Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Joint WWII enlistment an Oregon first

The front page of the East Oregonian on July 17, 1944, was all about World War II. American and British troops were besieging the French village of St. Lo in Normandy against five divisions of German soldiers led by Field Marshal Rommel, and Allied troops were crossing the Arno River in an attempt to liberate the west coast of Italy. Back home in Pendleton, Mr. and Mrs. Verlin J. Grover were also front-page news as the first married couple in Oregon to join the same service since joint enlistments were made possible by the Navy.

Mr. Grover, known as Bud, came to Oregon in 1938 from Milligan, Neb. He had resigned his position as district manager for the Woodmen of the World life insurance company of Denver at the beginning of the war, taking a job as a brakeman and switchman for Union Pacific Railroad for the duration of the conflict. He volunteered to be inducted into the Navy.
Mrs. Grover was a Weston-Union High School graduate and earned a teaching degree from Eastern Oregon College of Education in La Grande. She and Bud were married in 1940, and made their home in Pendleton. She taught in Umatilla County for 10 years, and in 1944 was a primary school teacher at Riverside school. She had been offered a position as principal for the coming school year, which she didn’t accept.

Mrs. Grover enlisted in the WAVES (Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service), the U.S. Naval Women’s Reserve established July 30, 1942. According to a Wikipedia article, “The word ‘emergency’ implied that the acceptance of women was due to the unusual circumstances of World War II, and at the end of the war the women would not be allowed to continue in Navy careers, but it or its successors continued for decades afterwards.” The passage of the Women’s Armed Services Integration Act in June of 1948 gave women permanent status in the armed forces. Even though the Navy reserve (volunteer) program officially ceased to exist in 1948, the WAVES acronym still was commonly used into the 1970s.

Women like Mrs. Grover paved the way for women like my mother. Mom was born in 1944, the week this article appeared in the EO. When she graduated from high school in the 1960s, her best option for further education and a good job was to join the Navy. Mom has some great memories, and tells great stories, about her time in the Navy as a member of the WAVES. I know she was thankful to have the option of a Navy career.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Train-hopper takes wild ride

A one-mile ride on a freight train in western Kentucky turned into a week-long trip across the country for a teenage boy — and almost cost him his life. Mike Wright, 17, planned to ride the short distance from his home to nearby Crofton, Ky., for soda and candy when he hopped a train Aug. 14, 1995. When the train didn’t stop in Crofton and Wright ended up over the county line in Indiana, he switched trains and decided to take a short nap on the supposed return trip. That was the beginning of a six-day ride across the U.S. that ended at Hinkle train yard outside of Hermiston.

Sometime during the teen’s nap, someone closed and locked the door of the insulated boxcar Wright was riding in, and the train car was sent to Nebraska. On Aug. 21 the train arrived at Hinkle and Wright managed to catch the attention of yard switchman Les Stuplich and crew hauler Jackie Dunlap around 1 a.m. “I don’t think that car was scheduled to be cleaned for a couple more days,” Stuplich said in an article in the Aug. 22, 1995, East Oregonian. “I don’t think he would’ve lasted that long.”

Had Stuplich and Dunlap not parked their truck beside the insulated car Wright was trapped in, they would not have heard his pounding and cries for help. Wright was dirty, dehydrated and hungry, but after an overnight stop at Good Shepherd Medical Center in Hermiston he was taken home by his family none the worse for wear. Wright’s reaction to his accidental trip? “I’ve run away from home a couple times, but I didn’t mean to this time.”

Phil Houk, who works in risk management for Union Pacific, said in the article Wright was lucky he was discovered when he was. “We do find dead bodies once in a while,” Houk said.

The moral of the story, of course, is that train-hopping is illegal for a reason: It’s dangerous, and possibly deadly. Union Pacific Railroad is vigilant about patrolling its property, and prosecutes violators on criminal trespassing charges when they are caught. Mike Wright’s story had a happy ending, but he was still in the wrong to use a passing freight train as public transportation — and he almost paid the ultimate price for his ride.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Family makes all the difference after tragedy strikes

In July 1955, a tragic car accident took the lives of four people when the vehicle they were in smashed into a concrete pillar just outside Pendleton. Ruby Lois Woods was one of the passengers that died instantly. Her husband, Jesse Boone Woods, died eight days later of injuries sustained in the crash. The Woods were from Yakima, Wash. Jesse’s sister and brother-in-law, the other couple in the car, were Pendleton residents (for the sake of family of the Pendleton couple possibly still living in the area, I won’t name them here).
As tragic as the accident was, each couple also left behind three children. I came across this story when one of the Woods children, April, who was two years old at the time of the accident, and her husband contacted me about finding newspaper stories about her parents’ deaths.

When I read this story, my first reaction (being a mother myself) was, “What happened to the children?” None of them were in the car when the accident happened. April was kind enough to share the rest of the story with me in an email after she had visited with her brother and sister.

April said the Woods children were raised by their aunt and uncle, Nellie and George McCandless, and their maternal grandmother Cora Henderson, who lived with them. Nellie and Ruby were sisters, and Cora was their mother. The McCandlesses had two children when they took in April and her siblings, and two more were born soon after, in 1955 and 1956. April said, “In every way, except for the first 2 years of my life, I consider Nellie and George my parents and their 4 children my siblings. I have 2 sets of parents and feel lucky to have been so privileged.” She added, “We 3 children were indeed fortunate not to have ended up in the foster care system.”

So what are the Woods children doing now? April followed her husband’s retail management career and they have lived in Idaho, Washington, Oregon, Indiana and Mississippi. April had a successful career as an accountant. When they retired in 2006, they moved to Colorado and started a second career in real estate. They moved to Boise in 2013 to be closer to her aging parents and continue their real estate business. They have no children.

Her sister Kathleen is married and lives with her husband in Alberta, Canada. They have four children and eight grandchildren. She has worked the last 10 years as a teacher’s aide for the local school district, and is looking forward to retirement. Brother Jesse worked as a draftsman for an engineering firm in Boise, Idaho. He passed away three years ago from cancer. He never married and had no children.

And the three children of their aunt and uncle? They were adopted by a couple seemingly not related to the family. The Woods children and their family was not allowed contact with them, and April’s knowledge of their lives after the crash is minimal.

April and her siblings were indeed fortunate to have found such a loving home. Their lives, shaken by this horrible tragedy, could have taken a much sadder turn. But instead the Woods children were surrounded by family that took them in, answered all their questions to the best of their abilities and gave them a strong foundation to build their lives on.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Crash blamed on insanity could have been triggered by drug withdrawal

A Pendleton photographer suffering from mental illness caused one of the most spectacular wrecks the town had ever seen, yet walked away relatively unscathed, according to a story in the Aug. 22, 1913, East Oregonian.

O.G. Allen, 34, one of the proprietors of the Electric Studio on Court and for two years the official Round-Up photographer, was known to have periodic episodes of what was termed “insanity” at the time. He had been taken to St. Anthony Hospital early in the week and given sedatives to help with his insomnia. Allen became irrational the day of the accident and, at about 8:30 p.m., escaped from his attendants at the hospital and jumped into his car, which was parked outside the hospital. He drove the car standing up, sometimes waving both hands in the air, and yelling “O.G. Allen, Let ‘er Buck!” at about 50-60 mph down Southeast Court for 13 blocks. When he reached Main Street, Allen drove the car straight for the front of the Pendleton Drug Store. According to the story, “... the auto tore its way through the door and window, smashing showcases and scattering medicines, cigars, kodaks and stationary in every direction, finally turning sideways and coming to a stop near the rear of the room.”

No customers were in the store at the time of the crash, and George Hill, one of the proprietors, and a prescription clerk were in the office at the rear of the store when the car skidded through the store and came to rest against the rear counter. “Old Allen did it and all he lost was his cigar,” he said to the astonished men, after which he stepped out of the remnants of the car and picked up a fresh cigar from the hundreds scattered on the floor. His only injury was a small scratch on his forehead.

As Allen made to leave the store, he was met by Officer John Russell, who arrested him and locked him in a padded cell at the city jail. At the jail Allen became more rational, and broke down in tears when the officer told him what had happened. He said he had not slept for six days and he had been taking opiates “to quiet his nerves.” The nurses had refused to give him any of the drugs that day, he said, “and that’s what was the matter with me.”
Allen was committed to the Eastern Oregon State Hospital the next morning after being pronounced insane by Dr. R.E. Ringo in a court proceeding. The commitment papers stated Allen had spent some time about 10 years prior at the Salem asylum, and his partner at the studio said Allen’s health had been poor for several weeks. The episode, the article said, was apparently brought on by overwork and nervous strain.

Did the sudden withdrawal of the opiates he was being treated with, in addition to his fragile mental state, trigger the episode? We know now that withdrawal from narcotics can cause symptoms ranging from hallucinations to violence. Perhaps that was not as well understood in 1913.