U.S. sailors “shanghaied” to outer East Portland party

We caught members of the American Legion Auxiliary #1 in the act of providing the unrestrained hospitality denied to sailors visiting downtown. Check out this exclusive story …

Bob White, 2nd Vice President of American Legion Post #1 (seated), and Cheryl Fulton, member of American Legion Auxiliary #1 (standing, being hugged), welcome sailors to their Post, during the Rose Festival’s Fleet Week.

Story and photo by David F. Ashton
At last! One of the secret stories of the just-completed 2008 Portland Rose Festival can now be told.

Since 1924, the Portland Rose Festival has welcomed sailors from all countries to the annual event. That’s no secret.

Although the naval fleets have shrunk in size – and many ships have grown too large to navigate the Willamette River – four US Navy ships, five US Coast Guard vessels, and sailors from other ships tied up to the seawall, all were downtown during “fleet week”, and offered Portlanders tours of their ships.

Military support organizations operated a “hospitality center” for visiting sailors located at a SW Front Street hotel. But, and here’s something you probably haven’t heard – that facility was purchased and remodeled last year, and the new owners made it clear that their new highbrow clientele wouldn’t appreciate military folks on their property. Portland’s hospitality hung in the balance.

Volunteer grillmaster at the American Legion Post #1, Grant Talmadge, tends the hot dogs.

East Portland American Legion steps up
The good reputation of the Rose City was rescued by the friendship of American Legion Post and Auxiliary #1 on SE 122nd Avenue in the Mill Park neighborhood. They’ve been hosting visiting military folks – including sailors during Fleet Week – for years, in tandem with the downtown location, and have even won awards for it.

This year, with the sudden absence of downtown hospitality, the organization stepped up its efforts, and in outer East Portland, catered the only party there was for visiting sailors.

Cheryl Fulton, a member of American Legion Auxiliary #1, told the story.

“For years, I was involved with the hospitality room for our visiting service people downtown during the Portland Rose Festival,” said Fulton. “We decided to create an activity on Rose Festival Saturday, because there were no other functions for them. Seven years ago, I suggested that we do a hamburger and hot dog barbecue party for them here at the Post.”

Helping to grill up some of the 450 hamburgers consumed during the Rose Festival hospitality mission are Don Mitchell and John Peterson.

Idea slowly builds
The first year, only six sailors accepted their invitation. “We wondered whether or not this was a good idea, but we’ve persisted over the years. Last year we hosted 209 visitors; with the lack of downtown hospitality – we’ll surpass that number this year,” related Fulton.

Bob White, the Post’s 2nd Vice President, said he’s in charge of the food logistics. “With the help of our shifts of volunteer cooks, and twenty Auxiliary members, we’ll be serving 400 hot dogs in 450 hamburgers today. It’s a lot of food, but it’s a great cause. We love having the Navy guys and gals come out.”

Reser’s Fine Foods donated salads to the project, Franz Bakery gave the Post bread and buns, and many members made special dishes at home and brought them in, Fulton added.

Spiriting sailors to SE 122nd Avenue
It’s a long way from Tom McCall Park to Mill Park, so the Post – with the help of Enterprise Car Rentals – ran two shuttle vans driven by a cadre of ten volunteer drivers, starting at noon and ending at 11 p.m.

“They sure put on a great party,” said Jack Morrison from the guided-missile frigate USS Gary. “Going out for drinks and dinner at a restaurant costs more than most sailors can afford. We all appreciate this American Legion Post for showing us the ‘real’ hospitality of Portland.”

Officials in the Navy appreciate the gesture of friendship; the Post has been officially recognized for their work by the U.S. Navy Third Fleet three years running.

Post Commander, Tom Fulton, arrives back at the Post after driving sailors from their ship to the party in Mill Park.

Paying it forward
As we were ready to leave for our next assignment, we met the Commander of the Post, Tom Fulton, who was coming in from driving a shuttle van run.

“When I was in the military, my superiors gave me a helping hand to make sure that I do well. When we help our servicemen enjoy their visit to Portland, they will, hopefully, remember our hospitality. Then, when they retire, perhaps they’ll ‘pay it forward’ by offering hospitality to those in active duty.”

© 2008 David F. Ashton ~ East Portland News

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