Archie McVay

"Coastie" Archie McVay, whose vision resulted in development of the Port of Brookings Harbor.

A special section published this week salutes the U.S. Coast Guard, which is celebrating an important milestone — 230 years on Aug. 4. The section includes an article about the Station Chetco River in the Port of Brookings Harbor. 

What many may not know is that much credit for development of the port and Coast Guard station goes to a local native and former “Coastie,” Archie McVay. 

McVay died April 23, 2016, at the age of 95. An article in the Curry Coastal Pilot by former reporter Jane Stebbins chronicled his life and many contributions to the community. 

The McVay family traveled by wagon from Missouri to Smith River in 1856, the migrated north to Harbor. By the time Archie was born in 1921, the family lived on a hillside overlooking what’s now the port with a view from where the current bridge over the Chetco to Benham Point. He married Doris Drajke in 1946, and with their seven children operated a dairy on the “flats” that now make up the bulk of what is known as the Port of Brookings Harbor. 

But before he married and became a dairyman, Archie had been to sea. He graduated from high school in 1939 and enlisted with the Coast Guard during World War II in 1942. 

He was first stationed on a small patrol boat at Cascade Locks on the Columbia River at the other end of the state. Then he was transferred to LST 762 — which he termed “Large Slow Target” — as a cook and 20-millimeter gunner. 

His family still has a wooden footlocker emblazoned with the names of his ports of call:Honolulu, Pearl Harbor, Guam, Saipan, Iwo Jima, Kobe and Eniewetok, among them. 

He spent four years in the Coast Guard, but his training served him — and his community — for a lifetime. 

Stebbins recounted one of Archie’s feats in her 2016 article: 

“McVay kept a skiff at the mouth of the Chetco in case a fisherman fell in distress, as often occurred in the tumultuous water where river meets ocean. 

“A memorable rescue was that of a duo whose fishing boat overturned; McVay and another man leaped into the skiff and rowed as hard as possible toward the men in the water. 

“One perished, but the other was rescue, cold but alive, near the Winchuck River. The men rowed all the way back to the Chetco River, by dead reckoning and memory, and as they got closer the light of fires on the beach. They arrived back at 11 p.m. Those guiding lights culminated in the creation of the U.S. Coast Guard Station many years later.” 

Perhaps his time at sea helped McVay develop a view toward that future possibilities of the place where the Chetco River meets the sea. Returned home after the war, by 1954 he and a group of others came up with a plan to create a protective channel for salmon. It was the first comprehensive draft for the Port of Brookings Harbor. Soon thereafter the U.S. Senate Appropriations Committee approved $225,000 for the improvements, and the U.S. House of Representatives announced the award of the same amount to build rock jetties on the north and south banks, 

McVay owned 82 acres of river frontage and donated the easements to make the south jetty, a spoils area and the roadway, all of which were completed in 1957. He then formed Sporthaven, Inc., with an eye toward developing the harbor and port into a world-class port. 

The post-war years were busy in Brookings and soon there was more demand for port moorage, necessitating the creation of a larger basin on 15.5 acres McVay donated for the cause. A 120-foot dock for the Sause Bros. to use to barge lumber was added in the late 1950s. With further investments and lots of hard work over the years, the port continued to develop. 

As shipping increased, so did the concern for safety and there was considerable local demand for a Coast Guard station. Finally, in 1961, Station Chetco River was established. (You can read more about the station in the special supplement). 

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