Navy Heritage Desks
26 March 2021
WASHINGTON, D.C. --
One of the six first frigates of the U.S. Navy, USS Constitution was launched in 1797 in Boston, Massachusetts. Today, 224 years later, the Constitution is the world’s oldest commissioned warship afloat. Her resolve and the Sailors who crew Old Ironsides are symbols of American steadfastness and naval history and heritage.
Past and present came together when a team of Seabees crafted a desk made of timber from the Constitution for the Vice President of the United States. The team also built a desk for the Secretary of the Navy made of parts from the frigates USS Constitution, USS Chesapeake, sloop of war USS Constellation, and battleships USS Texas, USS New Jersey, and USS Arizona.
“It’s a huge opportunity to be a part of,” said Builder 1st Class Hilary Lemelin, assigned to USS Constitution. “It’s amazing to create a desk for someone who makes such large decisions for the country and Navy knowing they’ll sit there every day is huge. The importance of their job can affect everything we do. It’s a piece of history now.”
The Seabees constructed the desks in about seven weeks. Staining and applying finishing coats was the longest part of the process due to the 24 drying time between each layer.
They used wood, copper, and nails from Constitution, wood from Chesapeake and Constellation, steel plating from Texas and Arizona, and deck bolts from New Jersey.
The team left square-nail holes in parts of the panels to show they came from the planks of Constitution and as a reminder that Sailors served on it. The panels were a piece of history they didn’t want to cover up. Yet, these weren’t the parts of the desk that mean the most to Lemelin.
“In each desk, we built pen trays in the center drawer and SECNAV Kenneth Braithwaite has a note written in there with a piece of the Arizona,” said Lemelin. “That’s the biggest thing for me because every time they open that tray to sign an important document that could potentially change the Navy or the nation, I think I put that there for them to use. For me, that’s history and we’re helping whoever sits in those seats think about the immense weight they hold.”
The team unanimously stated it was more than personal pride, there was the pride of being a Seabee. The Construction Battalion’s “can do” motto reigned true throughout the entire mission.
“This was the highlight of my career for sure,” said Senior Chief Constructionman Noah Ziegler, assigned to Naval Computer and Telecommunications Area Master Station Atlantic. “We worked together every day and learned from each other while we made desks that I’m extremely proud of. Watching the way the team meshed and helped each other on top of knowing these desks would be used for many years to come, it was an awesome overall experience. Saying it was an honor is a significant understatement.”
Ziegler said the team constantly talked about how they can maximize the materials they used to capture the spirit of the old ships and all the Sailors who served on them.
Steelworker 2nd Class Elijohana Cole, assigned to Public Works Department - Washington, confirms how the learning and cross-rate training exemplified what being a “can do” Seabee is all about. She explained although she wasn’t as experienced with wood-working her team didn’t let her down and in turn, she didn’t let them down.
“I didn’t know too much in that aspect so I was kind of afraid and nervous,” said Cole. “The whole team helped me understand how it worked and I was confident later on within myself that they could leave me with a task and I’d be able to do it.”
This tasking showed the quality and strength of the Seabees because it required four Sailors from different commands to come together and work as a solid unit in such a small time on a highly visible product. The desks are now a part of history and the pride of the team that put them together can be re-visited with every picture from here on out.
“People seem to think Seabees only do humanitarian work or putting up structures,” said Cole. “No, we are a construction force who also knows how to make awesome furniture. We have all the crafts and we excel in everything we do. I am proud to be a Seabee and I am really proud we had the chance to do this task.”