Maritime Memorial Park
This memorial was consecrated on August 14, 1993 to pay tribute to the many local residents that served in the maritime industry, including many that never made it home again. The monument was the culmination of six years of hard work by the residents in the community who sought to memorialize those lost at sea, as well as a form of recognition of service in the maritime industry. They ultimately reached their goal through a $30,000 grant from the Oregon Department of Land Conservation and Development, alongside matching local funding and private donations.
In many cases, the names on the memorial are the only place where relatives can come to grieve and seek solace over their loss. Their loved ones were lost at sea and the family was denied the traditional methods of burial and closure. The Maritime Memorial was also built to remember the sacrifices of the early pioneers in Astoria history, as well as the many souls that fought to save lives and those that died in the name of freedom. Aside from the Coast Guard crewmen that gave their lives to help others in the unrelenting waters of the mouth of the Columbia River, the memorial features a dedication to the lives lost on a World War II cruiser that was named in honor of Astoria.
The U.S.S. Astoria
The memorial also pays tribute to the crew of the United States Naval cruiser, the U.S.S. Astoria (CA-34) that operated in World War II and was ultimately sunk during the Battle of Savo Island on August 9, 1942. The ship was launched on December 16, 1933 and sponsored by Miss Leila C. McKay, who happened to be a descendant of a member of the John Jacob Astor expedition that founded Astoria, Oregon. The U.S.S. Astoria was commissioned on April 28, 1934.
The New Orleans-class heavy cruiser participated in both the Battle of the Coral Sea, as well as the Battle of Midway prior to the battle that ultimately sunk it. Interestingly enough, the ship may have avoided a much earlier fate as it had been docked at Pearl Harbor in Hawaii in December 1941. Fortunately, it had been put to sea on December 6 and was 700 miles west of Hawaii on its way to Midway when the Japanese launched their attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7.
During the Battle of Savo Island, the U.S.S. Astoria had been struck by at least 65 hits, but managed to survive the initial battle. Luckily for the men onboard, the Japanese forces withdrew right as the heavily damaged ship had lost all power and was no longer able to perform evasive maneuvers. However, the ship was heavily damaged and the men fought to extinguish the blazes that had erupted. The majority of the crew, including the 70 wounded and many dead were fortunately evacuated and a salvage team was deployed to try and save the devastated ship. The men fought for several more hours before the call was made to abandon ship and they were evacuated to watch the ship finally go under. The area of the ocean that the ship sunk is now known as "Iron Battle Sound" for all the ships that were lost there.
The Triumph and Coast Guard Remembrances
Other names on the Maritime Memorial consist of the Coast Guard crewmen that have navigated the treacherous waters of the mouth of Columbia River for years and provided assistance to vessels in distress. In some cases, the crewmen gave their lives in sacrifice in aiding these ailing craft.
One such case is the Coast Guard vessel named Triumph that went down on January 14, 1961 when it came to the aid of the crab boat Mermaid at the mouth of the Columbia River. In a series of tragic circumstances, combined with the tumultuous weather that night, three Coast Guard craft went down as well as the Mermaid. Of the vessels lost, the two-man crew of the Mermaid and five crewmen of the Triumph perished. The incident is now recalled as one of the most tragic shipwrecks in modern Columbia Bar history.
Captain Chris Andersen
Among the many names inscribed on the Maritime Memorial is Captain Chris Andersen of the halibut schooner Argo. Andersen was well known in the area for his stories of his ship's encounters with a local legend by the name of Colossal Claude. Claude was reportedly a very large sea serpent that had been frequently sighted at the mouth of the Columbia River from the 1930s to the 1950s. Andersen and the Argo were said to have encountered the creature multiple times, but most notably on April 13, 1939 when the monster was said to rear up ten feet out of the water and stare down at the crew of the Argo, which was located only ten feet away. When speaking to a reporter about the account, Captain Andersen said, "His head was like a camel's. His fur was coarse and gray. He had glassy eyes and a bent snout that he used to push a 20-pound halibut off our lines and into his mouth." He later added, "He could have sunk us with a nudge." Andersen passed away in 1960.
The memorial was recently featured in a scene from the upcoming horror film, Crimps. The supernatural thriller is the brainchild of local filmmaker Mick Alderman and delves into the dark history of in Astoria's past. The term crimps comes from the people involved in shanghaiing, where men were conscripted by drugging, trickery, or intimidation in order to obtain unfree labor to serve on merchant ships. The practice is widely believed to have occurred in Astoria's early days, which plays into Alderman's passion for incorporating the culture of the city into the film.
The Maritime Memorial Park is located just off Bay Street under the Astoria-Megler Bridge and is one of the featured stops on the popular Astoria Riverfront Trolley four-mile route alongside the Columbia River. In addition to the memorial, the park offers a spectacular view of both the Columbia River, as well as the Astoria-Megler Bridge that connects Oregon with the state of Washington.