DRACUT — Joe Millette, Bob Berube and Robert Gillen are all on a mission; they all want to save and restore a replica of the USS Constitution, a navy ship that played an important role in early U.S. military history and specifically in the War of 1812.
Millette, a retired Navy Seabee, has overseen care of the replica off and on since the late 1990s, when it was cast aside by the Navy Department as scrap. He and Berube have found a home for the model in Dracut, where it has been stored in a Highway Department garage. It has been taken out of storage and displayed at numerous events, including the Dracut Old Home Day celebration in September.
“It’s been in my barn for the past couple of years. We store it wherever we can find a place,” said Berube, a Dracut resident and also a Seabee veteran.
The model ship was built in the mid-1970s in advance of the nation’s Bicentennial by veterans associated with the Elks Club in Chelmsford. No one is exactly sure who built the ship. Efforts to reach officers of the Chelmsford Elks Club were unsuccessful. But the model is imposing.
At 18 feet long, 11 feet high and 6 feet wide, the wood replica is impressive. It is an exact 1/16th replica of the USS Constitution. After the Bicentennial celebration, according to Millette, the ship was donated to the Navy Recruiting District in Boston, where it was placed on the docks in Charlestown, near the real USS Constitution. There it sat, exposed to the elements, for years, until the Navy decided it was too badly damaged by the weather.
Stan Mallory, a former Navy officer, took possession of the replica in about 1980 and made some repairs to it.
“Stan attempted to repair the ship in the early 1980s. Then, subsequent to that, Stan’s widow offered it to the Park Service, when it was put on display at the Navy Yard in Boston again,” Millette recalled.
“The work and effort by Stan Mallory should be complimented. He’s the real hero here,” said Gillen, adding that the Chelmsford Elks Club first unveiled the replica at a parade in Boston in 1975.
Berube, who has served on the Dracut Old Home Day planning committee since 2001, lobbied to put the ship on display in Dracut once a year. The replica also has been displayed at dozens of celebrations and hauled on its trailer in parades.
The Navy Seabee Veterans of America has retained stewardship of the replica for the past decade or so. “It’s a great model. Those who built it had tremendous talent, but it’s suffered from the weather. We’ve managed to keep it together with duct tape, bonded and glued, but it’s suffered over the years. She’s quite a good looking lady from a distance, but it needs an overhaul,” Millette said.
The ship’s next appearance could be at the June 2009 anniversary of the Battle of Bunker Hill in Boston, and the Seabee veterans would like to see it fully restored and put back on display, perhaps at the Charlestown Navy Yard, though under some sort of protective covering.
Until then, the Seabees are searching for donations, which would be used to restore the replica. “It’s worth keeping. We just have to find the funds to keep it from falling apart,” Millette said.