April 01, 2021WASHINGTON, D.C. — March 27 was the 227th anniversary of President George Washington signing the Naval Armament Act of 1794 which authorized the construction of the frigate USS Constitution, still in commission, stationed in Boston, Mass. More than two centuries later, part of the historic ship can be found in the White House office of the Vice President and the Pentagon office of the Secretary of the Navy in the form of executive desks emblematic of the special bond between the nation's civilian leaders and the United States Navy.
"I am thrilled to be the first custodian of such an impressive and historical desk," said acting Secretary of the Navy Thomas W. Harker. "I appreciate the creativity and hard work that went in to designing and putting it together. I am sure future secretaries will share my admiration for the history and heritage of this desk that was built from reclaimed historical materials from a number of naval ships."
On loan from the Naval History Heritage Command, Sailors built the Vice President's desk of reclaimed materials from the renowned frigate USS Constitution, the world's oldest commissioned warship afloat, America's Ship of State, and the only currently commissioned U.S. Navy vessel to have sunk an enemy warship. The desk was presented to the Office of the Vice President shortly after the inauguration.
Last month, NHHC presented to the Office of the Secretary of the Navy a desk similarly made from USS Constitution wood, plus parts from one of Constitution's sister ships USS Chesapeake, the sloop-of-war museum ship USS Constellation, and the battleships USS Texas (BB 35), USS Arizona (BB 39), and USS New Jersey (BB 62). Harker hosted the office call at which the hand-crafted desk was presented by NHHC Director Rear Adm. Sam Cox, U.S. Navy, retired, who commissioned builds of both desks.
"With the example of the Resolute desk in the President's Oval Office, I wanted to provide our civilian leaders with similar, tangible reminders of more than 200 years of outstanding service from American Sailors," said Cox. "These desks honor our nation's past and reflect our resolve to ensure America's maritime superiority well into the future."
The SECNAV desk was the brainchild of Harker's predecessor, 77th Secretary of the Navy, Kenneth J. Braithwaite, who was able to visit the National Museum of the U.S. Navy Feb. 21 to see the completed project before it was delivered to the Pentagon and accepted by Harker.
The desks were constructed by a team of U.S. Navy Construction Battalion (Seabee) personnel as a training evolution to hone their subspecialty skills as master craftsmen in woodworking and metalworking, assisted by the expert historic shipwrights of NHHC Detachment Boston. Construction of the desks began Jan. 4, 2021 at the Washington Navy Yard in the National Museum of the U.S. Navy's workshop. Work on the desks was completed on Feb. 19, 2021. The desks were built by:
• Steelworker Second Class Elijohana Cole, Naval Facilities Engineering Systems Command, Washington, D.C.
• Builder First Class Hilary K. Lemelin, USS Constitution, Boston, Mass., originally from Milan, New Hampshire.
• Senior Chief Constructionman Noah W. Zeigler, Naval Computer and Telecommunications Area Master Station Atlantic, Norfolk, Va.
• Builder Second Class Donald F. Morse IV, Naval Facilities Engineering Systems Command, Washington, D.C.
Materials from the ships include:
• USS Constitution: Lumber, copper, and nails from "Old Ironsides," one of the original six frigates launched in 1797 and the oldest commissioned warship afloat in the world.
• USS Chesapeake: A small beam of the ship's lumber repatriated from Great Britain, which took the frigate as a war prize after its capture during the War of 1812.
• USS Constellation: Wood from this sloop of war, the last sail-only ship designed and built (1854) by the United States.
• USS Texas (BB 35): Steel plating
• USS Arizona (BB 39): Steel plating and inlaid remnants of the ship donated by Chief Fire Controlman Lauren F. Bruner, the second-to-last Sailor to leave her on Dec. 7, 1941 and the last survivor to return to the ship on Dec. 7, 2019.
• USS New Jersey (BB 62): Deck Bolts
Both desks are part of the U.S. Navy's 300,000-plus historic artifact collection maintained and curated by NHHC.
Naval History and Heritage Command, located at the Washington Navy Yard, is responsible for the preservation, analysis, and dissemination of U.S. naval history and heritage. It provides the knowledge foundation for the Navy by maintaining historically relevant resources and products that reflect the Navy's unique and enduring contributions through our nation's history, and supports the fleet by assisting with and delivering professional research, analysis, and interpretive services. NHHC is composed of many activities including the Navy Department Library, the Navy Operational Archives, the Navy art and artifact collections, underwater archeology, Navy histories, ten museums, USS Constitution repair facility and the historic ship Nautilus.
For more news from Naval History and Heritage Command, visit www.history.navy.mil.