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USS Constellation Makes Historic Return Visit to Naval Academy

By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service

ANNAPOLIS, Md., Oct. 27, 2004 – It's a classic story: a U.S. soldier took leave from his duty station in Yongsan, South Korea, to visit what he calls "the love of my life."

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USS Constellation takes its place along the Severn River seawall at the U.S. Naval Academy on Oct. 26. Photo by Donna Miles

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But this story has an unusual twist. The love of Army Staff Sgt. Steven Girard's life is the USS Constellation, the last remaining Civil War-era ship still afloat.

Girard, dressed as an 1862 Marine Corps guard, was among the volunteer crewmembers who accompanied the Constellation from its berth in Baltimore's Inner Harbor to the U.S. Naval Academy here Oct. 26. Several tugboats towed the vessel 30 miles down the Chesapeake Bay in the ship's first trip out of Baltimore Harbor since 1955.

The six-day visit to Annapolis is part of a yearlong observance of the Constellation's 150th anniversary.

The ship arrived here to cheers and applause during the Naval Academy's homecoming week commemoration.

But Navy Capt. T.R. Rains, the academy chief of staff, said Constellation's arrival represents an equally important homecoming: The vessel served as a training ship for midshipmen from 1871 to 1893, the last time it was in Annapolis.

"Like many of our midshipmen, Constellation came to us as a 17 year old," Rains told the crowd gathered along the academy seawall to welcome the ship. He noted that its role in teaching navigation, seamanship, ship management and leadership to future Navy leaders earned Constellation the nickname, "cradle of admirals."

The Constellation, technically called a "sloop of war," is the last all-sail ship designed by the Navy. It served as the flagship of the African Squadron on anti-slavery patrols; in the Mediterranean, protecting U.S. merchant ships from Confederate raiders during the Civil War; and with the West Gulf Blockading Squadron toward the war's end. Constellation was then used for transient billeting and training until it arrived in Annapolis in 1871.

The vessel sailed under its own power for the last time in 1893, its last summer at the Naval Academy. It was later transferred to Rhode Island to serve as a stationary training ship at the Newport Naval Training Station.

Constellation was decommissioned for the last time in 1955 and brought to Baltimore. The Navy condemned the vessel as unsafe in 1994, but, following a three-year restoration, Constellation returned to its Baltimore berth, restored to its original 1854 appearance.

"There's a lot of history here," said Girard, a self-described "die-hard Marine Corps historian" assigned to 8th U.S. Army's civil affairs office in Korea. Girard called the opportunity to accompany the 186-foot vessel to Annapolis "a once-in-a-lifetime dream, because this will probably never happen again."

John Wilson, a civilian employee at the Naval Academy visitor's center, felt his own personal tie to Constellation's storied history. Wilson's great-great- great uncle, James Meads, helped build the ship at Gosport Naval Shipyard -- now called Norfolk (Va.) Naval Shipyard -- in 1854.

Wilson said he remembers boarding Constellation for the first time as a young boy after the ship arrived in Baltimore in 1955. "I was raised in Baltimore, and this ship is part of my history," he said, gazing up at the ship, adorned in flags and red, white and blue bunting.

"To have it here at the academy is just incredible," he said.

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U.S. Naval Academy
USS Constellation

Click photo for screen-resolution imageArmy Staff Sgt. Steven Girard, dressed in an 1862-era Marine Corps guard uniform, was among volunteer crew that accompanied USS Constellation on its historic trip from Baltimore to the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Md., Oct. 26. Photo by Donna Miles  
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Click photo for screen-resolution imageJohn Wilson, a civilian employee at the U.S. Naval Academy and a descendant of one of USS Constellation's shipbuilders, called the ship's visit to the academy "incredible." The Constellation started its six-day stay at the academy Oct. 26. Photo by Donna Miles  
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Click photo for screen-resolution imageVolunteer crew who accompanied USS Constellation to the U.S. Naval Academy on Oct. 26 are, from left, Larry Bopp, retired Navy Senior Chief Petty Officer Steve Hesson, Tom Tyzack and Mike Wagner. Photo by Donna Miles  
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Click photo for screen-resolution imageNavy Capt. T.R. Rains, chief of staff at the U.S. Naval Academy, recalls USS Constellation's proud history during its welcoming ceremony, Oct. 26. With him on stage are, from left, Chris Rowsom from the USS Constellation Museum, Bob Iorizzo with Northrop-Grumman, which paid for the ship's trip to Annapolis, and Annapolis Mayor Ellen Moyer. Photo by Donna Miles  
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