Navy cruiser to headline upcoming maritime festival fleet

New London — Top billing for next month’s 7th Annual Connecticut Maritime Heritage Festival goes to the USS Philippine Sea, a 567-foot guided-missile cruiser that's among more than a dozen vessels lined up for the event, festival organizers announced at a Monday news conference.

The Philippine Sea is due to arrive Thursday, Sept. 12, the first day of the four-day festival, which is expected to draw tens of thousands of people.

Gov. Ned Lamont plans to attend an opening ceremony at 2:30 p.m. Sept. 12 at City Pier, having declared the second week of September “Connecticut Maritime Heritage Week,” John Johnson, the festival chairman, said.

“It’s important to remember this is the state of Connecticut’s festival,” Mayor Michael Passero said. “We’re honored to be the city that hosts it.”

Festival appearances by Navy ships of the Philippine Sea’s caliber have become a regular feature of the festival. More than 6,000 festival-goers toured last year’s headliner, the USS Lassen, a guided-missile destroyer, and in 2017, the USS Cole, a vessel of the same class, was similarly popular. The year before that, it was the USS Ramage.

A cruiser is a step up in class from a destroyer.

Homeported in Mayport, Fla., the Philippine Sea is named for the Battle of the Philippine Sea during World War II and is the second Navy ship to bear the name. Built at the Bath Iron Works in Bath, Maine, it was launched in 1987 and commissioned in 1989. It was the first U.S. or allied vessel to launch missiles against Saddam Hussein’s forces during the Gulf War.

On Sept. 14, 2012, Neil Armstrong, the Apollo 11 commander and first man to set foot on the moon, was laid to rest in the Atlantic Ocean in a burial-at-sea ceremony aboard the Philippine Sea.

Capt. Todd Moore, commanding officer of the Naval Submarine Base in Groton, said three of the Philippine Sea’s junior officers visited New London last week and toured facilities at City Pier and at Fort Trumbull State Park, where the ship will dock for tours during the festival.

“The sub base is honored to be a part of the festival, and is happy to help host the Philippine Sea,” Moore said. “Part of our mission is to educate citizens about what the Navy does, and this will help achieve that.”

Passero said he expects the 300 sailors who serve aboard the Philippine Sea to be “warmly received” by the public.

In addition to Eagle, the Coast Guard Academy’s training barque, two other tall ships have committed to the festival: the 207-foot Oliver Hazard Perry, the largest civilian sailing school vessel in the United States and the first ocean-going full-rigged ship built in the country in more than a century; and the 136-foot Harvey Gamage, another sail training vessel.

Other ships scheduled to dock along the city’s waterfront are the Kings Pointer, the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy’s 176-foot training vessel, the schooners Columbia and Mystic Whaler, and other Coast Guard and Navy vessels.

The festival will offer free tours of all the ships Friday, Saturday and Sunday, Sept. 13-15. Visitors will be asked to show identification before boarding the Philippine Sea. For a full schedule of festival activities, visit www.CTMaritimeFest.com.

b.hallenbeck@theday.com

Editor's Note: This article has been edited to correct the other ships scheduled to dock along the city’s waterfront.

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