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Constitution celebrates 200th birthday under way

MASSACHUSETTS BAY, Mass. (NWSA) -- USS Constitution, the world's oldest commissioned warship afloat, celebrated her 200th birthday, setting sail under her own power July 21st for the first time in 116 years.

Better known as "Old Ironsides," she is an 18th century frigate manned by a 21st century crew -- an example of the lasting quality of workmanship, professionalism and dedication of our Navy. Chief of Naval Operations Admiral Jay L. Johnson commented on her place in naval history.

"Constitution links the legacy of our Navy's past with the promise of our future," Johnson said. "She embodies the constancy of our enduring mission: forward presence."

Authorized by President George Washington in 1793 to protect American shipping, she was the most effective warship of her era, projecting power during the Quasi-War with France, against the Barbary pirates in the Mediterranean, and defeating the British during the War of 1812, where she earned her nickname.

USS Constitution and her early crews never lost one of the 42 engagements in which she was present. She was the epitome of fighting spirit and victory, inspiring patriotism in a very young nation.

On July 21, 1997, Old Ironsides and her crew logged another success in the history of the ship: she sailed under her own power for an hour in Massachusetts Bay.

"This sailing reminds us that -- just as 200 years ago -- our Navy is the best because of our proud and dedicated Sailors," stated ADM Johnson.

Like today's Navy ships, Constitution served multiple purposes, including acting as a training ship during and after the Civil War. In preparation for this event, she once again proved an impressive learning platform.

Long months of arduous training culminated in the young crew climbing the rigging like seasoned tall ship Sailors, prepared to put Old Ironsides through her paces.

For this birthday sailing, USS Constitution was towed from Boston to Marblehead, 17 miles north of Boston, to stage the ship in Massachusetts Bay. During the War of 1812, she found a safe haven in Marblehead from two British warships.

There were no enemies at which to level her guns on this occasion, but she fired both port and starboard batteries during the historic sailing. As the smoke cleared, the Navy Flight Demonstration Squadron -- the Blue Angels -- flew over the sailing ship, and modern day warships USS Ramage (DDG 61) and USS Halyburton (FFG 40) rendered honors as they passed by Constitution.

"As you can see," said Secretary of the Navy John H. Dalton, in his remarks to the crew and guests, "the story of Constitution is not just a story about one battle or one event. It is the culmination and embodiment of a Navy's and a Nation's pride, and honor, courage and commitment."

In her day, Old Ironsides was the centerpiece of a young Navy -- state of the art in oak and sail cloth. Today's Navy is also very much state of the art -- with advanced engineering, computerized shipboard systems and highly-educated Sailors.

"The success of our Navy comes down to mission, technology and people," stated ADM Johnson. "We know our mission, we have the best technology and we have the best people to carry it out."

(Text courtesy of Chief of Information. Top photo by Navy Journalist 2nd Class Todd Stevens,
middle and bottom photos by Chief Photographer's Mate John E. Gay.