The Fleet of Flowers Story

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On Memorial Day of each year, since 1945, Depoe Bay has hosted the FLEET OF FLOWERS. This colorful ceremony is recognized as one of the most impressive observances held in the United States.

Following an on-shore ceremony at Depoe Bay Harbor, the fleet of flower laden boats passes under the spectator lined Highway 101 bridge. As they proceed through the channel into the ocean, they pass the Coast Guard boat and then form a circle within sight of shore. The floral tributes are then cast onto the water, as a Coast Guard helicopter lowers itself into the center of the circle and drops a wreath. At this moment, military jet aircraft pass overhead.

The memory of a tragic event on October 4, 1936, prompted this solomn ceremony. At sea this day was the troller, Norwester, skippered by Ernest McQueen (AKA McWilliams), and with two teenage boys aboard; his son Walter, and Walter's friend, Gene McLaughlin. A storm began to increase its intensity, accompanied by dense fog and approaching darkness.

Meanwhile, Roy Bower and Jack Chambers had only minutes before returned from fishing. They were watching from the bridge when they caught a brief glimpse of the Norwester through the fog and heavy seas. They immediately set out on Bower's "Cara Lou", hoping to help the struggling boat to safety.

The storm raged all night, thwarting efforts by other fishermen to put to sea. By the morning, however, McQueen had brought the Norwester into port; battered, but still afloat, with all hands safe. They had ridden out the worst of the storm tied to an offshore buoy. The "Cara Lou" was found awash later that day, with Bower and Chambers both dead from exposure.

A few days later, relatives and friends scattered their ashes, along with flowers, on the ocean that had taken their lives. Bower and Chambers were posthumously awarded the Carnegie Medal for heroism.

The first ceremony, which later became the FLEET OF FLOWERS, was held about ten years after that fateful day. This event has always been planned and executed through volunteers who rely on donations for funding. The FLEET OF FLOWERS, INC. is a non-profit corporation, which makes all contributions to this organization tax-deductible.

Each Memorial Day, thousands of visitors come to Depoe Bay to join with residents in mourning the death of loved ones; especially those who lost their lives at sea, or who were buried at sea.

The Bower-Chambers Monument

On the west side of Highway 101, near the center of the Depoe Bay ocean front park, stands a large granite monument. Erected by the State of Oregon, this monument pays tribute to Roy Bower and Jack Chambers for their heroic effort to rescue others caught in a storm. In a tragic turn of fate, they both lost their lives.

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