US Navy Ships Commemorate Flag Day

US Navy Ships Commemorate Flag Day

Ten Navy ships, including USS Fort McHenry, are commemorating Flag Day today at the site of the historic battle that inspired the national anthem.

Sailors, Marines and Coast Guardsmen will take part in Flag Day events at Fort McHenry, the star-shaped fortress that endured what’s become one of the most remembered engagements of the war.

On the night of Sept. 13, 1814, British ships in Baltimore harbor bombarded the outgunned U.S. resistance at the fort for 25 solid hours. Francis Scott Key, a civilian lawyer who was sent to Baltimore to negotiate an American hostage’s release, found himself in a front-row seat to the battle aboard a British ship.

As dawn broke the following morning, Key stood on the ship’s deck, amazed to see the U.S. flag still flapping in the breezes over the battered fort. He was so moved that he penned the poem that became the lyrics of the national anthem.

The Navy ships in Baltimore are part of a flotilla making its way up the Eastern Seaboard to mark the bicentennial of the war that historians say marked the dawn of U.S. naval power.
Eighteen tall ships, including the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Eagle, and navy vessels from Brazil, Canada, Colombia, Denmark, Ecuador, Germany, Indonesia, Japan, Mexico and Norway are accompanying the Navy gray hulls in the “Star Spangled Sailabration.”

The flotilla spent 12 days in Norfolk before arriving today in Baltimore for a week of activities including a tall ship parade, an air show by the Navy’s Blue Angels flight demonstration squadron, fireworks and a parachute jump into Camden Yards.

The festivities, co-sponsored by Operation Sail Inc., are part of a lineup of bicentennial commemorations that kicked off in April in New Orleans and will continue through 2015. Organizers hope to engage the public with educational events and programs across the South, the Mid-Atlantic and Great Lakes regions and into Canada to highlight America’s maritime heritage and the War of 1812.

Beyond the Battle of Fort McHenry, many Americans have little understanding of what’s been called America’s first forgotten war.

The War of 1812 centered on maritime disputes between the United States and Great Britain. In the early 1800s, the Royal Navy, which was at war with France, was stopping American ships to search for sailors born in England, then forcibly pressing them into service for the crown. Both the French and English began seizing American ships, and later imposed an embargo on American vessels going to Europe that nearly bankrupted the industry. President James Madison ultimately declared war against England in 1812.

Among the most remembered events was the burning of the White House, the Capitol and the Washington Navy Yard. Dolly Madison, alone with her servants when British troops torched the White House, personally saved the famous Gilbert Stuart portrait of George Washington by carting it off in a wagon to Georgetown.

Army Gen. Andrew Jackson became a national hero as he led the Battle of New Orleans, ending Britain’s long string of land victories.

But with naval battles in North America, off South America and Great Britain, and in the Pacific and Indian oceans, the War of 1812 was predominantly a sea campaign. It served as a defining moment for the fledging U.S. Navy, which fought the British as they tried to blockade the Atlantic coast and support land forces from Lake Erie and Lake Champlain, leading to the birth of America’s modern sea services.

“The War of 1812 is significant because it paved the way for future development of the U.S. Navy,” said U.S. Naval War College Professor Kevin McCranie, author of the soon-to-be-released book, “Utmost Gallantry: The U.S. and Royal Navies at Sea in the War of 1812.”

“Challenging the most dominant naval power of the time, the less powerful U.S. Navy found ways to protract the war and incurred significant costs for Great Britain,” he said. “That’s why the War of 1812 is important for national leaders to study.”

The war also helped establish the Navy’s legacy of heroes. Oliver Hazard Perry, who had been dispatched from Newport, R.I., constructed ships on the shores of Lake Erie that went on to defeat a large British armada assembled there. Capt. James Lawrence, aboard the U.S. frigate Chesapeake as it was taken by HMS Shannon, uttered as his last words, the famous battle cry, “Don’t give up the ship.”

Navy Secretary Ray Mabus, who announced the bicentennial celebration last year, said the activities will recognize the men and women who continue to carry on this tradition. He called the bicentennial an opportunity to celebrate the U.S. Navy’s heritage and its continued commitment to securing unobstructed access and free use of the world’s oceans that are vital to national security and prosperity.

This ‘second war of independence,’ fought 200 years ago, established U.S. sea power as a force in the world, and our continuing presence in the great blue and beyond,” he said. “As we commemorate Old Glory and the War of 1812, we ought to remember the delicate weaving of history that has brought America to this place of great influence and greater responsibility.”

Event organizers also call it a way to underscore the importance of a strong international goodwill. William Armstrong Jr., from Operation Sail pointed out that the three combatants in the conflict have become close allies.

The United States and Canada share the longest unprotected national boundary in the world, he noted during the May Parade of Sail event in Norfolk. Meanwhile, the United States and Great Britain have become not only trading partners, but also military and political allies.

Naval Today Staff , June 15, 2012; Image: US Navy