Mothballs Away

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MARBLEHEAD, Mass.: The Blue Angels flew overhead and a Navy band played "Anchors Aweigh" as the U.S.S. Constitution cast off her tow ropes, fired off a 21-gun salute and set her sails to the wind today for the first time in 116 years, briefly patrolling the open seas much as she had during the War of 1812. She sailed for about an hour at a stately 4 knots, flanked by her modern counterparts, the guided missile destroyer USS Ramage and guided missile frigate USS Halyburton. An estimated 100,000 people turned out on land and sea for the ceremonial turn, made possible by a three-and-a-half-year, $12 million renovation project. On board, veteran sailor Walter Cronkite, a beloved symbol himself, was allowed briefly to take the helm. Then, seemingly as soon as it had begun, the tow ropes were retied, and Old Ironsides, undefeated in 30 engagements and long the flagship of U.S. naval supremacy, was gently led back to retirement in Marblehead.