World War II

By Barbara F. Dyer | Jul 16, 2020
Courtesy of: Barbara Dyer The first Pine Tree barge was made in Camden and launched Feb. 8, 1943.

According to the dictionary I have, a relic is something that has survived a passage of time; something cherished for its age; anything old and left over. I was looking for a new title, as I am tired of "senior citizen." For some reason, a "relic" does not sound like a title replacement I was looking for.

However, I remember World War II on the home front in Camden. I shall never forget the effect it had on all living here. My friends, relatives and neighbors were all leaving for the service. Most did not want to wait to be drafted because that meant going into the Army and probably combat ground fighting. They all seemed to prefer the Air Force, Navy or Coast Guard. Seeing the young men leave, not knowing if or when they would return home was the difficult part.

We were not used to rationing, but that was easy. You were to go to a central meeting place and apply for ration stamps and coins. Those booklets were precious, as so many things were rationed. One family was allowed one pound of butter a week, if, when you stood in line at the grocery store, they still had a pound left that day. You were very fortunate if you could get a pound of hamburger, when you got to the front of the line. I do remember being very disappointed because I was just old enough to wear silk stockings and they were unavailable to buy, as the silk was going into parachutes. You could buy those awful looking cotton (?) ones that I did not want. One day Eleanor Roosevelt came into our shipyard office, because she was going to christen a barge that day that had been built in the yard. She had on those awful looking stockings, so my whole attitude changed. If the First Lady wore them, then I guess I could, and did until the war was over.

We had received a contract for four barges. Why? Because President Franklin D. Roosevelt wondered how New England families were going to get the coal for their furnaces. One day he saw a string of fuel barges being towed up the Hudson River, carrying coal to Boston and points North. He thought, "That is the answer. " We bid on the contract, although they had never built a wooden barge before. Some naval architect drew up the plans and Camden Shipbuilding & Marine Railways Co., built four. They were constructed of wood and Camden workers were excellent wood workers.

On February 8, 1943, Eleanor Roosevelt came to Camden to "christen" the first barge to be launched, Pine Tree 1. She was met in Portland by Cary Bok, who drove her to the Shipyard. There were no Secret Service men with her, in those days. At the Yard waiting there were steel helmeted infantrymen from the Camden Army Reserve standing at attention as Mrs. Roosevelt entered the gates there. After meeting the officials of the Shipyard, she took a tour of inspection. She climbed the ramp of the Pine Tree 1, and saw the workmen in action. It was not an easy climb. The barge was very large in length, depth and width. I was fortunate enough to be one of the employees "launch aboard." I thought walking the planks to get on the vessel was indeed rather frightening. The vessel was so large that the planks went from the ground to the side of the bow. I chose to go to the very front of the bow in order to look down on Mrs. Roosevelt as she smashed the champagne bottle. Also I could look down on the then Governor of Maine, Sumner Sewall and his wife. When the bottle broke Mrs. Roosevelt was showered with the bubbly contents and the Governor of Maine took out his big white handkerchief for her to wipe her face. I felt as if the 192-foot barge was going all the way out to Curtis Island, but it slowed up in the water.

There was a double launching that day, as APc#62 (troop transport) was christened by Mrs. Helen Price of Bath. As it went down the ways, a tug boat, Eugenie Spofford, was waiting to tow it out of the way.

It was estimated that about 5000 people were there in the Shipyard. For crowd control, there were members from Camp Camden Army base, the night watchman, who was Camden's Police Force then, and the Camden Fire Department.

After the launchings, the Penobscot Tribe of Native Americans were there to make Eleanor Roosevelt an honorary member of their tribe. They had made the lifeboats for the barge. The ceremony began, ''Hear me, my friends," said Poolaw. "We are to hold council. Light the council fire, Muscrat. Now light the pipe of peace and give it to Great Bear. I will sing to the Great Spirit of the North, the East, the South and the West, to ask the Great Spirit's protection for the big war canoe." Notes of the Woman's Song, sung by Princess Watawaso were then heard. The dance of the braves by Little Deer (Mary Louise Francis) was followed by Little Beaver (Robert Anderson) and Muscrat (Jerry Francis). "All join the victory dances,"said Poolaw. The voice of the Bear (Gov. Theodore Mitchell) said: "As Governor of the Penobscot Indians, I, the Bear, deem it a great privilege to make you, Eleanor Roosevelt, an honorary member of our tribe. I will ask Princess Watawaso to place a band of wampum, upon your head. Your name in the tribe is Ow-du-sees-ul (many trails). He spoke in Indian tongue, but interpreted by Poolaw. There were newsmen and cameras all around that day. Mrs. Roosevelt was presented with a sweetgrass basket and then shook hands with them all. As the launching party moved toward the gate, the new Indian Princess was given two Knox Woolen Mill blankets and a scale model of the Pine Tree made by Walter Leavitt of South Warren, Maine.

A reception was later held at the Officers' Club on 13 Sea Street (formerly known as the Wagner House). After all the excitement, Mrs. Roosevelt and Lieut. Dorothy Kenna of the WAAC, who had accompanied her from Portland, left Camden to return to Portland.

It was a great day for Camden and the whole thing was reported in all the papers.

Barbara F. Dyer has lived all her life, so far, in Camden and is the official town historian.

 

First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt was made an honorary member of the Penobscot Tribe when she christened the Pine Tree 1 barge in 1943. (Courtesy of: Barbara Dyer)
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