Fifty years ago, Montrose assembled newspaper clippings, coins and other memorabilia, sealed them in a time capsule and buried them — all to mark the installation of the USS Montrose’s ship bell here.
The capsule is being unearthed on Oct. 6 at a gathering limited because of pandemic restrictions. The following day, its contents will be on public display at 107 S. Cascade Ave. (the downtown visitors center).
Although the bell from the Haskell-class attack transport ship — nicknamed the Ramblin’ Rose — came to town 50 years ago, has been 52 since Robert Hahn served aboard the ship. These days, he is president of the USS Montrose alumni association, a tight-knit band of brethren. Like Hahn, most of the ship’s surviving alumni served during the Vietnam era.
“When I first got orders to the Montrose, I was just a seaman,” the Navy veteran recounted. Hahn admits he had hoped for a cruiser or battleship, and that he had to ask just what he was going to be aboard. He found a troop transport that looked, he said, like a merchant ship.
“The job of the Montrose was to transport troops and then land the troops on the shore,” said Hahn, who served from 1964 to 1968.
According to a 2018 article by Marilyn Cox, the USS Montrose was christened in 1944. The Montrose sailed at Pearl Harbor and Okinawa. She withstood Japanese suicide bomber attacks and ferried troops during WWII.
The Montrose was reactivated in 1950 for the Korean Conflict and in 1954, transported refugees from North Vietnam to Saigon. During peacetime, she performed search and rescue missions, was a station ship and hosted visitors, even appearing in a few films before being decommissioned in 1969.
“It turned out to be a very unique ship, a very close crew. I made lots of good friends and I’m still friends with them today. … It was a very personable crew,” Hahn said.
Sailors from the USS Montrose have routinely visited the town of Montrose for mini reunions, which Hahn also remembers fondly — there won’t be one this year, because of the pandemic.
“Montrose is a very patriotic town,” he said.
The ship and those who served aboard are special to former mayor Judy Ann Files, who collected memorabilia associated with the Montrose and donated it to the Warrior Resource Center.
“I just got worried because it was such an aging group. I reached out to all of them,” said Files, who got in touch with member of the ship’s alumni association by chance in 2013.
That contact did not begin with a ship, but with a train — the historic engine at Cimarron, which Files had been invited to view. After, the National Park Service published photos, which a train buff — and former crewmember of the USS Montrose — saw. He reached out.
Soon, Files was invited to a group convention in Las Vegas, where she and the city were presented with a replica at the ship, also now at the Warrior Resource Center. Files remained close with several who served aboard the Montrose.
“One of the ship’s captain’s daughters sent me her father’s dress uniform,” Files said, recounting how that led to more sailors sending their memorabilia. One sent her his uniform shortly before he died.
“He had no family. More than likely, his memorabilia from the USS Montrose would never have gotten saved,” Files said.
“… I have some really great things they all donated to the Warrior Resource Center and I’m really proud of that.”
Emily Smith, former executive director of the WRC, said Files worked with crewmembers to get the items on display.
“I think that’s just amazing. It’s such an incredible group that stays together. There were a lot of people who served different places, but those involved, they stretch from different service eras,” Smith said.
“This connection and this ship was so special to them. They travel to our community. It’s amazing what that ship did for so many people for so long.
“It would be amazing to see what (Montrose) felt was important to put in this time capsule.”
The capsule was buried here in April, 1970. Its known contents include a city map, a restaurant menu from the time, a cassette recording of popular songs, stamps, coins and a copy of the Montrose Daily Press’ “Americanism” issue from the week the capsule was placed in the ground.
The Oct. 6 ceremony begins at 11 a.m., in Centennial Plaza, with remarks from Mayor Barbara Bynum and a guest who was present when the capsule was first buried.
Thereafter, the capsule will be taken to the Centennial Meeting Room, where its contents will be removed and photographed. They will then be placed in glass display cases for public viewing.
The occasion is a fitting honor for those who served on the USS Montrose, even if they can’t be here in person.
“They’re an amazing group of people,” Files said. “They really like Montrose. They like the fact that Montrose honors them.”
For more information about the time capsule, contact Deputy City Clerk Mikayla Unruh at 970-240-1421.