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     Historic Event: Part I – “Old Ironsides.” Overview

    The United States declared war with Britain on June 18, 1812. The War of 1812 had begun. USS Constitution was at sea. On August 19, she sighted the British frigate HMS Guerriere off Halifax and the Gulf of Saint Lawrence and chased after her. Captain Isaac Hull surprised the British with his heavier broadside firing and his ship’s sailing ability. Adding to their astonishment, many of the British shots had rebounded harmlessly off Constitution’s hull. An American sailor reportedly shouted “Huzzah! Her sides are made of iron.” Constitution thus earned the nickname “Old Ironsides.” When the ship arrived back in Boston on August 30, Captain Hull and his crew found that the news of their victory had spread fast and they were hailed as heroes.
    Launched in 1797, Constitution is a wooden-hulled, three-masted heavy frigate of the U.S. Navy. She was named by President George Washington after the Constitution of the United States. The ship is the world’s oldest commissioned naval vessel afloat.  
    Constitution was one of six original frigates authorized by Congress to begin forming the new United States Navy. Shipbuilder Joshua Humphreys designed the frigates to be capital ships so they were larger and more heavily armed than frigates before. She was built from the resilient Southern live oak from Georgia. Her three masts were made from the strong white pine of Maine. Humphreys designed her hull at 22 inches thick at the waterline. He added copper sheathing below the waterline to protect it against ship worms that could damage the wooden hull. Constitution was built in a shipyard in the north end of Boston.
    Her first duties were to protect American merchant shipping during the Quasi-War with France and to defeat the Barbary pirates. She is most noted for her actions in the War of 1812 when she captured numerous British merchant ships and defeated five of their warships, most notably HMS Guerriere. The public admiration for “Old Ironsides” has repeatedly saved her from being scrapped.
During the Civil War, she served as a training ship for midshipmen of the U.S. Naval Academy.  
    The ship was retired from active service in 1881 and served as a receiving ship for naval recruits until designated a museum ship in 1907. She sailed under her own power for her 200th birthday in 1997. And sailed again in August 2012 to commemorate the 200th anniversary of her historic victory over HMS Guerriere. 
    As a fully commissioned and U.S. Navy ship, her crew of 60 officers and sailors participate in ceremonies, educational programs, and special events. All the crew is on active duty. Their assignment is considered to be a special duty honor. One crewman said he had an incredible feeling to be on Constitution, a ship that is 219 years old. Sam Cox, director of Naval History and Heritage Command, noted that “Constitution was among the best designed ships in the world, she could outrun anything she couldn't outgun and outgun anything she couldn't outrun."  
    Berthed in the former Charleston Navy Yard, she is open to visitors year round. Undefeated in battle, Old Ironsides remains today in service to her country, sharing the history and heritage of the United States Navy.

Mickey Gussow                                                                      Posted: 3September 2017


Historic Event: Part II. “Old Ironsides.” Onboard Ceremony

    As the sun rose over the Boston harbor, one could see clearly a majestic heavy frigate ship with three conspicuous tall masts tied up alongside pier 1 in the Charlestown Navy Yard. It was “Old Ironsides,” nickname for USS CONSTITUTION. Flying from her tallest mast was the United States flag, flapping in the light breeze from the northeast. Having recently completed a two-year restoration, she looked as formidable as when she defeated the British frigate HMS GUERRIERE in the War of 1812. Launched in 1797, “Old Ironsides” is America’s oldest commissioned ship.  
    It is August 25, 2017. The ship has been readied to host the ceremony for the annual George Sirian Meritorious Service Award to an active duty Chief Petty Officer for distinguished service in the surface forces of the U.S. Navy. The award is made possible under the auspices of the Surface Navy Association (SNA). 2017 marks the 15th consecutive year that the award has been presented on board “Old Ironsides.” It is very appropriate that the ceremony be conducted there because George Sirian is the only man to have served on “Old Ironsides” for three separate tours of duty during her prime years as a ship of the line ready to fight. George Sirian was an extraordinary sailor, joining the naval service at age 8 on “Old Ironsides” in 1827 with the rank of “boy,” and retiring in 1880 after 53 years of continuous and distinguished service as master gunner with the rank of warrant officer.
    The award was established through the initiative of my friend, Captain Tom Forbes (U.S. Naval Academy, Class of 1965), whose great-great-grandfather was George Sirian.
    The award ceremony began at 11 am. CAPT Bill Mauser, President of the SNA USS Constitution Chapter, announced that Chief Gunners Mate (GMC) Roger A. Schnepf earned the 15th George Sirian Meritorious Service Award while serving aboard USS Chung Hoon (DDG-93), a guided missile destroyer home-ported in Pearl Harbor. Mauser cited that GMC Schnepf “perfectly personifies quality leadership and professional excellence in today’s Navy.” He presented him with a replica 19th century naval cutlass inscribed with his name as the 2017 George Sirian Awardee. CAPT Bill Erickson, SNA Executive Director, remarked: “As expected from the Surface Community, there were a lot of hard chargers nominated. Congratulations on being selected from a very competitive group.” To the Chief Petty Officer selectees in ranks, “Remember what you learned from the Chiefs who inspired your career success.”
    A special plaque was then unveiled inscribed with the names of each annual George Sirian awardee on permanent display on board “Old Ironsides.” CAPT Mauser quoted from the inscription: “These Chief Petty Officers exemplify the historic spirit of a man who in his half-century career and multiple tours on board “Old Ironsides,” set the standards for leadership, technical expertise and devotion to duty in today’s Surface Navy.”
    GMC Schnepf attributed his career success to the support of his family and the hard working sailors he has had the privilege to lead. He emphasized a three-step recipe for success:
    •“¾ cup hard work
    •¼ cup opportunity
    •a dash of failure while you learn.”
His commanding officer in his nomination letter stated: “Chief Schnepf is the most impactful enlisted surface warrior on the waterfront, and the surface warrior we all want to emulate….the perfect model for any sailor.”
    After the ceremony concluded at about 12:30, the Chapter hosted a luncheon ashore for Chief Schnepf, his family, and dignitaries from fleet commands. Following his visit to Boston, he departed to return to his ship in Pearl Harbor.

Mickey Gussow                                                        Posted{ 6 December 2017



Historic Event: Part III. Old Ironsides. George Sirian

    This article is about the epic journey of George Sirian from orphan to rank of Warrant Gunner in the United States Navy.
    It is July 1824. The Ottoman Turks are murdering the citizens on the Aegean Greek Island of Psara because they are rebelling to gain independence. At age six, George Sirian witnessed the massacre of his countryman. His mother rescued him by placing him in a small boat and shoving it out to sea. From the boat, Sirian saw his mother being murdered by the Ottoman troops. He was rescued reportedly by the crew from "Old Ironsides" (nickname for USS CONSTITUTION), which was patrolling the area close to the port of Psara.
    For the next three years he served as either a cabin boy or powder monkey whose role was to ferry gunpowder from the powder magazine in the ship’s hold to the gun. By assigning him this role, the crew could keep Sirian aboard with unofficial duties until he reached the legal age to enlist in the U.S. Navy. The ship’s captain had orders not to interfere with the Greek’s war for independence from the Ottoman Turks and not to shelter refugees. The only way that Sirian could remain onboard was to join the U.S. Navy. So, on May 14, 1827, while “Old Ironsides” was patrolling waters off Greece, he was entered at age nine on the ship’s roll with the rank of Boy. 
    Within a year, Sirian was promoted to Ordinary Seaman. On July 4, 1828, the ship completed its Mediterranean deployment and arrived in Boston harbor. Later that month, he left Old Ironsides for his next assignment.
    Lieutenant Robert Randolph, an officer aboard “Old Ironsides,” took the young boy under his wing for training. The Randolph family sponsored his education during the early 1830’s. He was taken by Randolph to Gunner George Marshall, a native Greek from the island of Rhodes, for further naval gunnery training. Marshall later became his father-in-law when Sirian married Eleanor Marshall in 1840. Of the couple’s seven children, three survived to adulthood into the 20th century. One living Sirian relative is his great-great-grandson, retired Navy Captain Tom Forbes, Naval Academy class of 1965.
    On April 20, 1837, Sirian was appointed Acting Gunner while serving on the sloop USS Fairfield, operating in the Brazil Squadron. President John Tyler signed his official appointment as Warrant Gunner on January 14, 1843, to date from 1837. It was a remarkable achievement to be promoted to Warrant Gunner retroactive to 1837, the year Sirian was only 19 years old.
     George Sirian is the only man ever to serve on “Old Ironsides” on three separate tours of duty, including his second tour on the ship’s epic voyage around-the-world cruise of 1844-46.
    His third tour of duty aboard “Old Ironsides” began while it was moored in Annapolis, serving as the gunnery training ship for the Naval Academy midshipmen. Sirian distinguished himself as their gunnery instructor. When the Civil War broke out in 1861, the Navy, fearing a threat by the Confederacy, relocated both the Academy and the ship to Newport, RI.  
    Sirian retired in 1880 as Warrant Gunner. He served in the Navy for 53 consecutive years, reportedly the longest term of enlistment in U.S. history. 
    During 37 successive tours in the Navy, he served on 20 different ships and in every squadron of the Navy. He had duty in seven shore stations, most notably, the Norfolk Naval Shipyard in Portsmouth, VA. During his career, Sirian received three commendations for exemplary performance.
    He died in Portsmouth on December 21, 1891, at age 73. Sirian had witnessed first-hand the growth of the U.S. Navy from small squadrons in the age of sail to the beginning of its birth as a large, modern ocean-going battle fleet. His achievements are recognized by (1) his posthumous induction into the Surface Navy Hall of Fame in 2007, and (2) his being named for the George Sirian Meritorious Award, presented annually in ceremonies aboard Old Ironsides to an outstanding Chief Petty Officer serving in the Surface Navy. 
    George Sirian’s legacy of technical excellence, dedication, and leadership remains an inspirational model to all who serve in the United States Navy.

Mickey Gussow                                                                 Posted: 6 December 2017 

Historic Event: Part IV. “Old Ironsides.” Cessation and Recreation of U.S. Navy

    It is August 1785. At the Merchant’s Coffee House in Philadelphia, USS Alliance, a 32-gun frigate which had served well in the American Revolution, was auctioned off for $26,000. The costly Revolution against the British was over. The sale of Alliance marked a notable historic event - - the Continental Navy ceased to exist.
    There were a few who sought to maintain a sea service to protect our merchantmen from the Barbary pirates of North Africa. Within a week of Alliance’s sale, two U.S. ships were seized in the Mediterranean: Maria, out of Boston, and Dauphin of Philadelphia. These acts of piracy, surprisingly, prompted no national commotion in the United States.
    During October-December 1785, 11 merchantmen were seized by pirates and more than 100 crewmen were held for ransom. Now Americans understood why a navy was needed.
    There were several unsuccessful legislative efforts by the Third Congress to recreate a navy. Finally, when it reconvened on December 2, 1793, President George Washington sent Congress a message about piracy together with a report on foreign trade by the State Department. On January 2, 1794, the House adopted by a small margin of votes the following three resolutions: “(1) appropriate additional monies for diplomatic expenses; (2) provide a naval force sufficient to protect American commerce from the Algerine corsairs; and (3) establish a committee to determine the size and cost of this force.”
    The Select Committee was composed of six Federalists and three Republicans. Most were pro-shipping advocates. Its report was delivered on January 20th. The committee recommended that four 44-gun (18- and 9-pounders) and two 20-gun ships be constructed for the sum of $600,000.
    Opponents to this report debated that the proposed force was too expensive and constituted a threat to democratic government. Additionally, they stated that development of a naval force could upset the British and cause more expense in cost negotiations with the pirates to prevent seizure of U.S. ships. 
    In contrast, the proponents argued that this naval force would cost less than the inflated insurance rates being paid by the merchant marine and that a defenseless government was in grave danger by being overrun. Furthermore, they argued that the proposed force was just adequate to protect merchantmen from piracy and thus less of a financial burden than a full-blown navy and less of a threat to civil liberties.
    Heated debate was ongoing for about a month when President Washington sent over more supporting documents. Proponents received more help when the British prohibited all neutral trade in the French West Indies.
    The House passed the complete bill 50 to 39. Senate action in passing never was in doubt. President Washington signed the “Act to provide a naval armament” on March 27, 1794. Nearly nine years had transpired between the time the navy ceased to exist and then recreated by an Act of Congress. It was that Act which authorized the construction of USS Constitution whose nickname became “Old Ironsides.” 

Mickey Gussow                                                                        Posted: 6 December 2017



Texan Warned FDR About Pearl Harbor Attack
By Bartee Haile on January 4, 2017

    Admiral James Otto Richardson met with Franklin Delano Roosevelt on Jan. 5, 1941 and for the second time in three months tried to convince the President that the Pacific Fleet was a sitting duck at Pearl Harbor.
    Joe Richardson was born in Paris in 1879, and that northeast Texas town was where he grew up and attended public school. A brilliant student, he was singled out by his congressman for a hard-to-come-by appointment to the United States Naval Academy.
    Shortly before his departure for Annapolis, his father, a former captain in the Confederate Army, told him, “Son, you can’t expect to compete with those Northern boys in the naval academy. There’s something about this Texas sun that dries up your brain.”
    Determined to prove his pappy wrong, Richardson kept his nose to the academic grindstone. His dedication to his studies was rewarded in 1902, when he graduated fifth in his class of 85.
    Fresh out of the academy, the junior officer took part in the Philippine campaign that constituted the final phase of the Spanish-American War in the Pacific. After World War I duty on the battleship USS Nevada, the Texan “saw the world” with a series of far-flung assignments. His steady rise in the ranks during the Depression caused those in the know to speculate that FDR was personally grooming him for bigger things.
    Richardson reached the top in January 1940, when his temporary rank of admiral was made permanent with a promotion to Commander in Chief, United States Fleet. No sooner had he taken charge than President Roosevelt ordered him to move the Pacific Fleet to Pearl Harbor from its longtime base in San Diego.
    If the Navy had an “in-house” expert on the Japanese military, it was Joe Richardson. While a student at the War College in 1934, he had written a thesis explaining “Pearl Harbor was the logical first point of attack for the Japanese High Command, wedded as it was to the theory of undeclared and surprise warfare.”
    But the people who would have benefitted the most from reading his paper never did. As Richardson pointed out in his autobiography, finished in 1958 but withheld from publication until 1973, “In 1940, the policy-making branch of the Government in foreign affairs – the President and the Secretary of State – thought that stationing the Fleet in Hawaii would restrain the Japanese. They did not ask their senior military advisors whether it would accomplish such an end. They imposed their decision upon them.” 
    Early in October 1940, Admiral Richardson made the long trip from Honolulu to Washington, D.C. to present his viewpoint in person to the President. Although visibly annoyed by the criticism, Roosevelt politely heard him out before making clear his own opinion that war with Japan would not happen anytime soon.
    Richardson realized he was putting his career on the line by requesting a second face-to-face with Roosevelt five days into the New Year. The plain-spoken Texan said, “Mr. President, I feel that I must tell you that the senior officers of the Navy do not have the trust and confidence in the civilian leadership of this country that is essential for the successful prosecution of a war in the Pacific.”
That was the last straw for FDR. He relieved Admiral Richardson of his command immediately and offered it to Chester Nimitz, a fellow Texan three years behind him at the Naval Academy. Nimitz wisely turned down the promotion without getting on Roosevelt’s bad side.
Richardson was demoted to the permanent rank of rear admiral and placed on desk duty until his official retirement in October 1942. His four decades in the Navy ended five years later with his release from active duty.
    Even though Richardson feared the Japanese might launch a sneak attack on Pearl Harbor, he was just as shocked as everyone else that it came by aircraft carrier and the severity of the blow sustained by the Pacific Fleet. Never in his worst nightmare had he imagined the sinking of four of eight battleships and the loss of 2,403 American lives. 
Richardson was still in uniform, when Secretary of the Navy James Forrestal “sent for me and told me he was not satisfied with the report of the Naval Court of Inquiry on Pearl Harbor” and “would have another investigation made.
    “He then stated that he would like to have me undertake the investigation for him. I said, ‘Mr. Secretary, I am sorry but I am not available for such (an) assignment because I am prejudiced and I believe that no prejudiced officer should undertake the inquiry.’”
Forrestal asked him what he meant. Richardson responded, “I am prejudiced because I believe that any fair and complete investigation will result in placing a part of the blame for the success of the attack upon the President.”
    Secretary Forrestal dropped the matter like a hot potato, and Joe Richardson had no role in any Pearl Harbor inquiry. He spent his remaining years in quiet seclusion in the nation’s capital before dying in 1974 at the age of 94.
    A longer version of this column about Admiral Richardson will appear in Bartee’s next book scheduled for publication in the spring of 2017.

Mickey Gussow                                                                Posted: 16 Feb 2018

Part VI. Narrative on “Old Ironsides.” Ship Outfitting

    After two failures to launch the frigate Constitution [“Old Ironsides” will become its nickname], the ship was successfully launched on September 20, 1797, to rousing cheers from citizens of Boston observing this spectacle.
    By late December 1797, the frigate had most of the installation work completed: interior bulkheads and masts and their rigging. In view of the French threat to the United States commerce, Constitution's outfitting was accelerated. Secretary of War McHenry directed that a long list of materials be “transported in the safest and most expeditious manner.” Materials consisted of weapons-related materials such as 100 pistols, 100 boarding axes, 200 cutlasses, 2,957 24-pounder shot, and 60 muskets (for Marines).
    With the need for a navy becoming more apparent, Congress on April 30, 1798, authorized the establishment of a Department of Navy in the executive branch of the government. President Adams nominated Benjamin Stoddert to be Secretary of the Navy. His first duty in office was June 18, 1798.
Throughout May 1798, outfitting continued. Recruiting continued for seamen and midshipmen; and stores were arriving in greater quantities. The variety and number of items were staggering - - 1,792 pounds of musket and pistol balls to 2,143 gallons of rum.
    President Adams issued instructions to the navy ship captains “to seize, take and bring into port of the United States…any Armed Vessels sailing under Authority…from France” off our coasts attacking, or waiting to attack, our merchantmen.
    After nearly three weeks of provisioning and loading powder and shot at anchor off Castle Island in Boston Harbor, Captain Nicholson got Constitution underway the evening of July 22, 1798. Nicholson was considered to be a rough, blustering sailor, but a good seaman.
    Secretary of the Navy Stoddert’s orders to Captain Nicholson were to patrol off the coast “to secure from French Cruisers, the principal Ports of New Hampshire, Massachusetts and Rhode Island, and to pay some attention to that of New York.” He was authorized to capture French armed vessels on the high seas and territorial waters.
    The saga of the navy’s most famous ship named “Old Ironsides” now at sea is about to begin.

Mickey Gussow                                                                     Posted: 16 Feb 2018


Historic Event: Part V. Narrative of “Old Ironsides.” Ship Launching

    On March 27, 1794, President George Washington signed a Congressional Act for the construction of four 44-gun and two 36-gun frigates.
    Joshua Humphreys was selected as the most qualified person to design and build the authorized frigates. He was hired for the job in June with pay retroactive to May 1st because during this period he had created a half model to illustrate his concept. The frigates were designed so that their width and length were greater than those of the English and French contemporaries. The great strength of the deck and hull permitted heavier armament. The higher length-to-beam ratio resulted in a capability of sailing with the fastest and most maneuverable ships in the world.
    By early December 1795, Humphreys reported to Secretary of War Timothy Pickering the status of the frigate to be named Constitution. [“Old Ironsides” is its nickname]:
    “The keel is completed and laid on the blocks . . . The stern frame is now completing, and will be soon be ready to raise . . . All the gun deck and lower deck beams are procured and ready for delivery. . . The masts, bowsprit [spar running out from the ship’s bow to which forestays are fastened], yards, and other spars, all are ready for working.”
    Interestingly, in Boston, Paul Revere provided the copper bolts and fastenings from his own factory. And suppliers had provided the Boston yard white oak for the frigate’s hull planking and tall white pines for her masts.
    Constitution was scheduled to be launched on September 20, 1797. The day was cold but sunny. Attending were President John Adams and the governor of the Commonwealth with their respective entourage. Viewers gathered on Noodle’s Island across the way to see the mighty Constitution  “launch forth into that element which connects the world together.” In town, dinners and dances were planned to celebrate the occasion.
    At the moment of high tide, the order sounded by a horn blast was given to knock out the blocks. Crowds held their breath as they gathered to cheer the frigate’s first time afloat. Soon all the blocks were remove - - but the ship failed to move. The use of screws to move her was ordered. The ship responded but after 27 feet, she stopped. A portion of the ways [ramp structure allowing a ship to slide down until it floats by itself] had settled half an inch and left her stuck. The disappointed viewers went home. In its first moment in the sun, the heralded launch of Constitution had failed. 
    The following day, measurements were taken and defects corrected. Two days later, the launch sequence again was started. This time the ship moved 31 feet and stopped abruptly before entering the water. The settling of a portion of the ways had frustrated the launching.
    A third attempt at launching was scheduled on October 21, 1797. The weather was cold and overcast. A cannon not yet aboard Constitution was fired to announce to anyone interested that a launch would take place at high tide. By noon “a very numerous and brilliant collection of citizens assembled at the spectacle.” The order was given to knock out the blocks. This time the large frigate moved promptly and swiftly into the Boston harbor waters. As she went, Navy Captain James Sever broke a bottle of Madeira wine on the heel of her bowsprit, declaring her to be named Constitution.

Note: Major source is “A Most Fortunate Ship. A Narrative History of Old Ironsides” by Tyrone G. Martin, Naval Institute Press, 2003.

Mickey Gussow                                                             Posted:16 Feb 2018