Sons of Beaches
Sons of Beaches
Charlottesville suffered through riots, an act of domestic terrorism and a deadly helicopter crash on Saturday. Astoria enjoyed a parade. But in both towns, at roughly the same time, people viewed a symbol that lies at the heart of racial tensions in the United States.
The Sons of Beaches, an off-road enthusiast group, made its way along the Astoria Regatta’s Grand Land Parade route Saturday afternoon with a float and several trailing cars and trucks.
The float — featuring an image of the famous Iwo Jima Memorial, photos of local soldiers who died in Iraq and Afghanistan, and several American flags and decals of other battle flags throughout U.S. history — had just received the Admiral’s Award, one of the parade’s most distinguished prizes. But bumper stickers with the Confederate decal on the side of a trailer beneath the float, along with a Confederate flag carried by a red truck behind it, have caused a stir.
“This is not how I wanted Regatta to end,” Astoria Regatta President Dan Travers said. “I’m sorry it’s being marred by this situation which is an obvious mistake.”
Sons of Beaches’ leader Jay Pitman said he was not aware of the events in Charlottesville at the time of the parade and, had he known, would have had second thoughts about displaying the symbols.
“I want to apologize to the city of Astoria and the Regatta for any bad publicity that was caused for them. I take responsibility,” Pitman said. “If I had a better understanding of the situation and what was going on at the time, I would’ve responded differently. I don’t want to add fuel to the fire or add fuel to the hatred.”
‘A bit of a challenge’
Sons of Beaches was one of nearly 100 entries at the Grand Land Parade. A small number of judges usually have about an hour to study the floats — not the trailing vehicles — and question designers, Travers said.
“I could see how they could miss that,” Travers said. “It’s a bit of a challenge. It really is.”
Travers witnessed the parade on Duane Street across from Fort George Brewery and never saw a flag anywhere near the float.
“I’ve got to be honest, I was surprised,” he said.
The Regatta may consider revoking the group’s award at some point, though it likely would not happen for at least a few weeks, Travers said.
Pitman, 55, lives in a rural area south of Seaside and served in the U.S. Navy from 1979 to 1981. He and his family, who he said comes from a mixed-race background, owned the Pier 11 Feed Store and Restaurant in Astoria from 1977 to 2003.
Since the Sons of Beaches was founded in 2010, its float — Confederate decals and all — has been a fixture in multiple local festivities. Earlier this summer, it earned the award for best patriotic entry at the Fourth of July parade in Warrenton.
Intended as a tribute
Many members of the Sons of Beaches either are military veterans or active-duty service members. Pitman insists the Confederate flag and decals were not displayed as political or racial symbols but were intended instead to be tributes to veterans.
The most recognizable version of the Confederate emblem was flown as a battle flag during the Civil War. The Confederate government adopted different versions that largely employ the same logo.
The original use as a battle flag, rather than as a symbol for the policies adopted by the Confederate government, made it worthy of placement alongside others flown in U.S. wars, Pitman said. He also alluded to the fact that American citizens, regardless of whether they supported the Union or the Confederacy, were related to people who fought on the losing side of the war.
“There’s bigger issues than one battle flag that was used more than 150 years ago,” Pitman said. “I just know that the Civil War was part of our history and shouldn’t be ignored. That part of our nation’s history is being shamed.”
The Sons of Beaches club, which includes more than 100 members, takes shifts voluntarily patrolling beaches in off-road vehicles. On patrols, they rescue cars trapped in sand, pick up trash and sometimes help maintain trails. The club also holds charity events.
“It’s a moral shot in the arm and a boost of energy that makes you feel good,” Pitman said.
Pitman founded the Sons of Beaches in 2010. He said some previous off-road clubs had bad reputations in the community after tearing up trails and even finding themselves in the crosshairs of the Internal Revenue Service.
“I’m trying to completely steer away from that negative image,” Pitman said.
Pitman said he did not grasp the negative attention the Confederate symbols at the parade were causing until Sunday. The club held an event at the Seaside Factory Outlet Center to benefit Oregon Health & Science University’s Doernbecher Children’s Hospital in Portland, and a Confederate flag was on display.
At one point, a man who had just parked his car walked over to the display and accosted club members. The flag was removed after some intense back-and-forth exchanges.
While expressing his regret that the symbols had caused a high degree of negative attention, Pitman joked about the promotional value it added to the club. As of Monday afternoon, he said, the club lost one member but gained eight as a result of the controversy.
Pitman said both he and the club reject racism, claiming he once denied a membership application to someone who had previous connections to the Ku Klux Klan.
“When they call me racist, they don’t have a clue,” Pitman said.
He said the Confederate flag, widely seen as a symbol of African-American enslavement, was “chosen by groups to be racist.” However, Pitman said the group has decided to no longer fly the flag.
“Good, rational adults can come to a rational decision that still respects our veterans, and our club is willing to do that,” Pitman said.
The Astoria Regatta, meanwhile, is exploring legal options to limit similar displays in the future. Travers said he considered those possibilities before the parade this year based on backlash other parades around the country had received. But he said it is difficult to work through free-speech issues on short notice.
“I didn’t realize we didn’t have it as tight as we would like it until too late in the game,” Travers said.
As for next year?
“Now I’m most certainly going to do it.”