Honoring Gold Star Families, Alma and Brian Hart Fire the USS Constitution Cannon

Alma and Brian Hart on the USS Constitution to fire its cannon at sunset, following naval tradition as the US flag is lowered each day – Courtesy image (c) 2021 all rights reserved


On the afternoon of Dec. 5, Brian Hart said, he and his wife Alma had a blast—literally.

The Harts fired a cannon on the 224-year-old USS Constitution in Charlestown Navy Yard, honoring all of the region’s Gold Star families.

“It was an honor,” Hart testified. “We dedicated it to John and the other Gold Star families.”

Army Pfc. John D. Hart died in an Iraqi ambush in October 2003. The Harts have been instrumental in organizing Gold Star families for well over a decade.

The Constitution was decorated with lights for the season, and even Santa Claus was on board, Brian Hart reported. Gold Star family members had planned to put some wreaths together for use at national cemeteries, but the gathering was pre-empted by caution about Covid-19.

But somebody still had to fire the cannon, which actually, happens every day at sunrise and sunset, along with the guns on other Navy ships that happen to be berthed nearby.

Hart said the weapon was not the original, which was used during the Constitution’s 19th-century battles – there were more than a dozen. The ship, which was retired in 1881, was restored in 1920, and a World War I-era cannon was installed inside the original gun, he said.

The Harts didn’t light a fuse and run like you see in cartoons. “You pull a long lever down and it mechanically hammers the shell,” he explained. Everyone nearby wore ear protection, including some guests dressed as elves, he reported.

Hart said he found it a little startling to learn that the sailor who escorted him was born after the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.

“I love that ship,” Hart asserted. He recalled being among the Gold Star families who were on board for the famous Independence Day turnaround about a decade ago. “It was just astonishingly good.”

There are close to 300 Gold Star families in the state who lost loved ones since 9/11, Hart said. “We became involved early.  In 2006, with support from the office of U.S. Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, the Harts secured support for formal programming.  This evolved into the current group Massachusetts Fallen Heroes and generated other efforts like Home Base, which focuses on traumatic brain injury and other invisible wounds.

“Massachusetts Gold Star organizations are particularly strong and vibrant and have become a model for other states,” Hart said.

Images from the Day

Mike Rosenberg can be reached at mike@thebedfordcitizen.org, or 781-983-1763

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