The quotations that follow illustrate the many ways that Chinook people experienced military service and periods of war. Many of our narrators were young adults during World War II and recall the removal of Japanese and Japanese neighbors, the wartime home front, and being drafted for the war effort. Other narrators recounted the service of family members in the United States Coast Guard, an essential branch of the military considering the location of tribal members around the mouth of the Columbia River and along the coastline. Tribal members like Sam Robinson served during later periods when the nation was at war with Vietnam. As with the rest of the nation, World War Two was a time of great transformation for many of our narrators.
44,000 Native Americans served in the United States military during World War II. Per capita, Native American participation in the war exceeded any other group: For every one drafted, one and a half Natives volunteered. A large fraction of Native Americans lived on reservations and their experiences in the war mirrored the rest of the population. The war had an enormous impact on Native peoples living in remote western areas. The war meant draft or volunteer enlistment for young men, and high paying war jobs in far-away cities for others. Most of those who left the reservations did not permanently return there after the war.
The Chinook were no different. They sent young men to war, and those who stayed helped the cause on the home front. Many young Chinook males saw the benefit of military service and joined the army to find work and new opportunities. Many of them did not return to Bay Center. This helped them gain individual opportunities but also scattered members of the Chinook Nation.
Sam Robinson recounts his father’s story of Japanese in Bay Center during the World War II:
Then there was a huge population of Japanese in Bay Center, you know, working in the oysters and everything. My dad remembers the day they all vanished; you know, they sent them off to internment camps. He said they were all there, and then pft! One day they were gone. You know, he also remembers in Bay Center they were doing some war games or some maneuvers down in the bay area. He was telling me about this one time they had some vehicles that they couldn’t get across because of a high tide. They kind of got stuck. So somebody, with one of the dredges took some bad [inaudible], these like barges they would have, and took them over there and put the whole convoy on there and brought them back across the river, you know. So there was a lot of activity going on in that bay during the war, you know.
Anna May Strong talks about the end of World War II and her brother Carleton joining the Army:
Yeah, the war was just about ending shortly before we graduated and we were living down in Bay Center and when the official word, presidential declaration, the war is over, there were more than one mill in Raymond and South Bend and we could hear the mill whistles blowing clear in South Bend. They pulled them on and they left them on until all the steam was gone so they were on a long, long time. Jobs, you could get a job doing anything, anywhere practically. There was jobs everywhere and when we graduated from high school, my brother had pre-signed up with the Army because they said they would pay for your college education and my brother went in the Army when he was seventeen because he had the brains and he graduated.
Anna May Strong describes Seattle during wartime:
It was the wartime. Seattle looked so, so different. There were sailors and soldiers on all the streets downtown. Out in Elliott Bay there were tons of naval ships of all shapes and forms… Seattle had also great big huge blimps anchored with cables all around the downtown and all around the Elliott Bay. That was to keep Japanese dive bombers from coming in and sinking our Navy ships, so that was very different. That was wartime yet.
Ken Reed on wartime jobs:
During the war good jobs were available in Seattle in the shipyards. And also, something that is worth noting. My father was a union man at a time when unions, you know, were highly suspect.
Ken Reed on getting drafted in 1944, right out of high school:
I didn’t, you know, feel I shouldn’t be drafted. I didn’t feel I didn’t want to be drafted. That’s just the way things were then. You did it. Same thing like in the Army, you just do it.
And then when I got overseas [European theater], they found out I was a good typists, so I spent the rest of the time as a clerk in division headquarters.
Joan Tuttle Wekell connects her father’s wartime military service with her parents’ divorce:
My parents, after the war, divorced. They were married about seventeen years but after the war — well, it’s still happening. They come home and they’re sort of different people. And my father was — my niece was just amazed, she said, ‘Well, Grandpa had to be in his forties when he joined the Navy for World War II,’ which was true. He had been in World War I, but they were taking anybody then. I think he was forty-one or forty-two and he reenlisted. And he had skills they could use, so — but he came home and he was drunk all the time and he was anti-social, and Mom just — ‘No, I can’t do this. I’m going to go back to Washington with my family.’
Joe Brignone’s military experience:
I spent twenty years in the Navy, but I spent four and a half years of active duty and five years of active Reserve, and then the rest was inactive Reserve because I was traveling on the road and I couldn’t drill. So the last ten years were inactive. So that’s why I don’t ever draw retirement from the military, but I got my twenty year retirement card, discharge from them.
I went to boot camp in California, boot camp was nine weeks long. I found out that if you join the Drummer Bugle Corps, that’s when you go to work with them. You have to do your first original part of your basic drilling stuff first; you know, the basics. Then you go to the Drum Bugle Corps, but you have to stay two weeks longer in boot camp. Well I had such a good time playing the Drum Bugle Corps, I liked it so much I stayed an extra month in boot camp so I could play drums in the Drum Bugle Corps. I got to play for the East and West Shrine game in the Los Angeles Coliseum.
When I left the carrier, the Midway, I went to the Philippines and I was stationed there for two years. When I got done out of the service I moved to Seattle and I was working at Boeing…
It’s two or three o’clock in the morning, and in the Philippines the barracks don’t have any windows on them. They’ve got windows but they’ve got just slats and screens on ‘em ‘cause it was so hot.
Well, the Marine barracks was next door. All these young grunt Marines there, “Shut that damn music off. We’re gonna come over you damn swabbies!” You know, they’re just cussing at us like that, so we’d have to turn it [music] all down you know.
Sam Robinson’s military service and tribal identity as Chinook:
[Y]ou know I was always raised to work hard and had good values and stuff, so I think the team thing was always there, always inspired me. Maybe that’s the tribal portion of me, you know. I mean, you know you’re there for the team, yeah. And it wasn’t all bad. It wasn’t all bad, you know, I mean the survival portion of it. It was unique.
Joan Tuttle Wekell talks about her grandfather’s Coast Guard career:
Oh yes, the places she [my mother] lived, well, Westport, North Cove, and then I think they went to Coos Bay and then Point Reyes, and then as a teenager she lived in Sausalito and went to school in San Francisco. I think that was a fun time for her but, my grandfather, he had a kind of interesting job; it was during Prohibition. And he was transferred to, oh, a service that went out and caught rum runners and stuff, and that’s what he was doing in San Francisco and he got some honors for his work that he did down there.
I guess my grandfather, like I had said he was catching rum runners. And I always thought it was Catalina Island, but I think I read something somewhere that it wasn’t Catalina but it was in California. There was a boat called The Gray Ghost that was very, very fast and they would bring, they could outrun anything the Coast Guard could. And it was really a thorn in their side, and these guys were bringing a shipment of whiskey and the Coast Guard managed, my grandfather was a chief warrant officer. I think he was in charge of the boat. They ran it up on the ground, the Gray Ghost, and pursued them. And there was gunshots and [laughs] my grandfather shot this one guy in the butt. And they, well, he didn’t die or anything and people thought it was funny and they started calling him Sure-shot, you know, and that became a nickname for him. But the Coast Guard was able to confiscate that boat, and they used it as a Coast Guard boat for chasing rum runners. My grandfather got to, that was his command was on that boat. He was in charge of it.