Sixty of us awed, green kid bluejackets from inland Chicago lined up on the wharf at Key West May 24, 1898, wearing the Navy’s wide, flat, blue pancake hats with jack-knives dangling from halyard strings around our necks under broad uniform collars.
“So you’re the Illinois Naval Preserves for the Oregon?" was our greeting from a master of arms. “Well, get aboard of her and turn to and coal ship!”
Moored before us was the nation’s idol, the battleship Oregon, just arrived from her record-setting run through the Straits of Magellan from the new Puget Sound Navy Yard at Bremerton to join Admiral William T. Sampson’s American fleet operating against the Spanish off Cuba.
To us landlubber kids the Oregon was massive and grim, with Old Glory whipping from her lone military mast. She was & 10,000-ton giant man-of-war and cost $6,000,000! And the sight of her brought the Spanish-American War close home to us youngsters, who had heard the war cry sweeping the nation: “Remember the Maine," after the Spanish sank our cruiser at Havana.