One of my most prized possessions is a little black leather folder with HONORABLE DISCHARGE written on the front of it in gold print. It folds into thirds and contains the document you see below. With a few additional details, a summary of my father’s life emerges. (If you click on the document, you might get a larger view of it)
Born on the 27th of August in 1914 he graduated from high school right after the start of the depression and worked in a gas station until 1937, when what was at one time the largest plywood processing plant in the world, operated by Evans Products opened in Lebanon, Ore. He worked there as a spreader man right up to January of 1942 when he joined the Army, shortly after Pearl Harbor.
He ended up with the 103rd (Cactus) division of the 7th army as a machine gunner and landed at Marseilles France in October of 1944. He participated in the Ardennes campaign during the Battle of the Bulge and participated in the invasion of Germany in early 1945. He was part of the detail that liberated the Kaufering concentration camp in April of 1945. They took Innsbrook Austria in early May and even went on into Northern Italy right as the war ended. The division then spent five months doing “occupational activities” and came back to the US in September and he was out of the service in November.
He returned to his job at the mill in Lebanon and managed to convince my mother (whom he’d met in Cleveland on his way to head for France) that she’d “just love Oregon”. They were married in Portland and moved into what they called “the housing unit”, temporary government housing in what is now a park. In 1949 they moved in to a little 2 bedroom house on Williams St. and I was born in December of 1951.
For the next 9 years he worked in the mill, which was now Cascade Plywood. He passed away on Groundhog day of 1960 from a heart attack at the age of 45.
I’ve read the section in his discharge describing the things he had to be able to do to to be a machine gunner in the military and can’t imagine my father doing any of them nor how someone must have decided that was something he’d be good at. He really wasn’t one to talk about his war experiences and I remember it being a point of contention between him and my mom concerning letting me have toy guns.
He had next to no interest in guns, sports, (save for watching the Gillette “Fight of the Week” on TV, he was a big Sugar Ray Robinson fan) hunting or other outdoor pursuits and loved to read, listen to music and go to movies. He watched TV programs like “You Bet Your Life” with Groucho Marx and “Playhouse 90”.
He was typically tired when he came home from work and he used to pour a glass of Pabst Blue Ribbon and sit down in his chair. He’d sometimes pour beer into a little (about the size of a spool of thread) glass mug so I could “have a drink” with him.
My memories of my father are in little bits and peices: staying in a Motel in the summer at Ocean Lake on the Oregon coast, driving to Portland on HWY 99 and seeing the gas station that was built around a surplus B-17, swimming at Cascadia. Most of what I know about my father came from my mother. He hated the war, he likely suffered from what they now call post traumatic stress. He wanted to write, but he’s sit at his typewriter and nothing would come. He’d tense up and wasn’t able to relax . He’d had health problems since the war: a slipped disc in his back and standing all day at the mill was painful.
I was able to go to college because I received money from the VA and benefits from social security. I think I borrowed maybe $1200 in student loans.
I got the college education my father never had a chance to get. I’ve already lived fifteen years longer that he did. My health has been great and I’ve never had to fight and kill people in a war.
I keep that little folder close to me, it’s usually on whatever desk I’ve set up for myself at home. I do so for two reasons: it reminds me of my father and it reminds me of the sacrifices he made that allow me to live the life that I do. I’m not just speaking of the military service, although that must have been horrific, but the years of mind-numbing work at the mill must have been as difficult in many ways. My mom told me that my dad hated working in the mill. He told her to make sure I didn’t have to work in a place like that.
I did work at that same mill for a very brief period in 1973: eight hours to be exact. I think it was the longest 8 hour period in my entire life. I was assigned to pull green chain, which involved pulling thin, flat pieces of green Douglas Fir that will be the “plies” that will glued together in a sheet after they’ve been through a dryer. You classified them as either heartwood or sapwood, pulling them off of a belt as they pass by and loading them on one of three carts, with the third one being for irregular shaped pieces that weren’t quite usable in plywood. When each cart got full, someone came by in a forklift and carted it away. It was like being a part of the machine.
A lot of people gave me shit for quitting after one day, particularly the ones that had been doing it for a living. “What, you think you’re too good to work in a mill?” It wasn’t that at all, It just wasn’t for me. I think what bothered me the most was that I kept thinking: “My dad spent 19 years of his life inside this place.”. He worked there so I don’t have to.