One night we listened to jazz and country at a smoky roadhouse in nearby Junction City. One afternoon we studied together at the University library. On another afternoon when the skies were clear and blue, we drove up the McKenzie River Highway a few miles to where the flowering Dogwood were in bloom, We spread a blanket in a small clearing next to the rushing waters of the McKenzie. The surrounding underbrush and ferns were thick and very green.
On our last night together, we talked late over coffee at the College Side Inn. My third cup of coffee was as good as the first. In a soft and melodious voice, she described for me life in her beloved islands.
When I asked her what single thing she enjoyed most about living in Hawaii, she looked me in the eye and laughingly replied, “Surfing the Kodak Reef.”
She told me her parents were newly divorced and her mother was now living alone in the family home south of Honolulu, near the foot of Diamond Head. Her mother wanted her to return to Oahu and attend the University of Hawaii. Billie then revealed that she would not be returning to Oregon in the fall.
It was all a sweet but fleeting passage. We had so little time together. When we parted late that night, she wrote out for me her Oahu address. I wondered if we would ever meet again.
With German U-boats sinking ships in the Atlantic and Japan threatening in the Pacific, a stronger Merchant Marine became essential to America.
It was summer 1941. The business of building ships was picking up a full head of steam. Up and down the West Coast, shipyards sprang up in places like Portland, San Diego, Oakland, Alameda, even Sausalito.
Working around the clock, Henry J. Kaiser’s Swan Island Shipyard in Portland launched a homely cargo ship every sixty days that year. They called these 9,000-ton, prefab freighters Liberty Ships. Several thousand were built on both coasts. Today, only one original, unaltered Liberty Ship still exists—the SS Jeremiah O’Brien, berthed at Pier 32 in San Francisco.
The other major shipyard in Portland at that time was the venerable Willamette Iron & Steel Company, which built tough, heavy-plated minelayers for the Navy.