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Memorial Day 2010: Don't let the USS Olympia sink from memory

Failing to repair and keep afloat the USS Olympia, a heroic ship of the Spanish-American War, would say a lot about America’s priorities.

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The USS Olympia was best known for serving as the flagship for Commodore George Dewey and the little squadron of warships that resoundingly defeated the Spanish Navy at the Battle of Manila Bay in 1898.

“You may fire when you are ready, Gridley,” said the imperturbable Dewey to his flag captain, C.V. Gridley. In a legendary feat of naval prowess, Gridley swept the Spanish ships away without a single American battle casualty.

Now for the surprise: The very spot on the Olympia’s bridge where Dewey gave Gridley that order can still be seen, since the USS Olympia floats today, 112 years after the battle, at the Independence Seaport Museum on Philadelphia’s waterfront.

Philadelphia has been Olympia’s home since she was decommissioned in 1922, the year after she brought home the body of The Unknown Soldier in state from France.

Not for long, though.

The museum recently declared that it “can no longer afford the ship’s upkeep.” Repairs to the ship’s corroding steel hull are estimated at $20 million. Instead, the museum is leaning toward having her towed to Cape May, and sunk – yes, sunk – as an artificial reef.

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