According to the official website

USS CONSTITUTION was developed and built in response to the threat of Barbary corsairs, which threatened American merchant shipping off northern coast of Africa. Following the American Revolution, the United States’ Continental Navy and disbanded, leaving the new nation without a credible seapower to defend its interests abroad. Signed into law on March 27, 1794 by President George Washington, the Naval Armament Act called for the construction of six frigates, to be built at shipyards along the eastern seaboard. The 44-gun USS CONSTITUTION, built in Boston, was launched on Oct. 21, 1797.

You can also use the link to read about some of her famous victories.  But I wanted to write about the ceremony that takes place every couple of years, most recently yesterday.  That is the transfer of command.

Commander Sean D. Kearns (left) and the USS Constitution’s outgoing commanding officer, Matthew J. Bonner, saluted attendees after Kearns officially took over as the ship’s new leader.

Commander Sean D. Kearns (left) and the USS Constitution’s outgoing commanding officer, Matthew J. Bonner, saluted attendees after Kearns officially took over as the ship’s new leader.

Since he was a child visiting relatives in Braintree, Sean D. Kearns has always been drawn to the USS Constitution and its storied legacy.

He collected models and posters and studied the ship’s legendary commanders. It was on the deck of Old Ironsides where the Hampden, Maine, native became a Navy officer in 1994.

On Friday morning, under overcast skies and light rain, the 44-year-old stood in Charlestown Navy Yard, clad in the classic 1813 commanding officer’s uniform, and was sworn in as the latest skipper of the 215-year-old warship.

During an emotional ceremony, Kearns approached Matthew J. Bonner, the ship’s 72d commander, and presented him with his orders. The two tucked their bicorn hats under their arms as more than 150 friends, family, former commanders, and the ship’s crew looked on.

“Sir,” Kearns announced, “I relieve you.”

“I stand relieved,” Bonner said.

With that, Kearns became the ship’s 73d commander, joining the ranks of such naval legends as Captain Isaac Hull, the Constitution’s commander when it laid waste to the British frigate HMS Guerriere in the War of 1812.

That is what I love about history:  There is always some thread of continuity.  I have visited the Constitution, but have never seen a turnaround in Boston Harbor.

One of Constitution’s most complicated events is a turnaround, the short round trip the ship makes out to Castle Island and back, docking on its return faced in the opposite direction. The ship generally makes about a half-dozen turnarounds a year. Although the maneuver, aided by tugboats, is necessary to evenly expose the ship to prevailing tidal pressure, a turnaround is always an event. That was the case when the ship staged a turnaround voyage to honor the 70th anniversary of the Battle of Midway and members of the Wounded Warrior Project, which serves injured members of the US Armed Forces.

English: Navy photo of USS Constitution under ...

English: Navy photo of USS Constitution under sail for the first time in over a century Español: El US Constitution, buque insignia de la Armada Americana. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The last one was on July 4 when it was just too hot to go stand out on Castle Island and watch.  And she generally doesn’t go under sail.  This was in 2012 to celebrate the 200th Anniversary of her victory over the Guerriere,  Maybe this fall.

The Constitution is a regular and must sought after Naval assignment.

Photograph: JOSH REYNOLDS FOR THE GLOBE

2 thoughts on “The USS Constitution: The nation’s oldest commissioned warship

  1. Pingback: Japan Navy video: Armada flexes muscles amid islands dispute | Philippine Thoughts

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