As many of you know, I grew up in California. Growing up in California when I did, the paranoia of the Japanese wasn’t such a distant past that it had been forgotten. The attack on Pearl Harbor was before my time, but not by much. Fourteen years in the conciseness of people isn’t very long. It’s been 18 years since the attacks that brought down the World Trade Center, and we still remember – some bitterly, some fearfully, most with sorrow. Growing up as I did where I did, there were remnants of the country’s fears dotted the coastal landscape. I had assumed these abandoned reminders were exclusive to the California Coast. Devils Slide and Muir Beach are the bunkers I am most familiar with, not far from San Francisco.
As it turns out, Oregon was just as paranoid. I know, it sounds a bit far-fetched. Southern California, with its Navy operations in San Diego, made sense. San Francisco seemed a stretch, but I always thought the fear of invasion stopped at the Golden Gate. I was wrong. Fort Stevens, built to stop a Confederate invasion of the Columbia River during the Civil War, was also the site of a Japanese attack with the same goal in mind – to invade the Columbia River and disrupt the shipping lanes. On June 21, 1942 a Japanese submarine had followed fishing boats to avoid mine field in the area and reached the mouth of the Columbia River. Late that night, the submarine surfaced. The submarine’s target was Fort Stevens’ Battery Russell. With the first fire, the fort’s commander ordered an immediate blackout. The commander also refused to return fire, believing that to do so would have provided the enemy with targets. Most of the Japanese rounds landed in a baseball field or in the nearby swamp.
Fort Stevens was an active military installation from 1863 to 1947. There is something eerie, almost bone-chillingly strange about walking the halls of the now abandoned buildings.
Birds have laid claim to the interior rooms, finding places suitable for nest building away from the winds and sheltered from the rains.
Tours of the fort’s grounds are completely self-guided. Few signs have been erected to let visitors fully understand what they are looking at. It is almost as though the park is a work in progress. Not knowing, not understanding, let the imagination run wild.
From Fort Stevens, we continued south to the town of Seaside Oregon. Along the way, elk were found grazing near the highway. Our “home” away from home was such a welcome sight after a full day of adventure.