While across the Charles River they may have bombs bursting in the air, the only game in the Town this July 4th is the unique “underway” voyage of the USS Constitution on the morning of Independence Day.
Commander Nathaniel Shick told the Patriot Bridge his sailors and a number of partners have been in preparations for the “underway” – which is what the U.S. Navy calls a Constitution voyage – all week long.
“As we prepare for the underway on July 4th, it allows us an opportunity not to just have a Navy show, but a partnership with many in the community, including the Boston Fire Boat, the Massachusetts State Police, the National Park Service, the US Coast Guard, the Constitution Museum, and the Naval History & Heritage Command,” he said. “On the day of, we start our preparations around 6 a.m. for a 10 a.m. departure. However, like many U.S. Navy ships, underway preparations take 48 to 72 hours to do the checks and other things we do.”
The Navy does about seven underways of Constitution each year, but the July 4th voyage is quite different because it allows members of the public nationwide to enter a lottery to get on board for the special voyage.
Earlier this year, citizens all over the United States had an opportunity to enter the underway lottery, and Commander Shick said they had more than 10,000 entries for 150 spots. Recently, those 150 winners were chosen, and they are allowed a guest – resulting in 300 guests on board for July 4th.
“The Fourth of July underway is special because it allows citizens from all over the country to get a chance to be on board with us,” he said. “For many of them, this is their first interaction with the Navy. My sailors see that as a great opportunity and make a great effort to get across the impression that the U.S. Navy is always on watch for them, overseeing the waterways and the sea lanes to ensure safety of many of the items and services most folks take for granted every day.”
On the July 4th underway, Constitution welcomes its guests and then heads through the Harbor to Ft. Independence.
There, the highest honor afforded in the military – a 21-gun salute – is given by Constitution, and then returned by the 101st Field Artillery unit of the Massachusetts National Guard.
“Our sailors read the Declaration of Independence aboard the ship and we press on why the Navy was brought into service in 1794,” he said. “We also talk about why George Washington pressed so hard for a Navy. He realized how important it was to access a Navy when he was fighting in the Revolutionary War and how important it was to have a Navy to help defend a sovereign nation.”
Shick said getting out in the Harbor for an underway is great for his crew, as they have been landlocked for some time over the last four years due to the rehabilitation of the USS Constitution that ended in 2017.
“We’ve been in a yard period for about 2.5 years and we kind of lost some of the skill set from being in the yard for about four years,” he said. “We worked hard the last year and this year to build up that technical acumen again.”
In addition to the underways in Boston Harbor, Constitution sailors have been getting “back in shape” by practicing on the US Coast Guard’s ‘Eagle’ ship, and also on the ‘Niagara’ ship in the Pennsylvania Maritime Museum at Erie, PA.
Shick said he is constantly in awe of being on such an historic ship for the Navy and the United States, and nothing sets that in like the underway on July 4th.
“I’ve been the officer of the deck and executive officer on destroyers, and whether we’re fending off Somali pirates on the point of Africa, or protecting the sea lanes from Iranian small craft, number one, if you’re not in awe going under the deck of the Constitution and seeing the captain’s quarters and the plaques…then something’s wrong. This is where these great captains worked, slept and bled on Constitution…You can almost put yourself in the same mindset they were in.”
The USS Constitution gets underway on July 4 at 10 a.m., and spectators are welcome to watch from the Navy Yard piers.