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Two weeks ago, my wife, myself and two grandchildren in tow, visited one of our daughters and her family in the Portland, Oregon area. With excellent weather, it was a great time and place to vacation. Oregon is an “outdoor” state and we were determined to enjoy its beautiful natural resources.

On one of our vacation days, we took a two hour drive across the coastal mountain range to experience the Pacific Ocean and Columbia River. Our destination was the northwest corner of Oregon where Woody, my father-in-law, had served during World War II.

Woody tells us that his assignment back then was to observe the Columbia River looking for Japanese submarines that might enter the river from the Pacific Ocean. His station was Ft Stevens Army Base. While this area is no longer an army base, there is a museum in Ft Stevens State Park in tribute to the men and women who served there.

In particular, I recall Woody telling us two of his memories of his service at Ft. Stevens: the 6″ guns and the great width of the river where it meets the Pacific Ocean.

So we were interested to see how Woody’s memory has held up over nearly 70 years since his service.

The Columbia River is indeed very wide here. I took this picture standing at a point close to where the Columbia pours into the Pacific Ocean. You can see that it’s a few miles across the river to Washington state at this location.

This is one of the guns that was used during World War II. The gun has a six inch diameter.

The gun sits atop a fortress. However you can see that the gun is not visible from outside of the fortress – it is shielded by the cement wall. When readied for use, the gun carriage is raised so that the barrel is above the cement wall. The guns were known as “disappearing”

This is one of the mines that was used to protect the Columbia River from Japanese submarines. The mines were lined along critical areas near the entranceway to the estuary.

This is one of the many vehicles used during the 1940’s.

We brought back dozens of photographs from our visit to Ft Stevens so that Woody could relive more of his memories from his service during World War II. This was a day well spent on our trip to Oregon.

By the way, although not very well known, Ft Stevens was the only place in the continental US to be bombarded by the enemy fire during World War II. In mid-1942, a Japanese submarine fired 17 shells at the fortification during the night. Luckily, no one was injured.

Why Photos Matter

30th August 2010

I have a lot of fond memories from my growing up years in suburban New York. Photographs have helped me recall many of these memories.

About four months ago, I was preparing for our bi-annual family reunion. My project was to design an album of family members to be auctioned as part of the reunion fundraisers. I looked through hundreds of Mom’s “shoebox photos” from the 1940’s and 1950’s and found forty or so pictures for the album. I carefully scanned each photo, chose the layout for each album page through an online service, completed and ordered the album online and received the finished photo book by mail in plenty of time for the reunion.

This by itself is reason enough to demonstrate why photos matter, but this article goes a step further.

While looking through Mom’s photos, I found one that I put aside. A few weeks later when I had some free time, I again retrieved the photo.

Here was a picture of Mom, my sisters and myself and a familiar face from the 1950’s.


We knew this lovely woman on the left as “Aunt Rita”.

Looking closely, you’ll notice that we are standing on a boat. To be precise, we are standing on “The Amoy”, a Chinese junk that she and her husband Alfred owned and lived on. They raised three sons on the Amoy.

The Nilson’s moored their boat a few blocks from our house. Somehow, Aunt Rita had befriended my mother and we would frequently visit the Nilsons on their junk.

The photo also reminds me of the painting gifted by Mrs. Nilson. The still-life painting graced our living room wall for so many years with her signature neatly tucked at the bottom, right-hand corner of her artwork.

I searched the Internet by googling “The Amoy”. One entry linked me to a postcard of the same Chinese junk that brought back even more memories.

I bought the postcard which helped me recall the exact coloring of the junk and also reminded me of the boat’s dark teakwood finish and many “interesting” rooms below deck.

I am now trying to track down one or more of the Nilson’s three sons (success, please see Comments below).

Postcard caption: Chinese junk moored at Echo Bay (New Rochelle, N.Y.). As an aside: the Nilsons later moved their boat from Echo Bay to the Bronx along the Hutchinson River Parkway near the defunct Freedomland.

Photos matter to be because they help me reach back to memorable times of the past. They’re a constant reminder to me to take lots of pictures and show them to the world!

Written by Arnie Lee