OpSail Connecticut keeps history alive

Left, The New London waterfront came alive with visitors during OpSail 2000, as the sailing vessels and shoreside activities reinforced the city's timeless connection to the sea.

For Americans of all ages, the Fourth of July is a special holiday, a reason to celebrate the birth of our nation.

On that historic day in 1776 a dedicated band of patriots put their names on the Declaration of Independence. By so doing, they mutually pledged their "lives, fortunes and sacred honor." For them it was a revolutionary act. For the British it was treason.

The suffering that followed in Connecticut and the other colonies was staggering, yet our forefathers and foremothers persevered and eventually triumphed. As a veteran, I often think about the sacrifices made by those who fought for our freedom in places like Concord, Bunker Hill and Yorktown.

Closer to my home in southeastern Connecticut, I also think about the brave Americans at the Battle of Groton Heights, a battle that involved the massacre of young American patriots by British troops under the command of the traitor Benedict Arnold - a local boy gone bad. We also remember the brave death of Nathan Hale, our state hero, whose only regret was that he had "but one life to give" for his country.

Thirty years later our young nation was again at war with Great Britain, and our state was again affected. The first shots in the war's first naval engagement were fired in waters off New London. There were other engagements in our state, including the heroic stand taken by civilian soldiers in Stonington.

Vastly outnumbered and overpowered, they withstood an assault by British forces that were superior in firepower, but not in determination.

This year is the 200th anniversary of that war and we have a unique opportunity to celebrate the important milestone, because two days after the Fourth, Connecticut is throwing a patriotic party in Niantic and New London. Its focus will be on the War of 1812.

Operation Sail and the United States Navy have joined forces to produce a series of events in seven port cities that will climax in New London. OpSail 2012CT is also joining New London's Sailfest to make this an even greater event.

There will be tall ships, Navy and Coast Guard vessels, historical reenactments and encampments, specialty foods, music, a spectacular fireworks show and more.

Connecticut has a proud maritime history, with a strong Navy and Coast Guard presence. We are home to our nation's first submarine base, which today plays a vital role in the defense of our country and is a key player in our state's economic wellbeing.

We are also proud to be home to the United States Coast Guard Academy, one of only five service academies nationwide, where the best and brightest of our youth are trained to serve and protect.

New London is the home port for the Coast Guard's Cutter Eagle, also known as America's Tall Ship. She will proudly lead over 20 ships in the parade of sail into New London on the morning of July 7.

If you want to know more about Opsail Connecticut, visit www.OpSail2012CT.org , or better yet, come and visit and see for yourself. Make this 4th of July weekend a time of special celebration for you and your family.

Rob Simmons, a Stonington resident, former U.S. congressman and retired Army colonel, is treasurer of OpSail2012CT, the group organizing OpSail in the state.


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