Archive 2008 - 2019

Old Ironsides Commemorates D-Day

by Paul Deschenes

Old Ironsides

Perhaps you saw it on the local evening newscasts last Friday night. To commemorate the 75th anniversary of D-Day, the USS Constitution (“Old Ironsides”) set sail (actually, towed by tugboat) from its berth in Charlestown Navy Yard to Castle Island where it delivered a twenty-one gun salute in front of Fort Independence. Among the veterans and active duty military personnel guests on board were a handful of members of Holliston’s Charles F. Duford American Legion Post #47. And among them was Richard Finn, who was interviewed for this piece. Also of note, at Sunday’s Food Truck Festival, Steve Bradford, Commander of Post 47, told me the executive officer of the Constitution is Holliston resident Commander John Benda, who will take command of the vessel in the coming months. Steve, a Navy veteran, explained to me, an Army vet, that the rank of commander is equivalent to that of lieutenant colonel.

Rich Finn (on the right above) said he has sailed on some New England schooners over the years, but those excursions paled in comparison to this experience, which turned out to be an historical event: the Navy had invited Natick Soldiers Systems Center (NSSC) commanding officer Brig. Gen. Vincent Malone and soldiers from Natick Labs, all in full uniform, making this, as noted by the Natick Labs website, “the first-ever, Army/Navy underway cruise in Boston Harbor.”

Those fortunate enough to be aboard were treated to an exhibition of rope climbing by members of the ship’s crew on the vessel’s rigging and a close order routine by a crack drill team with period equipment pieces, such as flintlocks and pikes used for boarding other vessels during battles.

A 21-gun salute was made by “Old Ironsides” in front of Castle Island and Fort Independence, whose history goes back to a primitive 1634 fortification, called “The Castle.” After being destroyed by fire in 1692 it was rebuilt and called Castle William, which the British destroyed during the Revolutionary War before evacuating Boston on March 17, 1776. The Americans rebuilt it during the war, first as Fort Adams and then as Fort Independence. The present structure was erected between 1833 and 1851.

On her return to Charlestown, the world’s oldest commissioned warship made a 17-gun salute as it passed U.S. Coast Guard Sector Boston, the site where she was built and launched in October, 1797. She was retired from active service in 1881 and became a museum ship in 1907. With a full complement of 450, back “in her day” she was a sleek, heavy, strong, 44 gun frigate. When her three masts were set under full sail she could reach a speed of 13 knots (15 mph), which was faster than her competition of the time. Cannonballs would bounce off her oaken sides (hence, “Old Ironsides”). Today, she has an active duty crew of 60.  Finn said prior to this trip he was not aware of how big of a boat Constitution is.  At 304 feet, she’s a tad longer than a football field. The only signs of current times he noted aboard were porta-potties and its diesel engine.

Rich Finn brought home a souvenir, a flag that was flown on board as the ship sailed. It came with a certificate of verification that also identified him as an honorary crew member. Let’s tip our “Dixie Cups” (look it up) in thanks to the men and women serving and who have stood in service to our country.

Photos courtesy of Tom Blair

Comments (1)

This is such an exciting annual event. So happy for you, Ron Turcott and Rich Finn. How lucky to be included in this very special happening. Wow! Only one time I was able to watch the 21 gun salute and as it was taking place I cried. So impressive. Great article.

Shirley Chipman | 2019-06-15 09:56:31