KOREAN VET CONTINUES GIVING BACK
Korean War veteran Roger Gertenrich has a long history of public service and volunteerism. Now he is working to memorialize Portland’s maritime history, including its wartime ship building history and other links to naval history.
“Why hasn’t the maritime history been on display years ago? There is not even one sign of the Willamette River identifying it, yet it is the reason Portland exists,” Roger said.
Since moving to Portland in in 1988, Roger has built public and private support for an Outdoor Maritime Display with markers and artifacts along the Willamette River Greenway between the Marquam and Ross Island bridges on the west side of the river. Local companies that built Liberty Ships during WWII will be among those honored.
“My father served on a Liberty Ship,” said Roger, revealing a personal interest in the project. It is expected to get underway with the city of Portland and the Zidell Corporation come to terms over redeveloping the barge building facility along the river in the South Waterfront neighborhood.
More recently, Roger arranged to save the smokestacks and anchor of the USS Oregon. They had been stored for years on the Zidell property but needed to be moved or scrapped. Roger persuaded internationally recognized large scale mover Terry Emmert to relocate them to his headquarters and storage yard in Clackamas, where they will be restored and then put on public display at the Asian marketplace he owns at Southeast Foster and 82nd Avenue.
The mast is already a memorial in Tom McCall Waterfront Park but the smokestacks and anchor are too large to fit there. The battleship was the third and final member of the Indiana class pre-dreadnought battleships built for the U.S. Navy in 1890s. It helped win the Spanish-American War and demonstrated the strategic need for the Panama Canal before being decommissioned in 1919. It saw service again hauling ammunition in the Pacific in WWII before being scrapped in Portland in the 1950s.
Roger was born on June 17, 1934, in Illinois to Roger and Merle Heurlin Gertenrich. His parents ran the Wild Rose Hotel in the 1940s & 1950’s and he attended Wild Rose High School, where was class president, played basketball, baseball, volleyball and ran track.
After high school, Roger went to Ripon College in Wisconsin, where he joined in the ROTC. As a second lieutenant in the U.S. Army Medical Corp, he served as the executive officer of a medical and dental unit in Korea from 1956 to 1958 before being discharged.
“I was stationed just below the DMZ for two cold winters. We spent much of time helping Koreans who stepped on land mines,” Roger said.
Roger married Caryl Harrington on Dec. 21, 1959, in Cook County, Illinois. After Roger earned a degree in dentistry from Northwestern University in Illinois, they moved to Salem because of Oregon’s outdoor recreational opportunities. Roger initially practiced dentistry at the Fairview Training Center for the disabled, where he came to be recognized as a leading expert in the field.
Roger then went into private practice and serviced on numerous civic committees before being elected to the City Council and subsequently serving as mayor from1995 to 1996. Among other things, he spearheaded the restoration of the condemned downtown Elsinore Theater into a performing arts center and the creation of the acclaimed three-story high Eco-Earth Glode in the city’s Riverfront Park.
Roger and Caryle have four daughters. After he retired, the couple moved to Portland to see what the bigger city had to offer and ended up volunteering for many civic committees and organizations there, too. After reading about the lack of a memorial to the Liberty Ship built in Portland during WWII in the Portland Tribune, he began soliciting support for the maritime display project. It has been endorsed by dozens of businesses and organizations, including Mayor Ted Wheeler and the city’s North Reach River Plan Committee, which is helping to plan the part of the Willamette Greenway where it will be located.
“The project is supporting liberals and conservative, and it’s the right thing to do,” said Roger.