Another Navy tale

The tale of a port visit to Portland and some history of Portland, Oregon.


My first exotic port of call was Portland, Oregon in June of 1977. My ship, the USS McKEAN DD784 was invited to take part in Portlandís annual Rose Festival. A dozen or so naval vessels from the US and Canada would sail up the Willamette River and moor at Portlandís waterfront. Each ship would offer tours during the day and the crew would have liberty during the late afternoon and night. Those that had been to previous Rose Festivals told us younger guys that this was the next best thing to Subic. We were told that Portland women just loved sailors and that we had best stock up on ìprotection.î SH3 Verba had stockpiled the shipís store with condoms and sold out of them the first time he opened to store for business. He told me that based on his experience at the previous Rose Festival, I should buy at least a dozen, two dozen would better. I think I bought three dozen, just in case.

Being only 19 years old, I couldnít go into the waterfront bars so I toured Portlandís other sites where one is likely to meet a hot woman. I walked the waterfront park thirty or forty times, walked to the Museum of Science and Industry, walked back from the Museum of Science and Industry. (There must be an Oregon state law that says that no girl over the age of twelve will ever visit the science museum.) I went into every department store, record shop, book store and even a gun shop and failed to be approached by a passionate, gorgeous and affluent woman who wanted to take advantage of my youth and virility. I had dinner at a Burger King, returned to the ship, watched a movie on the mess decks, crawled into my rack and went to sleep.

It sounds like the port visit to Hell, doesn’t it? I liked the foreign ports the best. I was on an aircraft carrier and we never had domestic port visits, but if we had, I’m sure Portland would have been the port visit to Hell.

Let’s go back to the 1800’s and see what effect the Columbia River had on ship companies and its sailors.

The Columbia River first appears on European maps in the early 17th century as “River of the West.” Spanish maritime explorer Martin de Auguilar locates a major river at near the 42nd parallel. Cartographers often labeled the “River of the West” as an estuary to the mythical Straits of Anian, or the Northwest Passage and located it anywhere from the 42nd to the 50th parallel. In 1765, British Major Robert Rogers called the river “Ouragon”-later spelled “Oregon” by Jonathan Carver in 1778-as a derivative name referring to the “ouisconsink” river in present-day Wisconsin. The first confirmation of its location came in 1775, Bruno de Hezeta described a river estuary at the Columbia’s correct latitude. In May 1792, American trader Captain Robert Gray sailed across the bar in the first documented Euroamerican visit to the river. British explorer George Vancouver sent Lt. William Broughton up the river more than 100 miles in October 1792, and Broughton produced the first detailed map of the lower river. Meriwether Lewis and William Clark explored the river in 1805-1806 for the United States. Northwest Company fur trader David Thompson made the first map of the full river in 1822-1812. After the War of 1812, England and the United States jointly occupied the Columbia River territory.

Britain’s Hudson’s Bay Company [HBC] established a fur-trading hegemony in the region and built a headquarters post at Fort Vancouver in 1825. HBC trappers and traders spread throughout the Columbia River Basin and beyond, bringing furs back to Fort Vancouver for shipment to England. Americans returned to the region as settlers during the 1840s, when overland migrants came to the Columbia and Willamette river valleys on the Oregon Trail. In 1846, the Oregon Country south of the 49th Parallel became United States territory by treaty with Great Britain. Oregon achieved statehood in 1859, Washington in 1889, and Idaho in 1890.

During the late nineteenth century, capitalists developed natural resource and transportation industries on the Columbia. From 1860 to 1883, Portland’s hegemonic Oregon Steam Navigation Company dominated steamboat transportation on the lower and middle river. R. D. Hume established the first salmon cannery on the Columbia in 1866, and by 1883 forty canneries operated on the river, packing 634,000 48-pound cases for export. During the period 1880-1900, orchardists established operations at Hood River and Wenatchee on the Columbia and along the Yakima and Okanogan rivers. Engineering projects on the river began with navigation canals at Cascade Locks in 1896 and at The Dalles-Celilo in 1915.

What would history be without some ethnic stuff. Fortunately, Portland has an interesting history and some of it covers Asian Pacific History in Oregon.


Asian Pacific Americans immigrated to America from the continent of Asia (including India) and the Pacific Rim islands. The Hawaiian Islanders were among the earliest Asian Pacific groups to migrate to the Pacific Northwest. Hawaiians came to the West Coast on British trading ships in the late 18th and early 19th centuries to work for fur-trading companies such as the Hudson’s Bay Company at Fort Vancouver. They were experts at navigating canoes and transporting goods and people along the lower stretches of the Columbia River. By the 1840s, forty percent of the laborers at Fort Vancouver were of Hawaiian decent. They worked as cooks, gardeners, servants, millers, and sailors and lived in an area outside the fort named Kanaka Village (Kanaka means “person” in Hawaiian).

The Chinese were the next Pacific Asian group to arrive in the Oregon Territory in the early 1850s. Most of the immigrants were young, male farmers from the Kwangtung (now known as the Canton) province of southeastern China. Many Chinese from this area lived in poverty because of war, famine, and overpopulation. British and American trading ships arriving in Chinese ports brought news that gold had been discovered in northern California. Chinese men who came to the Pacific Northwest hoped to find jobs in the gold fields, save money, and return to China to support their families. With the discovery of gold in southern Oregon in the early 1850s, hundreds of Chinese immigrants traveled from California to the Oregon Territory to try their luck in the gold mines and set up temporary mining claims in the Rogue River Valley and along the southern Oregon coast. Many of them worked unproductive or reworked mining claims left by white miners.

Throughout the latter part of the nineteenth century Chinese and Japanese laborers found work in the railway industry. These men were known for their willingness to work long hours at low wages, and railroad companies sent agents to China and Japan to hire workers. Chinese and Japanese laborers often worked six days a week and lived in rough conditions at railroad construction camps. The increasing demand for low-wage labor in the salmon canneries and in the lumber industry created more jobs for Chinese and Japanese immigrants.

In the late 1880s, some Oregon residents resented Chinese labor and believed that the immigration and settlement of Chinese communities in the Pacific Northwest hindered jobs available to Euro-Americans. As a result, Chinese immigrants experienced hostility, persecution, and discrimination. After the attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, anti-Japanese sentiment grew to an unprecedented height throughout the nation. On February 19, 1942, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066 which forced citizens of Japan and Japanese American citizens living on the West Coast to leave their homes and relocate to internment camps.

Surprisingly, law professor Eric Muller has written a book titled ““Free to Die for their Country: The Story of the Japanese American Draft Resisters in World War II.”.

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