NEW LONDON, Conn. -- Imagine a Roland Park lawn party held on the docks of the old Key Highway shipyard when they still built ships in South Baltimore.
And then invite a few thousand guests in their best summer clothes and park an 18,000-ton nuclear submarine in front for everyone to marvel at.
It was like that yesterday here on the shores of this old whaling town when the Navy commissioned the USS Maryland, America's newest ship of war christened in honor of the Old Line State.
It was big hoopla -- a celebration of $1.5 billion worth of technology going into active service.
And it was a birthday present wrapped in gleaming dress whites on a sunny afternoon for the mother of Charles G. Barnhart from the Washington County town of Cascade, "a small quiet town where a lot of nice people live," according to Petty Officer JTC Barnhart.
Deann Wolfe turned 41 yesterday as her oldest, a 23-year-old electronics technician, stood at attention with more than 300 other crew members as admirals, captains of industry and politicians sang their patriotic praises.
"I couldn't think of a nicer way to spend a birthday," said Ms. Wolfe. , who said the inside of her mouth was sore from biting it during the ceremony so she wouldn't start crying. "I feel pride, total pride. When your child graduates from high school, you're happy that they're beginning their life. But [Charles] is doing his life now. He's doing something for his country."
What Charles Barnhart and his mates are doing for their country -- hailed by one speaker after another as keeping the peace -- was met with contempt by a small band of protesters with anti-military posters.
Guests were confronted with placards reading "Study Peace Not War," "Hiroshima Never Again," "Money For Housing Not For War," "Was There A Celebration At The Opening Of Auschwitz?"
The master of ceremonies was a Maryland native, Cmdr. John S. Boulden 3rd, who said his leadership training began in Boy Scout Troop 921 while he was growing up in Lutherville.
Commander Boulden's father, Jack, was ill and unable to attend, and his mother, Barbara, died last June. But his old scoutmaster, Robert Davidson of Baltimore County, was in the crowd.
"The Scouts stressed patriotism and achievement, and from Mr. Davidson, I learned integrity, honesty, hard work and forthrightness. It was like having another dad," said Commander Boulden, who credits the outdoors life of scouting with &r preventing him from being a total bookworm nerd in Dulaney High School's class of 1972.
Commander Boulden said that scouting also taught him to give something back to the community and that he tries to fulfill that by being available to his crew for advice.
Men like Petty Officer Steven J. Soares, who grew up on New York Avenue in Baltimore Highlands and graduated from Lansdowne Senior High in 1986.
Petty Officer Soares' family could not attend the ceremony, but he is looking forward to giving his friends and relatives a tour of the nation's most spacious submarine late next month or early August when the Maryland arrives in Annapolis.
Like his fellow Marylanders on board, Petty Officer Soares said he is proud to be a crew member on a vessel named for the state in which he was born, an area with a grand maritime history, as state Comptroller Louis L. Goldstein told the crowd, "down 'ere the Patapsco."
Mr. Goldstein received the loudest applause of the day when he invited everyone to visit him in Annapolis before he asked God to "bless y'all real good."
When Petty Officer Soares wants to let people know about his hometown he says he talks of "the Inner Harbor, the Chesapeake Bay, Ocean City, the Eastern Shore and of course the Orioles."
He is hoping to make it to a game at Camden Yards this summer. But yesterday, while guests like World War II veterans of the battleship Maryland lined up for heaping plates of shrimp and raw clams, roast beef and barbecue, Petty Officer Soares' mind was on Kings Bay, Ga.
"I'm ready to leave," said the 23-year-old fire technician. "My wifand I bought a home down there, and she's waiting for me now."
The Maryland sails for Kings Bay tomorrow.