Navy vessels converge on Glass City for week of festivities

This illustration shows the USS De Wert, below, one of the ships scheduled to visit Toledo during Navy Week, and William Powell's 1865 painting
This illustration shows the USS De Wert, below, one of the ships scheduled to visit Toledo during Navy Week, and William Powell's 1865 painting "Perry's Victory on Lake Erie," which depicts Commodore Oliver Hazard Perry moving from the Brig Lawrence to the Brig Niagra.

Four modern naval and Coast Guard vessels, plus a reconstruction of one of the oldest, will be the focal points of the first Navy Week in Toledo's history next week.

But while the ships' parade up the Maumee River will get Navy Week into full swing on Aug. 23, sailors are scheduled to begin event-related community appearances and presentations Monday, and a series of Navy Band and Marine Corps Band concerts are set to start Tuesday with lunchtime performances at two Toledo sites.

The visit by the guided-missile frigate USS De Wert, coastal patrol boat USS Hurricane, the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Mobile Bay, frigate HMCS Ville de Quebec, and U.S. Brig Niagara are part of a six-city Navy Week tour of the Great Lakes timed to commemorate the War of 1812, during which the Battle of Lake Erie played a pivotal role in determining the future of both the United States' westward expansion and Canada's future independence.

Commodore Oliver Hazard Perry's victory over a British fleet in the waters off Put-in-Bay, Ohio, represented "a rebirth of the United States Navy," Rear Adm. Gregory Nosal, commander of Carrier Strike Group 2 based in Norfolk, said during a mid-July news conference to promote the week of activities.

Besides honoring American and Great Lakes naval history, he said, Navy Week is intended to increase public awareness of the modern Navy's manpower, capabilities, and missions at a time when other military branches have gained greater attention from the United States' involvement in the Persian Gulf and Afghanistan.

While the Army and Marine Corps have suffered greater casualties during the United States' 10 years of war in the Middle East, Admiral Nosal said, "a good number of Navy sailors have died on the ground" during those conflicts.

Even so, he said, "a lot of people don't know what we do" nor is the general public aware of technological advances that have improved the Navy's effectiveness even as its fleet has been halved over the past 30 years.

Navy Week presents the opportunity for citizens "who have never seen the Navy" to visit aboard ships and meet young men and women who sail in the United States' fleet, the admiral said.

"Here's what your United States Navy is doing every day that you may not know about," he said.

Vessel tours will be open to the public Aug. 24-26. Tentative band concert venues include the Toledo Museum of Art, Promenade Park, Levis Square, Imagination Station, Fort Meigs, and Cedar Point amusement park.

Sailors are to participate in a variety of public presentations and charitable projects, such as building a ramp for the Ability Center of Greater Toledo to benefit a disabled Navy veteran, serving meals at the Cherry Street Mission, making home repairs with Maumee Valley Habitat for Humanity, and visiting with children at Mercy St. Vincent Medical Center. Navy representatives will give presentations to various community groups and business leaders, and a citizenship naturalization ceremony will be held on board the USS De Wert Aug. 24.

Canada, which is sending several of its navy's vessels for Navy Week events, is conducting a parallel tour of its Great Lakes cities.

The War of 1812 commemoration "is an extremely important event for Canada … that laid the foundation for confederation and the cornerstones of our political institutions," according to a Canada National Defense statement.

"A lot of people don't know what we do," said Rear Admiral Greg Nosal, left, commander of Carrier Strike Group 2 based in Norfolk, during a mid-July visit to Toledo to promote Navy Week. He appeared with Mary Dalby, owner/operator of the cruise vessel Sandpiper.

The tour will "celebrate 200 years of peace and prosperity between our nation and our closest ally, the United States of America," said Peter MacKay, minister of national defense. "The events of that historic conflict so long ago serve to remind us all that the link between sea power and our nation's security and prosperity is as relevant today as ever before."

The two U.S. Navy vessels in the flotilla that will sail into Toledo's harbor the afternoon of Aug. 23 and leave on the morning of Aug. 27 are a modern warship, the De Wert, which has deployed all over the world, and a smaller patrol boat, the Hurricane, which has a primary mission of watching coastal waters near American ports and harbors.

Her Majesty's Canadian Ship Ville de Quebec, also a guided-missile frigate, has performed missions both in home waters and as part of multinational deployments overseas. In 2005, the Ville de Quebec helped deliver relief supplies to the U.S. Gulf Coast after Hurricane Katrina ravaged southern Mississippi and Louisiana.

More familiar to Great Lakes boat watchers are the cutter Mobile Bay, home-ported in Wisconsin and a regular contributor to the Coast Guard's winter and springtime ice-breaking campaigns in the region, and the Brig Niagara, a rebuilt version of Commodore Perry's relief flagship from the Battle of Lake Erie that incorporates a few timbers from the original warship built in 1813 in Erie, Pa.

The original Niagara was the vessel to which Commodore Perry relocated, by rowboat, after his initial Battle of Lake Erie flagship, the U.S. Brig Lawrence, was heavily damaged by British fire.

Under his command, the Niagara sliced into the British line and opened fire on two of the six opposing vessels, inflicting heavy damage and casualties. That effort and supporting fire from other American ships prompted the British to surrender the battle.

Toledo is the third stop on the six-city Navy Week tour. Previous stops were made in Milwaukee and Chicago, and the tour will visit Cleveland, Detroit, and Buffalo in following weeks.

Niagara is participating only in the Navy Week stops on Lake Erie, and the Mobile Bay's only involvement is the Toledo stop, with other Bay-class tugs participating elsewhere during the tour.

Commodore Oliver Hazard Perry'’s defeat of a British fleet on Lake Erie during the War of 1812, depicted in this painting titled
Commodore Oliver Hazard Perry'’s defeat of a British fleet on Lake Erie during the War of 1812, depicted in this painting titled "Perry Victory" by an unknown artist, is one of the triumphs that the Navy will commemorate this year.

Ville de Quebec is covering Milwaukee, Toledo, and Buffalo during the tour, and mooring in Windsor, Ontario, during Detroit's Navy Week in two weeks. Along with their United States port calls, the De Wert and the Hurricane visited Montreal on their way into the Great Lakes and will call in Hamilton, Ontario, on the way out.

Navy ships are rare in the Great Lakes, and past Navy Weeks in the region have not included Toledo stops.

"The Navy hasn't operated in the Great Lakes for many, many years -- there hasn't been a need to," Admiral Nosal said.

The Great Lakes now peacefully are host to commerce of both the United States and Canada, including freighters carrying cargo to and from overseas trading partners, but naval support remains vital to trade elsewhere in the world, Navy officials say.

"The free flow of commerce is absolutely essential for our prosperity and that of other nations," said Adm. (Ret.) Gary Roughead, the former chief of naval operations. "As the past continues to inform the present and guides us to the future, the War of 1812 celebration will commemorate our rich history and heritage, positively influence the millions of Americans who come to see us, and showcase and demonstrate the capabilities of today's Navy."

Contact David Patch at: dpatch@theblade.com or 419-724-6094.