The forgotten ships
A veteran’s family discovers what most in the city don’t know – the war relics living around us
BY JIM REDDEN
The Portland Tribune, Jun 4, 2009, Updated Oct 30, 2009
(Photo Courtesy of Barry Clock)
Naval officer Charles Clock (inset) commanded the enlisted sailors on the S.S. Richard Henry Dana, pictured here in 1945 during the Liberty Ship’s seventh voyage to Eniwetok, of the Pacific’s Marshall Islands.
Barry Clock was shocked to learn the Dana is still around. Barry grew up hearing stories about life on the S.S. Richard Henry Dana, a Liberty Ship that carried troops and supplies across the Pacific Ocean in World War II. Barry’s father, Charles, served on the ship as a U.S. Naval officer during several of the trips. He later regaled his son with tales of cramped crew quarters, cold night watches on deck and violent ocean storms.
Charles died eight years ago, and Barry assumed the Dana was scrapped long before that. But in February, he saw a Port of Portland newsletter that reported the ship’s lower hull was serving as a floating dock next to Terminal 4, along the Willamette River north of the St. Johns Bridge.
“When I read that, I knew I had to come and stand where my father stood during the war,” said Barry, a retired Newport High school history teacher who lives in Sisters.
So Barry called the port and asked permission for him and other family members to visit what is left of the ship. Port officials initially turned him down, citing U.S. Department of Homeland Security rules restricting access to their facilities. But Barry persisted, eventually contacting the office of U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden, which quickly cut through the red tape.
So on the afternoon of May 29, Barry and eight other Clock family members finally walked on the converted deck of the Dana. Before the visit, Barry researched, wrote and printed a 23-page booklet on his father and the role that Liberty Ships played in the war – and the surprisingly large role WWII-era shipbuilding played in the development of the Portland region.
Hundreds of warships were built in shipyards in Portland and Vancouver, including many Liberty Ships. More than 100,000 people moved to the area for the work, forever changing the demographics of both cities. The work also increased the size and scope of the many businesses located in the Portland harbor, helping it become a world-class manufacturing and shipping center.
“The changes were profound,” said Chet Orloff, an adjunct professor of urban studies and planning at Portland State University and the the former director of the Oregon Historical Society. “It affected all aspects of life here.”
Much of that history is still on view, if you know where to look.
The Dana is one of two former Liberty Ships used by the Port of Portland as floating docks. Harbor-related businesses have converted a number of other former warships to commercial use. Even some buried Liberty Ship bows stick up from the banks of the Willamette River.
But the city of Portland has done little to memorialize the WWII-era shipbuilding. There are no public monuments to the work. A private Liberty Ship Memorial Park was leveled in 2006 to make way for a condominium project. Just about the only formal memorial is a plaque dedicated to the 6,800 merchant marines who lost their lives during the war. It is located near the hotel in the RiverPlace development south of the Hawthorne Bridge – miles from where the ships were actually built.
TRIBUNE PHOTO: L.E. BASKOW • The lower hull of the Dana is now serving as a floating dock at the Port of Portland’s Terminal 4. The ship was bought for scrap after the war, then purchased by the port.
The situation is significantly different across the Columbia River, where the city of Vancouver and other groups have honored the former Kaiser-Vancouver shipyards with a memorial and viewing tower near the boat ramp in the city’s Marine Park, 4500 S.E. Columbia Way. A large sculpture honoring the women who worked in the shipyard has also been dedicated at the east end of the Columbia River Waterfront Trail. It is called Wendy Rose, a combination of Wendy the Welder and Rosie the Riveter.
“I’ve always found it bizarre that so much more has been done in Vancouver,” said Orloff. “No one in Portland has ever taken the initiative to create an official memorial here.”
City was never the same
It is hard to overstate the impact that WWII-era shipbuilding had on the Portland-Vancouver area.
According to records kept by the U.S. Navy during this period, before the war, most area shipbuilding activities involved the construction of small fishing vessels, tugboats and barges. But as the Nazis began their conquest of Europe, the federal government began pumping money into shipyards along the east and west coasts, originally to produce ships for the British government and then – after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor – for the U.S. war effort.
In Portland, the government worked with a number of existing companies on Swan Island, including Albina Engine and Machine Works Inc.; Commercial Iron Works; the Portland Shipbuilding Co.; and the Willamette Iron and Steel Corp. The Gunderson Brothers Engineering Corp. also increased the capacity of its plant to build small vessels.
But as the demand increased, the government contracted with famed industrialist Henry Kaiser to build two large new shipyards in the area. The Oregon Shipbuilding Yards was built along the Willamette near its confluence with the Columbia. The first Liberty Ship – The Star of Oregon – was launched on May 19, 1941. The Kaiser-Vancouver Shipbuilding Yards was built south of the Vancouver city center along the Columbia River. It opened in 1942.
The large influx of people who moved to the Portland-Vancouver area to work in the shipyards, Orloff said, increased the pre-1940 population of just more than 300,000 by nearly a third. In Portland, about 40,000 of the workers moved to Vanport City, a housing project Kaiser quickly built along the Columbia where Delta Park and the Portland International Raceway now sit. In Vancouver, about 45,000 people moved to a series of public housing projects that included their own schools, grocery stores and movie theaters.
“People came from all over the country to work here. And most of them did not leave when the war was over. They stayed and raised families,” said Orloff.
During the war, hundreds of ships of all sizes were produced at the area shipyards. They included small aircraft carriers that carried up to 35 planes and a variety of landing crafts that delivered troops, tanks, trucks and supplies to combat zones.
But the greatest number were Liberty Ships, large and slow-moving vessels that hauled cargo across both the Atlantic and Pacific oceans. More than 2,700 of them were built for the British and U.S. governments. They were armed with a stern-mounted anti-submarine deck gun and a variety of anti-aircraft guns manned by U.S. Navy crews. Despite the armaments, about 200 were sunk by enemy forces.
COURTESY OF OREGON HISTORICAL SOCIETY • The Star of Oregon, the first World War II Liberty Ship built in Oregon, is launched from the Oregon Shipyards. It was launched on Sept. 19, 1941, and sunk by a torpedo a little more than one year later.
More than 300 Liberty Ships were built by Oregon Shipbuilding – more than any other shipyard in the country. Ten were built in the Kaiser-Vancouver yard.
“They worked three eight-hour shifts in the yards. The din must have been constant. You would have been able to hear the shipyards anywhere in the West Hills,” said Orloff.
Two of those who worked in the Kaiser-Vancouver shipyards were Charles Cook and his younger brother, Virgil. After the war started, Charles enlisted in the Navy, eventually becoming the officer in charge of defending the Dana, which was named after the Massachusetts abolitionist who wrote “Two Years Before the Mast,” based on his teenage years as a merchant marine.
After the war ended and he got out of the service, Charles started a food equipment manufacturing business in Southeast Portland. Barry said he does not remember his father telling him the lower hull of the ship was there, even though another former crew member told him Charles knew it.
“Perhaps he did in passing and I wasn’t listening,” said Barry.
Salvaging the ships
When the war ended, Liberty Ships continued fueling the local economy. The local Zidell Exploration company bought nearly 150 of them for salvage. About the only parts that could not be scrapped were the bows, which were reinforced with concrete when they were built. Almost all of them were buried at a site along the Willamette River just north of the Broadway Bridge.
That is where the Naito family dedicated a small park to the memory of those lost during the war. The site was sold to the developers of the Waterfront Pearl condominiums and cleared. It is now a parking lot between the Albers Mills and Waterfront Pearl buildings. Some remnants of the buried hulls are still visible along the shore there.
“It’s unfortunate, but the developer needed the land for the project,” said Sam Naito, president of the H. Naito Corp., who was involved in the sale of the land.
Despite the lack of official memorials in Portland, there are many reminders of the WWII-era shipbuilding efforts in the area, if you know where to look.
“There was a lot of material in the harbor that was sold as surplus after the war ended. Local companies bought it up for pennies on the dollar,” said Robb Rich, operations manager for Shaver Transportation, a tugboat company at 4900 N.W. Front Ave.
TRIBUNE PHOTO: L.E. BASKOW • The late Charles Clock’s family members take group photos on the dock built onto the top of the former Dana.
Rich, who considers himself an amateur historian, said he frequently sees ships built for the war in the harbor. They include a docked landing ship that houses his company’s workshop next to its dispatch office. It houses a number of surplus WWII-era submarine engines that power some of the company’s tugs.
Two of the most powerful tugboats in the area are converted landing ships. They are the Tidewater and the Legend, both owned and used by Tidewater Barge Lines of Vancouver.
Some reminders of the wartime construction are far bigger. The former site of the Oregon Shipbuilding Corp. is now Schnitzer Steel Industries. It is located along the Willamette River at 12005 N. Burgard Way.
And, of course, the lower hull of the Dana is clearly visible along Terminal 4. It is one of two former Liberty Ships used as floating docks by the port. The other is Jane Adams, which is docked along Terminal 6. Both were built by the California Shipbuilding Corp. in Los Angeles and brought to Portland by Zidell to be scrapped after the war.
The port bought the ships in 1947 and moored them along the terminals. After the superstructure was removed, the deck was paved with asphalt. As the Clock family discovered, the curves of the hull are just about the only signs they were ever ships.
The Clock family members who toured the Dana said they felt honored to be able to visit it. But more than that, Kathryn Barlow, Charles Clock’s great-granddaughter, said the event helped her to understand more the lives that people lived then.
“Barry talked about the stories that his father had told him, and I had never heard many of them before,” she said.
Reminders of shipbuilding past
There are several memorials and other visible reminders of the Portland area’s WWII-era shipbuilding activities. They include:
• The lower hull of the Liberty Ship, S.S. Richard Henry Dana, along the Willamette River at the Port of Portland’s Terminal 4, 11040 N. Lombard St.
• The lower hull of the Liberty Ship, S.S. James Adams, along the Willamette River at the Port of Portland’s Terminal 6, 15550 N. Lombard.
• The former Oregon Shipbuilding Co. is now Schnitzer Steel Industries, along the Willamette River at 12005 N. Burgard Way.
• A Landing Ship, Mechanical (LSM) is being used as a workshop by the Shaver Transportation tugboat company at 4900 N.W. Front Ave.
• The former Kaiser-Vancouver shipyard is now the Columbia Business Park just south of downtown Vancouver along the east bank of the Columbia River. It is visible from a viewing tower at the Henry J. Kaiser Shipyard Memorial and Interpretive Center at the boat ramp in Marine Park, 4500 S.E. Columbia Way.
• A large sculpture dedicated to women who worked in the Kaiser-Vancouver shipyard is located near the east end of the Columbia River Waterfront Trail that runs from downtown Vancouver to the near the western edge of the Columbia Business Park. Called Wendy Rose, it was built by Women Who Weld, a group of Vancouver-area female welders.
(PHOTO ABOVE) On Memorial Day weekend in 2009, over 60 years after my dad (Lt jg Charles L. Clock) stepped ashore for the last time ….we held a family gathering on board His World War II Liberty ship, the “S.S. Richard Henry Dana”. About a dozen of us were there. During the war, the “Dana” made trips to the Mideast and across the Pacific, delivering war materials. At the end of the war it was stationed at Nagoya, during the occupation of Japan.
Nearly all the Liberty ships were scrapped out after the war. Remarkably, Dad’s old ship survived and miraculously wound up right where he did …in Portland, Oregon! The odds of that happening are about one in a billion! Then the odds of me finding out about it, had to be closer to one in a trillion! The “Dana” is now a floating dock at the Port of Portland, with its superstructure removed. The St Johns Bridge and Willamette River in the background of the photo. As you can see, I wore Dad’s old Navy hat to the gathering. And I also brought along the silver bosun’s whistle that he bought me, when I was just a boy …after I begged him for months and months..
(If you are interested, I wrote up a booklet on Liberty ships, Dad and the “Dana”. A number of relatives have copies. Ask ’em for a peek.)
(*Note: There are several WWII era stories about my parents on the pages of “Mom & Dad” in this blog.
MY DAD’s PHOTOS OF JAPAN AFTER SURRENDER (1945):
These photos were taken by my dad, US Navy Lieutenant Jg (junior grade) Charles Clock. But they are tiny prints (1 1/2″x2″) and his camera leaked light, so will see “sparkles” of light in some pictures. I know, for you young people that only used a digital camera and have never used a film camera …that doesn’t make any sense at all! ha). Anyway, here they are. They are great testimony.)
NOTE: All photo sheet captions go …from upper left, to upper right, to lower left, to lower right. The captions are generally what my dad wrote on the photo backs. Within the photos themselves, the sequence goes the same (UL, UR, LL, LR)
Photo Sheet 1:
-CLC’s graduating class from Navy officer training …”90 day wonders” (Dad is in the 3rd row down, right center).
-2 members of “Dana” crew: “Robt Lewis Noser GM2/C, Ed R Crane GM3/C. SS Richard Henry Dana, Voyage 7, SF to Saipan, Guam, Tinian & return to San Pedro, CA. 1 Feb 1945 – 28 June 1945. (The next to the last trip for the Dana).
-The crew on the fan tail of the Dana.
MY DAD’S PHOTO OF THE PRESIDENT (late 1930’s – early 1940’s):
This photo was taken by my dad when President Franklin Delano Roosevelt (FDR) visited Portland, Oregon. He showed it to his “history nut” son, several times throughout the years. It’s my dad’s all time best photo …I’ll grant him that! (I’ll tell you where that comment came from …I often kidded him about his photography skills when growing up. I have always taken lots of pictures, after my parents gave me a camera for my 13th birthday. Lots! So we had kind of a friendly little competition with our pictures all the time.)
Anyway, my dad disliked FDR …there’s an understatement! …everything he stood for and did. Except for helping to win the war. Naw …actually, ALL of what FDR did! No sense sugar coating it. So how ironic is that ….my dad’s best photo was of FDR! He tried to explain to me several times how he “happened” to be along the presidential motorcade route beside Willamette River that day. And how he “happened” to bring his camera along. Pretty funny stuff!!
2 SHIPYARD PHOTOS:
The 2 photos below we’re taken in 2010, when Tristen & Taylor Adams (my daughter, Kristy’s children) and I visited what remains of the gigantic Kaiser Shipyards. Where my dad (Charles) worked during the first half of World War II, before joining the US Navy. He helped build Casablanca class escort (small) aircraft carriers. My dad’s great grandchildren seeing his old worksite …now that IS pretty cool! Most of the buildings have long since been torn down. But there is a park on one corner of the old property that commemorates those who built all the ships during the war. And in one of the photos you can see the big concrete slips, still standing, where they launched the ships …one after another. The park is located on the Washington side of the Columbia River, a mile or two east of Vancouver.
(top) DAD’S NAME TAG INSIDE HIS NAVY HAT DURING THE WAR.
(middle) WWII USN ARMED GUARD LOGO.
(bottom) APPROVAL FOR A SAILOR (THEIR DAD) TO TAKE HOME WAR SOUVENIRS, SIGNED BY MY DAD. THANKS TO THE WYCKOFF “GIRLS” FOR PASSING THIS ON TO ME. ESPECIALLY BECKY.
THE “SS RICHARD HENRY DANA” UNDER WAY, Liberty ship, Pacific, 1944.
Photo from the Wyckoff “girls” ….their father served on the “Dana” also. His name is on the bottom of the picture. Only known photo of the “Dana” in existence.