Tillamook County celebrated Veterans Day with a ceremony hosted by the Air Museum, the local VFW, and the Tillamook County Veterans Service Office honoring all veterans, past and presently serving our country.
The Day’s events included free meals around the county at various businesses, a fly-over by two Oregon Air National Guard F-15s, music and a ceremony honoring veterans and highlighting five of Tillamook County’s WWII heroes.
Virgil Simmons, Rudy Fenk, Pat Patterson, Thomas Blanchard and Owen Nicholson are the five Tillamook County vets who served in WWII, were up front and center the entire ceremony where Roland Easystone from the county veterans service office, read each of the honored guests’ bios.
After the presenting of the colors by the Coast Guard, the crowd enjoyed patriotic tunes by Buffalo Kitty, and the singing of the Star Spangled Banner, by Sophia Matthews. An invocation was given by Joshua Myers and America the Beautiful was sung by a member of the Neahkahnie High School Chorus. Christian Gurling, with the Air Museum gave a brief history of the air base during WWII prior to Easystone’s reading of the WWII vets’ biographies.
Honored WWII Guests
Owen Nicholson was born in Salt Lake City, Utah on September 16th, 1924. His family relocated to Denver Colorado when he was young, and he grew up there, enrolling in the University of Colorado in 1942.
In 1943, WWII was still at it’s peak, and Allied forces planned to press into the Pacific Ocean in order to neutralize the countless , Imperial Japanese bases that had been formed across the Pacific Islands.
Owen was less than a year into his college education when he received his draft notice. His education was put on hold, and he was drafted into the US Navy.
Owen was sent to Farragut Naval Training Station where he was trained to be a sonarman, eventually being assigned to the USS Reynolds in 1944, a destroyer escort tasked with defending other ships in convoy as well as patrol using sonar.
Upon reaching Palaus, Owen’s ship was assigned to hunt down an enemy submarine that had been spotted in the area. Owen and his fellow sonarmen were tasked with conducting the search for this invisible enemy. Four hours later, they made contact with the enemy, closed the gap, and destroyed it.
This enemy submarine was later identified as the Japanese I-37, a submarine that was responsible for sinking several
Allied ships to include the American Liberty Ship SS Henry Knox and claiming many lives.
The USS Reynolds, with Owen on board, conducted several more escort missions to safeguard Allied vessels, as well as rescue and capture operations before finally being decommissioned from WWII in 1946.
Owen returned home in 1946 and continued his education where he left off, receiving his degree in 1949. He moved to Oregon with his wife, and raising three sons, eventually retiring in Manzanita.
Owen has been an active member of our community ever since. He served on the Manzanita City Planning Commission for over 25 years, and has been honored by the Nehalem Valley Historical Society for his role in providing a museum and archive in the Pine Grove Community House through multiple grants establishing Pine Grove as a Historical Building, and in 2004, Owen and his wife were recognized as Citizens of the Year.
Owen still resides in North County to this day.
Pat Patterson was born on December 19, 1923 in Greybull Wyoming.
In his early adulthood, he worked for Texaco Oil in California.
In 1943, the Allied Forces had been fighting on multiple fronts, one of which being the Aleutian Islands, an archipelego off the coast of Alaska facing an ongoing Japanese invasion.
Pat and his good friend Cronan chose to enlist in the US Coast Guard with the plan of joining a landing craft crew and fighting on that front, but destiny had other plans for him. While in line for receiving his duty assignment, the person right in front of him in line was the very last person assigned to be part of a landing crew before the cut-off. The person issuing duty assignments looked to Pat and said “You’re going to Garibaldi,” which at the time, was a duty station that few had ever heard of.
When he arrived at his duty station here on the Oregon Coast, he was tasked with patrolling our coast on horse-back over countless night-shifts often in near pitch back. At the time, the Oregon coast was under the threat of Japanese submarine shelling by the infamous I-25. Not many remember this part of WW2 history, but those who lived on the Oregon Coast at the time, specifically those in Astoria, will probably remember having to use blackout curtains at night to avoid shedding light and giving enemy submarines a lit target.
Pat still remembers hearing a transmission over the radio of an enemy sub sighting and the allied response of dropping depth charges onto it’s suspected location, an event that wouldn’t be confirmed until much later to avoid public panic.
Later, Pat found himself assigned to the Cape Meares Lighthouse, ensuring the beacon stayed lit as it was a crucial part of Oregon’s naval operations and defense. He served the rest of his time in service there, often taking turns with the lighthouse keeper on cooking their dinner.
Eventually came the news that the war had officially ended, and Pat was one of the last personnel to have manned the Cape Meares Lighthouse.
After his service, Pat ended up marrying a local girl who lived near his duty station, and worked at his father-in-law’s fish processing business which later became a major distributor on the Pacific Coast.
He was a very active member of the community, joining the Lions Club and volunteering at countless events, serving as Port Commissioner, and being one of the founding members of the Tillamook Transportation Department. He was also the one responsible for bringing the historic #90 Train engine to our coast, and the City of Garibaldi has since dedicated March 7th as Pat Patterson Day.
These days he enjoys time spent at his home south of town looking out his window with a beautiful view of his horses, donkeys, ducks, and dogs. It’s a dream of his to see the railroad from Tillamook to Banks revived, as he says it is one of the most beautiful train routes in the US.
Rudy Fenk was born in Tillamook in the fall of 1926. Born the son of a Tillamook dairy farmer, he spent his childhood on the family farm.
In 1944, when he was 18 years old, World War II had been raging for 4 and a half years, and the country was initiating yet another draft. Rudy responded to his country’s call to duty and enlisted in the US Navy one month before the draft went into effect.
He left his childhood home for Boot Camp in San Diego and hadn’t planned on a specific military occupation. One day, while in the chow line, a Chief Petty Officer for a military photography unit had recommended Photography to Rudy as an occupation. Rudy liked the idea and ran with it.
His first post was in Pearl Harbor taking and developing photos of the Top Secret planes that had dropped the atomic bombs.
During his time in the service, Rudy had taken hundreds of photos, some of which can be seen in the display case of the Tillamook Library during the weeks of Veteran holidays.
Following his time in the service, Rudy returned to Tillamook and still remembers his first glass of fresh milk when he got back. He returned to the dairy trade as a driver for the creamery, spending 13 years there. In 1950, he married his wife Ruth, and together they bought a piece of land to raise their own dairy cows. Today, he continues his family’s dairy farm and runs it with his grandson.
You’ll probably see him having his morning coffee at the Fern or at the various VFW events in town. Or you might see him walking around his farm during the day on the road named after him at the edge of town.
Thomas Blanchard was born in Nampa, Idaho On September 3rd, 1924. Around the age of 18, he moved to Beaver,
Oregon and drove trucks for a logging company in Tillamook.
In 1943, the Allied Forces had set their sights on reclaiming Europe and initiated another draft. Among those drafted into the war, was our very own Tom Blanchard, as well as his brother.
Tom’s future as a truck driver was put on hold, and he shipped out to Basic Training in Camp Roberts, California as an infantryman. After training, Tom was assigned to a unit and shipped out to the Pacific Islands where he spent roughly two years.
Among the islands he was stationed on, the Gilbert Islands. The command had found an old Japanese motorcycle, which they had decided on being the designated military police vehicle for the 7 mile long island. They asked the soldiers if anyone had any experience riding a motorcycle, and Tom, having had a motorcycle back home, spoke up.
And so, Tom was designated as the official island MP.
It was common for Japanese aircraft to fly over the island and perform bombing runs, and so taking shelter in coconut wood bunkers lined with sandbags became a frequent occurrence. The bunkers kept them safe, but some of those who weren’t able to take shelter in time were not as fortunate.
Tom was far from home, and far from his civilian career path, but the one time in his military service that his battalion asked
“Does anybody here know how to drive a truck?”, of course Tom jumped at the opportunity and drove in the convoy.
Upon returning home from the war in 1945, Tom returned to his life of driving trucks back in Tillamook. For brief periods of time, he did some driving for a company in Portland, and another company down in California, but Tillamook was always his home, and he always found his way back here.
Shortly after his return home, he met his wife, and spent 75 years together having 22 kids, and several grand kids.
These days, he spends most of his free time keeping busy by helping his grandson out in the truck shop and taking care of his 4 month old kitten.
Though he no longer drives, after 70 years of trucking, he still loves trucks, and would still be out there driving if he could.
Virgil Simmons, or “Bub” as he is known to all of us, was born in Bay City on August 29th, 1923.
In 1942, the Phillipines had been lost to the Japanese-axis forces, and throughout 1943 Allied resistance fought back against the invading force.
In 1943, when Bub was 19 years old, him and two of his good friends were drafted into the US Army. Bub had learned to fly a plane in his early life, and had wanted to join the Army Air Corps, but the Army needed Radio Operators, and Bub was assigned that job.
Bub was given the choice to deploy to either deploy to the Europe or the Pacific theater. At the time, Bub’s older brother Raymond was deployed in Australia. Bub knew the chances were slim, but he chose the Pacific none-the-less in the small chance that he might cross paths with his brother. His brother was shipped to an island called Biak where a major battle took place. Raymond fought heroically there, but sadly he did not make it home. This ended Bub’s hope of seeing his brother again.
Bub was loaded onto a ship bound for the Pacific Islands. After a brief delay in orders for where they were headed, the orders finally came in, and they set a course for Leyte Island where a major battle was to take place between Allied forces led by General MacArthur, and the Imperial Japanese occupiers.
Bub had been reassigned from a radio operator to a demolitions specialist and fought on Catmon Hill where he nearly lost his life to an enemy mortar. Bub received a Purple Heart and multiple Bronze Stars for his actions, and the battle was a decisive victory that led to the liberation of the Phillipine Islands.
Bub returned to the US and continued his service in the Reserves where he put in a significant amount of time and effort to receive his commission as a 2nd Lieutenant. He was assigned as an air officer and finally accomplished his dream to fly. He quickly climbed the ranks, finally concluding his service at the rank of Lieutenant Colonel.
Bub returned to his home town in Bay City where he worked as the Public Works Superintendent for 29 years, as well as the Bay City mayor for 10 years. He also helped build the current water and sewer system. Bay City has presented him with a plaque to honor his years of Community Service.
Bub married his wife Fay and the two built a house together just a block away from the house he grew up in. They are the two longest-living permanent residents of Bay City, and they still live there together to this day.
He now lives a quiet life, but anytime you see him, Bub is always more than willing to share one of his countless amazing stories.