Everybody Has a Story: Navy ship their dads helped build in Vancouver took young couple to Hawaii

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It was the fall of 1953. America was involved in the war in Korea, and my husband, Dean Weibel, had enlisted in the U.S. Navy nearly three years before. His ship, the USS Lenawee (APA-195), had returned from the war zone and was now stationed in San Diego, making weekly training runs out of port and returning on the weekends. This continued until spring of 1954, when we found out the Lenawee was due to go to Hawaii for dry dock, which was a periodic happening for those big warships. Next, we found out that the crew could take their dependents along on the sail to Hawaii.

How excited we were to be able to have a second honeymoon in Hawaii, courtesy of the U.S. Navy! We were able to take our car and everything we could fit into it, so loaded it up with our household necessities, and on the Monday before Easter that year, we sailed out of San Diego Harbor headed for Pearl Harbor on Oahu. We arrived the Monday after Easter and lived there for three months while the Lenawee was being refurbished and made ready for more service.

Our parents were likewise as excited as we were that we would be going to Hawaii — after all, how lucky we were to be able to live in Hawaii in the 1950s. Meanwhile, my dad, Ken Cone, who was working for Clark County in the roads department, was remembering his days during World War II at Vancouver’s Kaiser Shipyards. He was in the engineering department that was responsible for taking the finished vessels down the Columbia River, performing trial runs on them, and turning them over the U.S. Navy at Astoria, Ore.

Dad looked through the old files he had saved on each of the ships he went on the trial runs with, and — wouldn’t you know it — he found out that the USS Lenawee was built right here in Vancouver at the Kaiser yards. It was a real family affair because my husband’s father, George (Archie) Weibel, worked on the outfitting dock in the shipyards during those years and no doubt had worked on the Lenawee as well.

Dad must have known someone at The Columbian at that time, because whoever he told his story to wrote a little feature article with the headline, “Vancouver Couple Sail West On Ship Dads Helped Build.” I don’t have the date of the Columbian where the article appeared, but based on information in the article, it must have been the first part of April 1954.

We still reminisce about our three month stay in Waikiki, thanks to the U.S. Navy. And talk about a small world — in the mid 1960s, our family took a motor trip to Southern California during spring break. We also drove down to San Diego to show our kids where we lived for those few years until Dean was discharged from the Navy. While in San Diego, we drove out to Point Loma and looked back at San Diego Harbor.

We couldn’t believe our eyes: There was the Lenawee heading out of port, and on the decks were many civilian families. Since it was the same time of year as we had gone those years before, we guessed that here was another group of families going to Hawaii for a three-month vacation, courtesy of the U.S. Navy.