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D-Day Remembrance: How World War II Affected the Oregon Coast

Published 6/06/24 at 4:15 a.m.
By Oregon Coast Beach Connection

(Oregon Coast) – The grand details of World War II are varied and incredibly multi-leveled. If you're a student of history at all, this one presents the most constant stream of amazing facts and revelations; it's a never-ending supply of jaw-droppers. Even D-Day itself can yield these, which is marked today, January 6 - now the 80th anniversary of the invasion of Normandy that eventually sealed the end of the conflict in Europe. (Extremely rare photo of WWII personnel in Lincoln City, courtesy North Lincoln Historical Museum)

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Indeed, did you know it was a gigantic fake “ghost” army that helped win D-Day? Or that Pink Floyd inadvertently helped find another Nazi bunker in Berlin in the '90s? (More on that at bottom).

Even the Oregon coast has multiple surprises when it comes to World War II – although D-Day itself happened an ocean and continent away from here. It was World War II in general that had a profound effect on the beach towns, especially after the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor in 1942.

There are plenty of well known stories about this area during wartime: the Japanese sub that fired on Fort Stevens, the bombing attempts of a plane launched from that sub near Brookings (Coastal Oddities), and the balloon bombs that went off there. However, this coastline played a major role in defensive measures that are still a bit eye-popping to this day.

Courtesy Seaside Historical Museum

All kinds of patrols hit these beaches. Radar and guard bases went up from Brookings through Astoria. Blimps roamed the sky and even barbed wire went up in places like the wreck of the Peter Iredale.

Among the surprises: there are almost no photos of military life on the Oregon coast. That's because snapping pics of operations or bases here was forbidden for security purposes. No selfies with the big guns pointed west allowed in those days.

Indeed, this reaches all the way to regular homes in the area. One home in Lincoln City's Nelscott district was used as a submarine lookout. It was until recent years a vacation rental, built in the '40s. Like many spots on this coastline, it became a home for military folks stationed in the area. However, this one was a bit different: it actually had a large gun built on its southern end, on the cliffside. That apparently gave way one day to erosion.

The shroud of secrecy means there were no photos of this.

Numerous homes and hotel businesses became host to military personnel – including what was later the Spouting Horn restaurant in Depoe Bay. There are a couple rare photos of that, however.

Life on the Oregon coast often changed drastically. Tourism dried up in most spots (although Seaside seemed to do OK at times during the war years). One of the major forces there were gasoline rations, perhaps even more so than the need to use the beaches to protect against incoming enemies.

On the south coast: Unknown History: Two Ships That Were Torpedoed by Japanese Off South Oregon Coast:

One aspect of note were the blackouts: these were strictly enforced in larger cities and much of the coast. Homes and businesses were forced to turn out the lights at night, lest they give any enemy aircraft a target.

On the central Oregon coast, around Depoe Bay through parts of Lincoln City, army boats often checked from offshore to see if homes were blocking out their lights. Not everyone took it seriously, and the army officer in charge of the area wrote an op-ed in the local paper threatening martial law if they kept that up.

There are still a few structures around from WW II, though not many. You can see those Oregon Coast During World War II, History With More Lessons to Teach and Remnants of WWII on Oregon Coast You Can Visit.

Among those are the radar stations.

Photo Tiffany Boothe, Seaside Aquarium

One major example sits deep into the woods of Tillamook Head between Seaside and Cannon Beach. Named J-23, there was a whole base up there with a mess hall, lodging for the men and of course the big radar gear. The bunker, a few railroad tracks and some markers still exist. There's nasty bats inside, however, and it's illegal to go in there. The Mysterious World War II Bunker Atop Oregon Coast's Tillamook Head

Steven Greif, Coos HIstory Museum

Another one still around is on the south coast at Cape Arago near Coos Bay. This one was called Station B-28, and these days it looks like the burned out remnants of a restroom. Back then, however, these bunkers were alive with people and buzzing equipment.

Another radar station can be found near Oceanside.

Continued from top:

Just prior to D-Day, allies needed to fool the Axis powers they were going to land somewhere else in France other than Normandy. So the U.S. and others created a “ghost army” of fake vehicles, tanks, a phony base and more, all activated on January 20, 1944. Called Operation Fortitude, it enlisted the help of an army of artists, including future trailblazers such as Bill Blass (fashion designer). There was even pretend radio traffic – all to make Nazi surveillance think the troop buildup was elsewhere.

It worked. Hitler was reportedly dumbstruck when he received word of the invasion, even in denial for a time that it wasn't where German intelligence thought it would be.

In 1990, after the Berlin Wall came down, Pink Floyd was scheduled to play the newly-united city with a concert of The Wall. As excavation ensued to ready one area for the massive gig, an old Nazi bunker was found that had not been seen before. It had housed SS troops during the war, and ended up on the eastern side of the border when Russia took that area.

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Andre' GW Hagestedt is editor, owner and primary photographer / videographer of Oregon Coast Beach Connection, an online publication that sees over 1 million pageviews per month. He is also author of several books about the coast.

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