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First ship named exclusively after Rose City will be commissioned next April; commissioning organzer says, 'It's a great ship for Portland'

COURTESY PHOTO - Volunteers and others, including Gary Piercy of the Portland Council of the Navy League, have been preparing to host the USS Portland and crew and dignitaries for the ship's commissioning.It's flattering for Gary Piercy to be selected as part of the USS Portland's local commissioning contingent that will be grand marshal in the Veterans Day Parade, Saturday, Nov. 11, in the Hollywood District.

"We're riding in that World War II-era 'Duck' vehicle, I think there'll be at least 10 of us," he says. "We're looking forward to that. And I get to make a speech afterward, to make everyone aware of what's going on."

It's even more flattering to be the chairman of the Portland Council of the Navy League's executive committee and the chair of the USS Portland Commissioning Committee. He's retired Navy, a lieutenant when he left after six years of service in the 1960s, including briefly in the Vietnam War. But head of a commissioning committee?

"It's usually admirals who take over this type of thing," says Piercy, 79 and a Portland resident for 20 years. "I'm one of the lowest rankings and oldest guys. It's humorous, but it's working out. It's fun working with active Navy people, talking with leaders around the town and getting their support. I'm pleased about that."

It was Piercy and others in Portland who helped persuade U.S. Navy personnel to hold the commissioning in Portland, rather than where it was constructed in Pascagoula, Mississippi. It seemed only right — the USS Portland is the first Navy ship to be named exclusively after our city, and not jointly named after our city and Portland, Maine. Navy secretary Ray Mabus rebuffed Maine efforts to name the ship after both cities again.

Interestingly, four ships have been named after Salem and two after Astoria, and even a cruiser during World War II bore the name of Oregon City.

COURTESY PHOTO - PIERCY"This old maritime city finally has a ship named after it," Piercy says.

The commissioning will take place April 21 at the Port of Portland Terminal 2 on the Willamette River, and it takes a lot of organizing and money.

"We're trying to raise $400,000," Piercy says. "We have a lot of (financial) commitments, with about 25 percent financed. A lot of money comes in in the last three months is what people say."

Mayor Ted Wheeler, Piercy says, has been "100 percent behind it. He gave a great speech last summer during Fleet Week."

There are about 30 volunteers working on the commissioning and organizing activities for Navy personnel during their visit. The volunteer list includes former members of the U.S. Navy and U.S. Army and civilians.

There are other activities associated with the USS Portland this week. Bonnie Amos, the ship sponsor and former first lady of the Marine Corps, was visiting Portland to be the guest speaker at the Multnomah Athletic Club's Veterans Day Breakfast, meet with the USS Portland Commissioning Committee, and be the guest speaker at the Navy League's quarterly dinner. USS Portland Capt. J.R. Hill also was scheduled to be in the city.

The USS Portland was launched in February, underwent christening in May in Pascagoula, and it has been undergoing training sails with civilian crews, shipyard workers and at least once with Navy crew. Hill has received "the keys to the ship, so to speak," Piercy says, and the crew of 370 has moved aboard.

There will be more training and then the ship will sail through the Panama Canal and into San Diego in early 2018, before making its way to Portland in the spring to be officially put into service.

"It's a great ship for Portland," Piercy says.

The USS Portland also is known as LPD (Landing Platform Dock) 27 and is an amphibious transport ship that can transport Marines and their equipment and gear, as well as tanks, trucks and construction machinery. It has a large well deck for landing craft, and its flight deck has enough space for Osprey vertical landings and takeoffs and helicopters.

It's a type of ship that can and likely will be used in humanitarian missions, such as hurricane disaster relief. The ship is San Antonio class, the 11th of its type, and is 684 feet long and displaces 25,000 tons with 500 to 800 Marines on board.

"It's the perfect ship," Piercy says. "These ships are very capable. They have a large hospital space. We're trying to emphasize the humanitarian side. Both OHSU and Mercy Corps (people) are invited to take tours. We're trying to bring politicians and civilians closer to the Navy."

Piercy, in his day, helped run small ships in the Navy. This one is magnificent, he says, bigger and more versatile than similar 1960s-era ships.

And "it can carry more Marines in comfort than the old days," he adds.

The commissioning committee has busy plans for Navy personnel in April, including providing Biketown bikes, fishing trips and local tours. And the traditional gift is a "plank," harkening to old days when crew received pieces of wood as keepsakes; Navy folks become ceremonial "plank owners," with today's planks consisting of a nice plaque with engravings, an outline of the ship and the ship's crest.

The commissioning "will be a great time for all of Portland to show their pride and come out to welcome the sailors from the ship that will show our city's name around the world," Piercy says.

To learn more or to donate to the cause, see www.ussportlandlpd27.org.

The 43rd annual Portland Veterans Day parade begins at 9:30 a.m. Saturday, Nov. 11, at Northeast 40th Avenue and Hancock Street and travels east on Northeast Sandy Boulevard to 48th Avenue.

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