Off Beat: Son helps old sailor take his final trip on boat that shared story

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Almost 70 years ago, a U.S. Navy PT boat took Charles Williams to war in the Pacific. A couple of Sundays ago, a PT boat left a Vancouver dock and delivered Williams to his final resting place.

At about 11:30 a.m. on Sept. 18, Williams was buried at sea.

Having the ceremony aboard the same sort of boat he served on during World War II wasn’t easy. There’s only one left.

PT-658 is the only remaining operational patrol torpedo (PT) boat left in the world. It still belongs to the Navy, but it’s on loan to a nonprofit group that includes several veterans and boat enthusiasts from Clark County. Members of the group — Save the PT Boat Inc. — have been restoring the boat at Swan Island in Portland.

Williams was a gunner’s mate 3rd class aboard PT-349 during World War II. For their size, the 80-foot boats were the most heavily armed craft in the Navy.

“It was an all-volunteer service, and he went in at 19,” his son, Charlie Williams, said.

“They would lie low during the day and wait for ships at night in the straits.”

PT-349 operated in the same area near the Solomon Islands where John F. Kennedy skippered PT-109 before he went on to become president.

The old sailor, who was an Oregon resident, knew about the PT-658 project and donated a flag to the group.

When his dad died in 2009, Charlie Williams started thinking about a suitable ceremony and contacted Save the PT Boat Inc.

“It was supposed to be done last September, but they punched a hole in the bottom of the hull,” Williams said.

PT-658 got back on the river this month when the Forty & Eight veterans group held its national convention in Vancouver. The boat’s caretakers pulled PT-658 up to the Vancouver Terminal dock so the veterans could come aboard.

And that provided an opportunity for Charles Williams’ final mission.

A U.S. Navy honor guard took part. The Rev. Jerry Keesee, a Ridgefield resident and a veteran, conducted the service.

A starting point

“It was accomplished under the traditions of the Navy and with specified Navy procedures,” said Keesee, who is chaplain for local veterans’ groups.

Keesee read from a military chaplains’ book that helped send a lot of soldiers and sailors to their final rests — “Song and Service Book for Ship and Field,” published in 1942.

Williams’ ashes were spread into the Columbia River off Kelley Point, but that was just the starting point for a final journey to the Pacific, his son said.

“That’s where his ashes would actually go out to sea.”

— Tom Vogt

Off Beat lets members of The Columbian news team step back from our newspaper beats to write the story behind the story, fill in the story or just tell a story.