A newspaper article at the time noted that the governor of Oregon planned to send a gavel made of wood from the ship to the governor of each state. In addition, gavels may have been made for general sale or distribution. Indeed, another newspaper article of the period noted that a few weeks before the ceremony volunteer workers from the unions were already dismantling the woodwork “to be converted into souvenirs of the Oregon, to be ‘exchanged’ for War Bonds.” Perhaps these souvenirs included gavels.
During the Spanish-American War, the U.S.S. Oregon contributed to the rise of America as a world naval power. However, by 1942, the U.S. Navy decided to scrap the ship to raise money for a more modern battleship. A ceremony broadcast on national radio on December 7, 1942, began precisely at the time of the Pearl Harbor bombing one year before, and included a parade. The keynote speech was delivered by Lyndon B. Johnson, then a young congressman from Texas, who had served as a lieutenant commander in the Naval Reserves in the South Pacific until President Roosevelt recalled all members of Congress from the armed services and placed them on inactive duty. In his speech LBJ stated, “The spirit of the Oregon lives on, though all the staunch steel of which she was made be wholly consumed, dedicated anew to the high cause of freedom which she was first formed to defend.”
The U.S.S. Oregon played a major role in the Spanish-American War. Commissioned in 1896, it was designed as a powerful fighting vessel capable of operating in the shallow waters of the American coasts. As tensions rose between the Spaniards and the U.S., the Oregon, together with the USS Marietta embarked on a 15,000 mile journey around South America from the Pacific to Cuba, which took 66 days and captured the popular imagination through newspaper reports. By the time the ships arrived at Key West, Congress had declared war. The Oregon participated in the decisive battle at Santiago, Cuba in July 1898, where the entire Spanish fleet was destroyed. The Oregon’s epic journey, while ultimately successful, demonstrated the need for the Panama Canal and fostered popular support for that undertaking. By 1898, it was the most famous battleship in U.S. history after “Old Ironsides.”
The beloved ship narrowly escaped being scrapped in 1920, when a public outcry resulted in a change of plans and it was moved to the Portland, Oregon, harbor where it became a maritime museum. In an interview the day of the scrapping ceremony in 1942, Johnson responded to critics against dismantling the historically important ship to raise funds by warning that the nation should expect a long and difficult war ahead, and that victory was definitely not “around the corner.” In fact, the Navy later decided to scrap only the interior, and the hull was used as a storage hulk in the reconquest of Guam in 1944. The rest of the ship was eventually sold as scrap in 1956, ironically, to a Japanese company. Today, the mast is mounted in the seawall as a memorial in Portland’s Battleship Park.
Aaron, Louise. “Ship’s Scrapping Typical of Need.” Oregon Journal. December 7, 1942. p. 12.
Dana, Marshall N. “Cherished Battleship Oregon’s Public Career to End Thursday.” Oregon Journal. November 22, 1942.
Marshall, Norman S., Tucker, Robert and Owens, Margaret A. “California’s Battleship: The Story of USS Oregon.” The California Military Museum. http://www.militarymuseum.org/Oregon2.html (28 March 2005).
Syring, Richard H. “City Offers Last Honors to Warship.” Oregon Journal. December 8, 1942.
“U.S.S. Oregon: Flagship of the California Militia.” The California Military Museum. http://www.militarymuseum.org/Oregon.html (28 March 2005).