Off Beat: USS Vancouver’s visits led to marriage vows for sisters

By Tom Vogt, Columbian science, military & history reporter

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For at least two Vancouver couples, our namesake warship might have been dubbed the USS Van-Cupid.

A week ago, we discussed the USS Vancouver, a transport languishing in retirement near San Francisco.

While her future is hazy, memories of the ship’s visits to Vancouver remain vivid for some local residents.

Two people who came across our story (which, suitably, ran on Valentine’s Day eve) told us that the ship’s 1963 and 1976 visits led to their marriages.

The two women who were married as a result of those visits are sisters, by the way.

Ken Voss was one of the first officers aboard the USS Vancouver when it was commissioned in 1963.

When the ship was getting ready to visit its namesake city in that same year, Voss met Bob Garretson. The Vancouver man had an intense interest in all things naval … and four daughters.

“We spent four days here, and Billie Jean Garretson showed me around town. She showed me Kiggins Bowl. Th-a-a-t was exciting,” Voss said dryly. “Then we went to Mount Hood.”

Voss grew up in Kansas, and his work environment was a few feet above sea level, so Mount Hood was pretty spectacular.

But Voss was even more interested in Billie Jean. After he returned to San Diego, “I asked her to marry me. We were married on Jan. 10, 1964, at St. Luke’s (Episcopal Church).”

Room with a view

When the ship made a bicentennial visit in 1976, Charlene Garretson showed an officer around town. “I met the executive officer, ‘Pete’ Peterson, and tried to play hostess,” she said.

Bill Smith, manager of The Quay, provided rooms for the ship’s officers.

“I remember Pete saying, ‘Wow! This is the only place in the world where you can sit inside your hotel room and see your own Navy ship moored beside you.’”

But it wasn’t Peterson who won the hand of Charlene Garretson.

Peterson struck up a friendship with Smith, and was concerned that his host didn’t have family nearby.

“Pete asked me to look in on Bill once in a while. I had no intention of marrying the man,” she said.

And then, “Bill asked me if I would marry him,” said the woman, who now is Charlene Smith.

They were married until Bill’s death in 1994.

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.