SAN DIEGO — San Diego's growth has tended to obscure the fact that the city still is very much a Navy town--which made it quite a bit of fun to be on hand Saturday in the Sheraton Harbor Island's Champagne Ballroom when dessert was served.
The falderal of shutting off the lights at the moment the waiters marched in bearing candle-lit trays was amusing, in its way, but the high point came when the Navy Band San Diego struck up "Anchors Aweigh."
The crowd, thick with active and retired admirals and other officer ranks, immediately rose like a rather large family of startled pheasants and clapped along to the Navy anthem. It's always that way when the U.S. Navy is present in force.
The military, along with an impressive cross section of the city's civic and business leaders, presented itself at the hotel promptly at 1800 hours for the commencement of the Bicentennial Ball. Given in honor of the 200th anniversary of the signing of the Constitution, the ball attracted 350 guests for an evening of patriotic display, dinner and dancing. The ball was given by the San Diego County Commission of the national bicentennial organization chaired by retired Supreme Court Chief Justice Warren E. Burger.
Special Guests Meese and Garrett
A pair of pre-parties in the hotel's Presidential and Tower suites, hosted respectively by San Diego Commission Chairman Joan Bowes and her escort, Alfred Davis, and by ball chairman Betty Hubbard, allowed patron-level guests a chance to greet the guests of honor, U.S. Atty. Gen. Edwin Meese and his wife, Ursula, and Undersecretary of the Navy H. Lawrence Garrett III and his wife, Marilyn. U.S. Sen. Pete Wilson (R-Calif.) and retired astronaut Buzz Aldrin, also slated as special guests, did not attend.
The real action took place in the ballroom, though, which short of a fireworks display (which would have been pleasant but inconvenient) offered up just about everything required to present a truly patriotic panoply. The decor quite naturally was red, white and blue, as were most of the womens' gowns, and promptly at 1915 hours a celebration of American music was presented by We the People.
This troupe, lead by impresario Toni Michetti, offered up popular tunes from the days when the Constitutional Convention delegates gathered in Philadelphia to the present moment, including such indefatigable favorites as "Camptown Ladies" and, in reference to the turbulent 1960s, "Aquarius" from the pop musical "Hair."
Kay North narrated between the singing of Julie Golden, Peter Michetti, Willie Buchanon and Valerie Harp. A presentation of service flags by members of the five armed services concluded the program.
Spotlight on Constitution
The Constitution never was allowed to slip out of the spotlight. Betty Hubbard even led the group in singing "Happy Birthday" to it. After this, Meese pointed out the special nature of the evening in brief remarks.
"Our celebrating a document must seem a strange thing to other countries, because this doesn't happen elsewhere," he said. "But we're celebrating a system of government that has lasted 200 years, the longest a system of government enshrined in a written constitution has ever existed."
Audrey Geisel's menu took a long look back at the earlier days of the Constitution and its signers by borrowing recipes from old American cookbooks. The meal began with Nantucket lobster bisque (American, yes, but tres French, too) and continued with game hen stuffed with a Virginia-style dressing of mincemeat, fruit and nuts; cranberry relish; roasted chestnuts and rich, cornmeal-based Susquehanna Indian pudding with molasses.
The event raised more than $30,000 for the purpose of placing laminated copies of the Constitution and related educational materials in all the elementary and secondary schools in the county.
The ball capped what had been a busy day for the many guests who were among the 650 who boarded the Carl Vinson (this country's newest aircraft carrier, and the world's largest) at lunch for a tour and a program of military entertainment. Among those attending both events were luncheon chairman Rear Adm. Herb Stoecklein, USN Ret., and his wife, Jane.
Others on the Bicentennial Ball guest list were national Navy League President Jack Morse and his wife, Jean; Bernard Siegan; Kenneth and Darlene Thygerson; Kim and Marilyn Fletcher; Pat Maxwell with Tony Kaires; Jon and Alison Tibbitts; Paul and Jinx Ecke; John and Betty Mabee; John and Dorene Whitney; Michael and Carol Alessio; Betty and Ross Tharp; Ruth Carpenter with Tom Fleming; Dotti Howe; Walter and Betty Zable; Neil and Barbara Kjos; Fred and Wanda Kaufman; Myron and Pat Turner; Barney and Jane Newell, and Bill and Martha Ehringer.