Date Posted: January 13, 2013 Categories:49 History
The USS DELAWARE, sister ship of the COOPER.
By Pennelope Goforth
The U.S. Navy has long and wide wake in the state’s history and is about to make history again with the commissioning of its newest warship in Alaskan waters. Next May the newest naval transport vessel, LPD-23, will steam north to Alaska where she will be officially commissioned as the USS ANCHORAGE. She will be the second Navy ship to bear the name of Alaska’s largest city and home of the state’s major port.
While most people have heard of christening a ship, the ceremony of commissioning is less commonly known. Commissioning inducts the ship into the operating fleet of the United States Navy. It is a formal rite of passage in the life of warship when the commanding officer comes aboard, calls the crew to their quarters and reads aloud the naval orders.
A commissioning pennant is hoisted up the mast with the Stars & Stripes, and the moment is noted on the first page of the logbook. For sailors, it at this moment the ship is said to ‘come alive’ as she receives the official designation USS, United States Ship. Now under orders, she and her crew are charged with the honor and responsibility to support the citizens of the nation in peace and defend it in time of war.
The U.S. Navy first dispatched a vessel into Alaskan waters on a peacetime mission in the summer of 1855. USS FENIMORE COOPER, a 3-gun, 95-ton wooden sailing schooner, was tasked to find any survivors or word of a missing New Bedford whale ship MONONGAHELA. Rumor of a cask from the ship had been reported the previous year floating in the Bering Sea. So the COOPER detached from her survey mission off the China coast and sailed north under Commander C. Ringgold through the Aleutian Islands, searching for and hoping to rescue survivors. None were found.
So, with the autumn storms increasing by mid-September, the COOPER followed the Japanese Current across the top of the North Pacific bound for the Russian American capitol: Novo Arkhangelsk (New Archangel). The port, later to become Sitka, was the most important seaport on the Pacific coast of North America boasting a working shipyard with carpenters, shipwrights and ironworkers, all the professional services a sailing ship of the times might need. Commander Ringgold, well aware that the COOPER would be the first U.S. Navy ship to enter the Russian port, adhered to Navy protocol. Upon entering Sitka Sound in front of the governor’s mansion prominent on the hill of the town, he ordered a booming three-gun salute before dropping anchor.
The mansion was home to Governor S. V. Voyevodsky, lately an admiral in the Russian Imperial Navy. The governor promptly sent out a small vessel, cordially inviting Commander Ringgold and his officers to a fine welcome. In Russian Navy style, with all the best the cosmopolitan capitol had to offer he ordered a formal ball to be held and several rich feasts. They swapped a lot of sea stories and toasted each others’ ships and country with a lot of vodka. The political situation that had pitted the Russians against the British and French in the Crimean War favored a closer relationship with the young American nation. Governor Voyevodsky obliged with gusto.
Several days later, heads and hearts throbbing, the two seafaring commanders parted fast friends. In full uniform, saluted by the Russians, the officers boarded the lightering vessel and were rowed out to their ship. The USS FENIMORE COOPER sailed out on the morning high tide headed for the deep ocean swells of the Pacific. By the time she pulled into San Francisco Bay in late October, the days-long party had become a legend, launching a long beneficial relationship between the U. S. Navy and Alaska.
The USS ANCHORAGE Commissioning Committee plans a festive commissioning for LPD 23. Their hope is after ten days of festivities, shipboard tours, and the formal ceremony at the Port of Anchorage, the USS ANCHORAGE crew and officers will, like the FENIMORE COOPER command before her, return to California waters with a new legend of Alaskan hospitality and goodwill.