Pal·imp·sest ‘palm(p)sest/ noun
• Something showing traces of an earlier existence.
Go Navy. To a coastal city like Portland, Navy Week (August 21-27) is a natural celebration. Scratch Portland’s surface and you see the United States Navy in all its glory across the centuries.
We’re so Navy that Commodore Preble, captain of the USS Constitution, was a Portland native. The Constitution’s connection to our seafaring city is so deep that in 1931 there was a movement to have her berthed here in Portland as our local flagship.
Navy Week is personal to me, and to my wife. I’m an Annapolis grad who flew Navy helicopters. My first duty station was Brunswick Naval Air Station. My wife, LCDR Nancy D. Sargent, a Navy dentist, outranked me when we were in the Navy. Now that’s romance! I was a Lieutenant when she was a Lieutenant Commander. Both of us were in the service because of a Navy tradition.
My grandfather, CAPT Colin D. Headlee, USN, commanded the Navy side of Great Diamond Island during his last tour in World War II. Nancy’s father, CAPT Charles R. Davis, USN, was chief legal officer for the Sixth Fleet in the Mediterranean.
When four-star Admiral Greg Johnson retired to Maine, he did not delay in subscribing to Portland Monthly.
I think that’s because this magazine finds joy in looking below the surface of things. Here’s a flash: Did you know that before our ships crossed the Atlantic to participate in D-Day, the North Atlantic Fleet anchored in Portland’s Long Island Sound? Talk about being history’s Liberty Port. The morning after the troops went, the roads and paths of Portland’s coastal defense islands were awash with thousands of beer bottles, green and brown, left capriciously by those who would risk everything for their country just days later on the coast of France.
Remember the Maine? If U.S. travelers visit Havana more in the coming years, maybe we’ll get to remember her better.
Portland and the coast of Maine have great bragging rights as far as the Navy is concerned. Talk about grace under pressure–just think of the Liberty Ships Portland’s women and men built during World War II. Then there’s the heroic tradition of Bath Iron Works delivering all those destroyers (82 in World War II alone) under budget, followed by 24 Oliver Hazard Perry Class frigates, a host of Arleigh Burke Class guided-missile destroyers (39 and counting), and the technologically advanced USS Zumwalt (DDG 1000). Navy CAPT Chris Cassidy (York High School) shines as a top astronaut. We are all still mourning the loss of Brunswick Naval Air Station and the U.S. Naval Reserve facility on the Portland waterfront.
John Paul Jones’s ship Ranger was made in Kittery. She was one of the first U.S. Navy vessels ever recognized on the high seas by a foreign vessel with a salute.
Contemporary Portland is a palimpsest. We are profoundly enriched by the visible traces of our maritime heritage. This summer, this maritime DNA will show its stripes and glow with renewed pride as we salute the partnership of Maine and the Navy. To meet some Mainers in Navy uniform today, see our story, page 46.