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Pics/Video: Navy Seabees built VP Kamala Harris desk from wood of ‘Old Ironsides’ USS Constitution

Vice President Kamala Harris stands by the USS Constitution desk. (Lawrence Jackson/Official White House photo)
April 05, 2021

Vice President Kamala Harris and the acting Secretary of the Navy Thomas Harker were given office desks last month built from “Old Ironsides” USS Constitution’s timber, thanks to the work of the Navy Seabees.

In March, the Seabees presented Harris and Harker with the desks, commissioned from USS Constitution’s oak wood. The Constitution was a 1,265 ton 44-gun wooden frigate, which made its maiden voyage in July of 1798.

All Hands, the official magazine of the U.S. Navy, shared a video of the Constitution’s history and its eventual construction into Harris’ desk.

The Constitution earned the nickname “Old Ironsides” during the War of 1812, when it fought the British ship HMS Guerriere. During the fighting, U.S. sailors were astonished that many of the British cannon shots rebounded off the Constitution’s sides and a sailor reportedly rejoiced, saying, “Huzzah, her sides are made of iron.”

The Seabees built the desks using wood, copper, and nails from Constitution. The desks are also constructed with some wood from USS Chesapeake and USS Constellation. The three ships are three of the first six frigates operated by the U.S. Navy.

The USS Constitution desk in the background as Vice President Kamala Harris meets with National Security Adviser to the President Jake Sullivan Thursday, March 4, 2021. (Official White House Photo by Lawrence Jackson)

The desk also has steel plating from the World War II-era ships USS Texas and USS Arizona, and deck bolts from USS New Jersey.

Military.com reported the project was approved while President Donald Trump was still in office, and Seabees began construction Jan. 4. The Seabees built the desks in about seven weeks. The process to strain and apply finishing coats was the longest part of the process because sailors had to wait 24 hours for each layer of stain to dry.

Vice President Kamala Harris sits at her desk, built from the USS Constitution, as the Senate votes to pass the American Rescue Plan Saturday, March 6, 2021. (Official White House Photo by Lawrence Jackson)

Builder 1st Class Hilary Lemelin, assigned to USS Constitution, told All Hands, “It’s amazing to create a desk for someone who makes such large decisions for the country and Navy. Knowing they’ll sit there every day is huge. The importance of their job can affect everything we do. It’s a piece of history now.”

The build team left square-nail holes in parts of the panels to serve as a reminder that they came from the planks of Constitution and that sailors served on it.

The desks also have pen trays in the center drawer and the previous Secretary of the Navy, Kenneth Braithwaite, left a note in the desks with a piece of USS Arizona. The Arizona was sunk during the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941.

Lemelin said the pen tray is “the biggest thing for me because every time they open that tray to sign an important document that could potentially change the Navy or the nation, I think I put that there for them to use. For me, that’s history and we’re helping whoever sits in those seats think about the immense weight they hold.”

Paul Taylor, a spokesman for Naval History and Heritage Command, told Military.com, said, “Each of these historic warships, like so many other vessels throughout the history of the Navy, embody the honor, courage, and commitment of those who served in them,” Taylor said. “More importantly, the desks will be lasting reminders to our civilian leaders that today’s Navy and our diverse sailors and Marines are deployed forward — alongside our allies and partners — to deter aggression and preserve freedom of the seas.”

This article was updated to correct the number of guns on USS Constitution.