Curiosity: forget “Cherchez la femme” (Look for the woman.) “Cherchez l’histoire.” (Look for the story.)
Nearly three years ago, my husband Gary noticed a small item in the paper announcing that an amphibious transport ship currently under construction in Pascagoula, MS, would be named after Portland, Oregon. Having spent six years in the Navy and fascinated by all things nautical, Gary had many questions, chief among them: “Is the mayor’s office doing anything to ensure that the ship will come to Portland for her commissioning ceremony in late 2017?”
He contacted the mayor’s office and was given approval to begin organizing a civilian Commissioning Committee, of which he is now officially Chair. He’s worked closely with people from the Secretary of the Navy’s office, Ingalls Shipyards, Portland City Hall, many Honorary Board candidates and recruited an active Executive Committee. Gary and I, Ken-a member of the Executive Committee-and his friend John were in Pascagoula last Saturday, May 21, for the christening of LPD27.
We attended several events before and after the ceremony and met the ship’s sponsor, Bonnie Amos, wife of Maj. Gen James Amos, former Commandant of the Marine Corps. She smashed the metal-clad (to prevent anyone from being hurt by shards of glass) champagne bottle beautifully-on her third swing.
These 684-ft., 25,000 ton ships carry boats and landing craft in their well deck, helicopters and tilt-rotor aircraft on their flight deck and a Marine Expeditionary force of 633 enlisted, with a crew of 28 officers, 332 enlisted Sailors and 3 Marines. They have two fully-equipped operating rooms and two dental treatment rooms and 24 hospital beds. Portland is the eleventh ship of this class. Gen. Amos told us that 70% of their missions have been to provide humanitarian relief in the event of tsunamis, hurricanes, earthquakes and other disasters.
After the celebration, intrigued by a destination offered on the rental car GPS, we went to the Walter Anderson Art Museum, 22 miles away in Ocean Springs. We’d never heard of this artist/writer who lived from 1903 to 1965, but were intrigued by colorful murals called “The Seven Climates,” each one related to stars, moon or planet, which he painted in the Ocean Springs Community Center about 1945. The town fathers issued a voucher for the amount he requested for this work: $1.00.
We watched a poignant film, narrated by Anderson’s daughter, about his last twenty years, when he lived as a recluse, spending all his time painting in his studio-which his family was never allowed to enter-or painting and writing on nearby Horn Island. He’d been in and out of mental hospitals from 1938-40 and made many long trips alone, by bicycle, in the US, China and Costa Rica, clearly marching to the beat of his own drum. “It is the duty of an artist, he wrote, to render thanks for ‘the voluptuous return’ of nature, the ‘gift of an austere mother to her children.'” He worshipped nature, but painted what seem to me to be splendid, but very unnatural colors. The secret studio has been re-assembled inside the museum.We drove to 27 miles to Biloxi on Sunday to check out an in-the-water, wooden boat, show. The boat owners seemed even more friendly and talkative that those we’ve met at similar events in the Northwest.
Water between the barrier islands and the shore is shallow, teeming with fish, shrimp and oysters. Pelicans were diving all around us; though, of course, it was virtually impossible for me to get a good shot of one hitting the water.
Biloxi’s Maritime and Seafood Industry Museum was closed on account of the Boat Show; so we visited the Jefferson Davis Home, Museum and Library complex. Davis settled in Biloxi after the Civil War and eventually purchased Beauvoir, an elegant, one-story home at the beach, built in the 1850s.
Hurricane Katrina wreaked devastation. Interior furnishings required extensive, expert repair; the exterior was ruined. Our guide pointed out, however, that the solid, tightly fitted cypress floor survived intact. All has been restored. Having read Secrets of Mary Bowser by Lois Leveen, the story of the former slave who worked as a spy in the Confederate White House in Richmond, VA, gave a special edge to this tour.
Because we flew in and out of “Nawlins”-as they say, and sometimes spell it-we decided to shift from the rural Pascagoula Holiday Inn Express to the Holiday Inn in the French Quarter, with a well-documented architectural history. We stopped en route to visit the Maritime and Seafood Industry Museum.
After the Museum, we spotted the Old French House restaurant, which has been in business since 1964, in a house built in 1737. Lunch was wonderful. I had flounder with crab stuffing.
We continued toward New Orleans on old Highway 90, which stays close to the shore until you cross the bridge into Louisiana. We saw a large dead alligator on the side of the road. You’re lucky this isn’t smell-o-vision; this thing was about 10-ft. long and it reeked.Our hotel was on Dauphine St., only one block over from Bourbon St. It was great fun, wandering around, peering into art galleries, antique shops, restaurants and bars with live music before settling on a light supper at Brennan’s: two appetizers, shared; plus Bananas Foster for dessert. As Gary observed, we had two fabulous meals in one day.
Our flight wasn’t until early Tuesday evening. We checked out before 11, left our bags with the concierge and walked over to the historical warehouse district to spend a few hours in the WWII museum.
A special guest at the USS Portland (LPD-27) christening was Ted Waller, Boatswain’s Mate First Class on the WWII cruiser USS Portland (CA-33) named after Portland, ME. The day of the christening was his 93rd birthday.
He and Gary corresponded briefly before the christening. Ted wrote, “Battle station the entire time was on anti-aircraft battery (primarily a quad 40 mm mount). Received Purple Heart for wound received during night surface action at Guadalcanal on 11/13/1942.”
These schematic maps at the WWII Museum were, therefore, especially meaningful.
And, from a more personal perspective, this struck a chord, too.My father, Coast Artillery, West Point ’38, was sent to Guam in January 1945. My mother, baby sister and I joined him there in June 1946.