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Memorial Day Parade Marshal Announced

by Chris Cain
May 24, 2019

Commander (CDR) John A. Benda USN of Holliston will serve as this year’s parade marshal.

Commander (CDR) John A. Benda USN of Holliston will serve as this year’s parade marshal.

CDR Benda is the Executive Officer of the USS Constitution.  He lives in Holliston with his wife and three children.  During our time with CDR Benda we came to see him as a family man, a Naval officer, and a Naval historian – and very proud to be who is and what he does.  We’ll tell his story in those three chunks.

Family Man

He met his wife in Rhode Island attending the Naval War College in Newport.

CDR Benda took us below decks on Old Ironsides (story about the name later) to show us the Captain’s quarters.  This space is now used for a very special purpose – baptisms.

Theodore John Benda, the Commander’s son was baptized on the Constitution – a perquisite for those who serve on Old Ironsides.  A former ship’s bell serves as the baptismal font.

Just before joining the Constitution, he served two years in San Diego as an Engineering Officer.  During this time his family stayed in Holliston so as not to disrupt his children’s education.  He ‘commuted’ back and forth once every six weeks.

He’s very happy to get up at 4:30 am in Holliston and make his commute to his ‘office’ at the old Boston Navy Yard and fight his way back home each night.

Naval Officer -

He is a Massachusetts native, born in Dedham and a graduate of Worcester Polytechnic Institute with a degree in Mechanical Engineering.

CDR Benda joined the Navy eighteen years ago.  Given his engineering background he was expecting to be assigned in the propulsion section of his first ship.  Of course, he was assigned to the Communications section. 

Thus began his successful career of ‘figuring out how to get it done.’ He is qualified as a Surface Warfare Officer which is apt since the Constitution has been on the surface continuously since 1797!

CDR Benda is slated to become Commanding Officer of the USS Constitution sometime in the next several months.  The CO billet (job) is a 2-year tour which can be renewed.  What a gem in his naval career!

Naval Historian

The USS Constitution is one of six ships originally ordered by George Washington.  The keel was laid in Boston and the ship was launched on October 21, 1797 and continues to be in active service to this day.  

While the ship is an active duty Naval vessel it is berthed in a National Park.  The Park Service acts as the ‘landlord’ for the Navy’s ship and crew who ‘rent’ the dock, offices, and barracks – it is a very strong partnership.

We boarded the ship and were warmly greeted by the current Commanding Officer, CDR Nathaniel Shick.  He and CDR Benda had just participated in a retirement ceremony for a Marine General on the deck of the ship where the Marine had been commissioned 34 years earlier.  The deck of the USS Constitution is a popular spot for such events.

The Constitution was nicknamed Old Ironsides during the war of 1812, when during a close quarters cannon battle, sailors believed cannon balls bounced off the oak planks (white oak/live oak/white oak) sandwich) some cannonballs were embedded – they exclaimed the ship had Ironsides, Captain Isaac Hull (ironic) concurred, and the name has stuck. 

The fate of the Constitution has had its ups and downs.  More than once the powers that be considered scrapping Old Ironsides.  School children in the early 20th century launched a ‘Penny Drive’ to collect funds to keep the ship afloat.  The students prompted the ‘adults’ to find funding to bring the ship back.  In 1933, the ship made an around the U.S. voyage to show off this national treasure.

Photos by Yvette Cain

Most in the Boston area are familiar with the tradition of turning the ship around.  It serves a maintenance function – allowing both sides of the ship to get equal exposure to the elements. Initially, Old Ironsides was towed out into Boston Harbor on Independence Day (given its legacy to our revolution). “Turnarounds,” as their called now happen on July 4th and – this year six other times. The next turnaround will be on 7 June 2019.  Four hundred members of the American Legion posts across Massachusetts (several from Holliston) will be guests on that voyage.  CDR Benda acknowledged that he has Legion memberships in Dedham, Holliston, and now Charlestown!

As you see CDR John Benda decked out in his Whites, marching in our parade, think about the history and service that he shares with our town.

 

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