Navy destroyer en route to Boston for Dot Day USS Porter crew to march at head of parade

It's easy forget how tied this place once was to the sea. Since the 1950s - and the construction of the Southeast Expressway - large chunks of our neighborhood have been virtually walled off from the water. But the names of our seaside villages and roadways tell the story of a time before the asphalt and steel slabs got in the way: Clam Point. Freeport Street. Port Norfolk.

Another large reminder of Dorchester's nautical roots steams into Boston Harbor on Friday, just in time to help celebrate the anniversary of the neighborhood's settlement back in 1630.

The US Navy destroyer USS Porter (DDG 78) - and its more than 300 sailors and officers - is already on its way up the east coast from its station in Norfolk, VA. The guided missile ship, longer than five football fields, will be berthed in South Boston, at Massport's Black Falcon Cruise Ship Terminal. But, it's heart will be in Dorchester for the weekend.

The officers and crew will be feted at Friday night's Chief Marshall's banquet at Florian. Don't be surprised to spot some white uniforms in your local pub. And, then on Sunday, watch for the Porter's rank-and-file. They'll be marching up front of the Dot Day Parade.

The tradition of hosting a Navy ship for Dorchester's birthday bash stretches back about a decade, says Ed Crowley, the parade's adjutant who - along with his wife Karen - has been the driving force behind the Dot Day parade for longer than that.

The Fields Corner couple made their naval connection by chance, really. During a July 4th event at Charlestown Navy Yard, the Crowleys bumped into Boston's naval support director, Scott Kavanaugh, who helped arrange for Navy ships to visit Charlestown and South Boston for their annual parades.

"Congressman Joe Moakley actually wrote the first request and that year we had the USS Doyle, a fast frigate, come up," Crowley recalls.

Since then, each Dorchester Day has been marked by a different US Navy vessel from Norfolk. The commander and crew from the ship are treated as guests of honor at the Chief Marshall's banquet to kick off the weekend. For the parade, the sailors are bussed to Lower Mills to walk the Dot Day route and then, typically, make the rounds of Sunday's backyard barbeques.

"We've really just tried to open the arms of the neighborhood up to them," says Crowley. "After the banquet, we've found our way to places like the Blarney Stone. On parade day, we provide refreshments at Colleen's Flower Shop. They can go back to the ship or stay in the neighborhood. Last year, we brought a bunch of them to Billy Fenton's house. People adopt them and bring them to the cookouts."

Despite the good cheer, getting the sailors back to their ship by day's end has never been a problem, according to Crowley.

"We typically do the sweep of the avenue on Sunday night and pull up and say, Hey, are you guys with Porter?' I don't know how many guys have called me Parade Guy. They say, 'Hey, it's the Parade Guy!'"

The commander of each ship typically hosts a Saturday event aboard the vessel to return the hospitality. Due to space constraints, the reception typically includes members of the Dorchester Day Parade Committee and a small number of invited guests. However, the general public can board the Porter for a first-hand look on Saturday from 10 a.m. to 4p.m. Tours are on a first come first-serve basis and no reservations can be made. The ship is not handicapped accessible due to the number of steep ladders required to tour the ship, people with heart conditions, breathing difficulties or other medical conditions will not be permitted to board.

Crowley says that one year he hopes that the Navy connection to the Dot Day observances can go one step further by actually hitting Dorchester waters - or sand. The traditional Landing Day ceremony - which marks the day in 1630 when Puritan settlers arrived near Savin Hill - would be a nice fit, he thinks.

"My whole thought about Landing Day exercize in Dorchester would be to have the Navy come over with amphibious boats and land them at Savin Hill beach," says Crowley.

It's not that far-fetched. Although Crowley still has to fire off an official request letter from the parade committee to the Navy admiral's office in Norfolk each year, it's become clear that Dot Day is a favored date on the Navy's calendar.

"Boston is a friendly destination that they want to come to, because everything is so close and there's so much history. They are looking to come here."

The Dorchester Reporter will be on board the USS Porter for its voyage up to Boston and will report on the trip online at dotnews.com and in next week's Reporter.