The Navy Yard and the Constellation

by

01/01/2002

63 Flushing Ave, Brooklyn, NY 11205

Neighborhood: Brooklyn, Williamsburg

New York City and the US Navy have a relationship that goes right back to the very beginning of the Navy. This is to be expected for a city that is this country’s major Atlantic port. From 1801-1966, the principle site for the Navy-New York relationship was in Brooklyn, at the Brooklyn Navy Yard.

Its three big piers show up in the initial satellite photo of Mr. Beller’s Neighborhood, reaching like some outstretched, strangely deformed hand towards Manhattan island. That photo, when I first saw it, brought back a flood of childhood memories for me. As a kid who was deeply fascinated by anything military, the Navy Yard was always a major sight seeing event for any visit to New York. One that was aided and abetted by my father who was a Navy veteran of WWII.

Officially the Brooklyn Navy Yard was not the Brooklyn Navy Yard. It was known at various times over the years as the New York Navy Yard, the United States Navy Yard, New York, and in 1966, at the time of its closure, it was the New York Naval Shipyard.

The Navy Yard was an important resupply and repair stop for Navy ships for 165 years. But even more important to the Navy, New York and the country was its role as a major building yard for US Navy vessels. Dozens of famous and not so famous naval vessels began their service lives there. Generations of New Yorkers built and maintained those ships. Many New Yorkers who served in the US Navy served aboard them.

Among the famous ships built there were:

FULTON II(1837) An early attempt to design a steam warship for the US Navy.

MAINE(1895) One of the Navy’s first Battleships, its sinking at Havana was the spark that started the Spanish American War.

ARIZONA(1916) One of our country’s most famous battleships, it rests on the bottom of Pearl Harbor, where it is a lasting memorial to those who lost their lives on December 7th, 1941.

ALEXANDER HAMILTON(1937) US Coast Guard Cutter, torpedoed and sunk in the North Atlantic by a German U-boat on January 29th, 1942 with a loss of 26 men.

MISSOURI (1944) The battleship on whose decks the surrender papers that ended WWII were signed.

For me personally, the ship that I connected most with at the Brooklyn Navy Yard was an aircraft carrier, the USS Constellation(CVA-64). Built from 1957-1961 at the Navy Yard, it was the last major warship constructed there. It was the very first aircraft carrier that I ever saw. My father would take me to see it on our trips to New York during those years. It literally came alive before my eyes, and in later years when I would encounter the Constellation at other ports, I would think back to those happy days at the Brooklyn Navy Yard with my father.

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