Decent weather and solemn remembrance will combine to launch the 70th memorial of what became the Depoe Bay Fleet of Flowers this morning at 11am. A public gathering will assemble in front of the Depoe Bay Coast Guard Station with a celebration of life and the honoring of all those who have lost their lives at sea
Fleet of Flowers celebrates the lives of two commercial fishermen in particular who went out into heavy seas on October 26, 1945, to rescue those aboard the troller Nor’wester. The Nor’wester was stranded near the jaws of Depoe Bay Harbor, the captain unable to maneuver it through the narrow passage to the calm waters inside.
Fishermen Roy Bowers and Jack Chambers, who themselves had just successfully navigated the passage, headed back out to save the Cara Lou with Capt. Ernest McQueen and two teen-age boys aboard. That was the last anyone saw of Bowers or Chambers whose boat was found washed up on the shore the next morning with both men dead from exposure. Meanwhile, McQueen and the boys had tied up to an offshore buoy and rode the storm out ’til morning and then made it in safely.
The Memorial Day remembrance begins at 11am in the harbor parking lot. Afterward a small flotilla of fishing boats will move out of the harbor and into the open ocean. There they will cast their hundreds of memorial wreaths upon the waters as a Coast Guard Helicopter flies overhead and drops a single wreath in the middle of the flotilla.
This will be an especially memorable moment for everyone watching from shore, as well as for those on the boats, from another storm that pitched and tossed the community over the last year. A horribly misguided Department of Homeland Security and Coast Guard brass in Washington D.C. inexplicably moved to close down the Coast Guard’s rescue helicopter station in Newport claiming that it was an unnecessary facility. Swift and determined protests went up from the Central Coast fishing community that created a tsunami of opposition that broke on the shores of the U.S. Capitol and forced Homeland Security and the Coast Guard to “stand down” their intent. The station was preserved to save lives of fishermen for another day, and another day and another day. The heroism of the Fishermen’s Wives of Newport and others who launched the battle cry and took the Coast Guard to court and won, will be on everyone’s mind as they toss their wreaths upon the sea.