CHARLESTOWN — Commander Robert L. Gillen, right, the 59th commander of the USS Constitution, has died. He is shown in this photo with U.S. Navy Commander Sean D. Kearns, the 73rd commander, which was taken for Bill Brett’s fifth book, “Boston: Irish,” which was published in 2014. Commander Gillen was 85.
The two were photograph by Bill on the deck of the USS Constitution, the oldest commissioned naval vessel, which is oft-called “Old Ironsides” after withstanding cannon fire in several wars. The three-masted frigate was built in Boston and launched on October 21, 1797. On October 17, 2014, the storied ship took a sail around Boston Harbor and back to the Charlestown Navy Yard before undergoing a three-year restoration.
A little bit about Commander Gillen from “Boston: Irish:” All of Bob Gillen’s grandparents were from Ireland; his mother’s family hailed from Co. Cork, and his father’s from Co. Donegal. They settled in Charlestown, where Bob was born and raised. He enlisted in the U.S. Navy in 1951, and his service included duty with Commander Cruiser Destroyer Forces Atlantic, the Third Marines in Danang, Vietnam. In 1978, he returned to Charlestown to become the 59th commanding officer of USS Constitution—the first “townie” to be so honored.
PHOTO BY BILL BRETT