We invited a few seniors in Portland to answer the following question:
What moment in your history do you most vividly remember?
Their responses all reflect thoughtful recollections of memorable life experiences.
Although I was a child during WWII, my memories of that time are still very vivid.
I honestly don’t remember feeling fear growing up in Salem, OR during this time. I do remember the Willamette Valley being transformed due to the war and army bases popping up. Camp Adair was not too far away, and it was common to see soldiers all the time. My father was head of the local USO and was always inviting soldiers home for meals. One soldier, in particular, Kurt Blau was a Jewish soldier from Vienna, Austria. He had lost all of his family during the war and immigrated to the United States and joined the U.S. Army. He was a classically trained pianist, and we all adored him. My father especially, was very close to him. Eventually, he was shipped out to the United Kingdom, but he continued to send us regular updates by mail. One day, my father told us that he had been sent to the front. And then the letters suddenly stopped. We realized he had died. It was a terrible blow.
I also remember food rationing, though turkeys were still plentiful. And because large home freezers didn’t exist at that time, everyone rented them at freezer warehouses.
I also remember that all the silk had to be used for parachutes, so women no longer had nylons. As a result, the fashion trend was to draw a black seam down your leg with a marker to simulate the look of nylons at that time.
Everyone was expected to and wanted to help the war effort, even school children. So in the summer, we would go by the busloads, accompanied by teachers, to the fields to harvest crops and pick the berries. It was something we all enjoyed, and we felt that in our own small way, we were helping our country.
The afternoon started out balmy. I was 17 years old and was asked to help work a promotion at Standard Furniture on SE Foster in Portland, OR. As the day progressed, the sky grew darker and it became quite windy. This was the beginning of what is now referred to as the Columbus Day Storm, Oct. 12, 1962.
I was working with my dear friend Rick Fendel and his dad, Joe Fendel, a part owner. Needless to say, the sale that was planned was not successful because of the storm. There were many donuts and much coffee to be had, though.
Winds up to 100+ mph were clocked in the Portland area. At one point, we rescued a man who was clinging to a pole.
We formed a human chain to reel him into the store. He helped with the coffee and donuts and went about his way when the storm lessened. I tried to contact my parents, but the phone lines were down, and it was impossible. After the storm, Joe drove me home and we saw the devastation, trees leveled, etc. We lost our chimney at our house. It was a frightening night.
My most vivid memory is the bombing of Pearl Harbor. I remember coming home from church and turning on the radio. And that’s the news we heard. I think I was a freshman in high school. My parents were horrified and knew that my two older brothers would be going off to war before it was over. They indeed did go off to war. One was in the European theater and the other in the Pacific. My oldest brother’s plane was shot down, and he was a Japanese prisoner of war until the war was over. Very vivid, bad memories.
There are two moments in history that I vividly remember. The first was Dec. 7, 1941. We had just returned from church and were sitting down for lunch. My dad had been listening to the radio and came in to announce that the Japanese had just attacked Pearl Harbor. One of my mother’s brothers was in the Navy and was stationed in Hawaii, so we were all concerned for his safety.
I can still picture in my mind, the family sitting in the kitchen and my dad telling us about the attack on Pearl Harbor.
The second moment in history that I vividly remember is Sept. 11, 2001. It was early in the morning. My husband and I were awake but lying in bed thinking about getting up when the phone beside the bed rang. I answered, and it was our son David who lived in Detroit at the time. He said, “Do you have your TV on?” I said, “No, we’re still in bed. What’s going on?”
“The world has changed,” he said.
We turned on our TV in time to see the pictures of the tower in New York falling. David was right. The world had changed, and I can still hear his voice in my head saying, “The world has changed.”
Alyda’s son, David Gilkey was an NPR photojournalist who was killed on June 5, 2016. He was on a reporting assignment traveling with the Afghan National Army when the Humvee he was riding in was ambushed on a remote road. Zabihullah Tamanna, an Afghan reporter was also killed during the attack.