American Legion again hosts Rose Festival fleet sailors

See genuine hospitality in action, outer East Portland style …

Checking in with American Legion Portland Post #1 volunteer Laura Rinaker is USS Chosin Operations Specialist 2nd Class Oscar Batista.

Story and photos by David F. Ashton

For decades, volunteers have welcomed sailors who have come to visit town during the Portland Rose Festival “Fleet Week” in June.

Starting more than 30 years ago, Rita Akin said, she and her husband Carl volunteered at the “Navy Hospitality Room” set up in a waterfront hotel.

Coming from their Halifax-class frigate HMCS Calgary, Leading Seaman Hayden Pooley and Master Seaman Jason Hendsbee spend a moment with host Rita Akin.

“After the hotel was sold, the new owners booted us out of there,” Akin told East Portland News. “So, we moved it out here.”

For years now, that location has been American Legion Portland Post #1 – “The Service Post” – at 1830 SE 122nd Avenue in the Mill Park neighborhood.

Busy at the grill are volunteer chefs Chris Knipe and Deope Gayomali.

Their “Hospitality Day” is always held on the afternoon of the Portland Rose Festival Grand Floral Parade, which this year was on June 6.

“Since we’ve moved out here, we pick up the sailors at the hospitality area in a van at the downtown Willamette River seawall, and bring them here,” Akin explained.

Many of the sailors were dressed in their “Class A” uniforms; these service people enjoyed the American Legion’s hospitality.

 Look at this happy group! It’s outgoing American Legion Portland Post #1 Commander John Bolner, Sons of American Legion commander Greg Kenney, and crew from the HMCS Calgary – Daniel O’Hare, Justin Pike, Damon Sadler, as well as Post Auxiliary President Kelly Buck.

Throughout the day, volunteer drivers chauffeured service men and women, up to a dozen at a time, to the American Legion hall. The guests were greeted by the scent of burgers on the grill, and were checked for a stay as long as they wanted, that day.

“Ever year, we have a big barbecue with hamburgers and hot dogs, salads, chips, snacks, and desserts of all kinds,” Akin remarked. “Even though Carl passed away last year, I keep working on this, in his memory, trying to help it grow bigger and better every year.”

American Legion Portland Post #1 Junior Auxiliary members Kaitlyn Ekter, Amanda Ekter, and Mariyah and Gianna Niiranen, welcome USS Cape St. George SC3 Leo Gatlin.

These mates, of the USS Chosin, enjoy their day in outer East Portland: Oscar Batista, Richard Mooney, Lucas Mihalik, Michael Aguinaldo, and Jim Lor.

Most of the guests chose to stay in the air conditioned lounge, dining and talking with one another, and with their American Legion hosts.

“This is truly awesome; we really appreciate it,” said USS Chosin Cryptologic Petty Officer 1st Class Richard Mooney. “This hospitality makes our stay at the Portland Rose Festival an even more special event.”

Some of his crewmates attended the Grand Floral Parade in the morning, and were persuaded to come out to the Legion hall by friends. “It’s a good time, with good food – and cold free beer also makes it quite nice!”

The crew of the US Coast Guard Cutter Waesche presents a plaque to American Legion Portland Post #1 Commander John Bolner, with gratitude for the hospitality offered.

It’s worth the effort, she said, “Because today’s young service people need to know that they’re cared about, and somebody is thinking about them when they’re out at sea. We care about them, and we want them to know that.”

© 2015 David F. Ashton ~ East Portland News

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