Airplanes have played key roles in his adult years
For someone who has lived his adult life flying airplanes, Herb W. Lee seems right at home in Lake Oswego, his residence of more than 50 years.
Through his interest in flying, Lee has always tried to be aware of what's coming.
'In flying we always try to foresee situations and plan accordingly,' said Lee.
He's used that philosophy as part of the way he's tried to live his life.
Born in 1922 in the Irvington district, which is now the Lloyd Center area, Lee has found that the Portland and Lake Oswego areas have always felt like home.
Lee entered the U.S. Army Air Corps in 1943, which at the time hadn't split off yet from the army to form the Air Force. It was there that he found his real love of not only flying but instructing others how to fly as well.
Lee attended a year at Iowa State Teacher's College in Cedar Falls in order to get his pilot's license. While in the Air Corps he flew P40 fighters, B17 bombers, B25s, as well as numerous other aircrafts. Because of all the schools and chains of command he was required to go through in order to fly each plane, Lee never went overseas during the war. After volunteering a couple of times the war came to a close and Lee was discharged, which was fine with him.
After the war ended, Lee took some time to sit down and figure out what he wanted to do. He spent a few months instructing in Silverton, after which he took a job for General Airways, flying cargo and commercial planes out of Portland for the next 10 years. The company flew to Alaska for about five years with DC3s, then obtained DC4s and DC6s, expanding its radius and flying to several parts of the world, mostly on military contracts.
It was during this time that Lee met his wife, Joyce on one of his flights out to Anchorage, Alaska. She already had her pilot's license and was being shown by Lee, who was captain of the trip, how to operate the more advanced instrument flying. They married in 1952, shortly after they met. She quit work soon afterwards to raise a family, and was able to go on trips with him occasionally as a stewardess.
They decided to live in Lake Oswego in the mid-'50s built two houses on the canals here. The first house they lived in for 25 years and the second is where they still currently reside. Both of the Lees' children were born and raised in Lake Oswego.
After 10 years of flying for General Airways, Lee realized that with a wife of five years and a daughter at home he needed to be able to spend more time with his family. Lee said that he remembers coming home on a Friday after work and having his daughter answer the door. She said, 'Mom, that man is here again.'
He quit his job by the following Monday.
Lee found another job in Portland for Flightcraft, where he flew for four years as chief pilot and flight department manager before becoming a full-time corporate pilot and flying numerous civilian aircraft on corporate flights.
After Flightcraft, Lee worked for the Moore Oregon Lumber Company, which has three lumber mills on the Oregon Coast and is located in Bandon. He stayed with the firm for 35 years, a great company, he says, where he flew his favorite plane, the Cessna Citation for five or six years around the West Coast.
Lee retired from Moore in '98 when he was 76 years old. This is quite an achievement, considering most pilots retire around the age of 60.
When asked why he loved to fly so much, Lee said, 'It's fascinating, it never gets dull, and it's always different.'
Lee said that after the service he did some truck gardening and used to drive racecars for fun. After getting in a bad wreck he decided that in order for him to keep flying, he had to make sure that his health was in tip-top shape, as pilots have to pass a fairly intense physical to fly. Lee then decided to give up racecars and fly full time.
Lee is still plenty active, even now in his retirement. He still gets together with his graduating class from '44 where he got his commission and wings every year at different places around the country. And while he says that every year the number gets smaller, he still loves going and reminiscing about those days as a young pilot.
Lee is constantly amazed at the new changes going on in the Air Force and the world every year.
'It's mind boggling to try to keep up with the advances and it's wonderful what they're doing,' Lee said on improvements in flight technology. 'It's amazing how far they've come. I remember in high school, teachers said that no one would ever go to the moon because they didn't have computers that would go that fast, and if they did it would burn up. Now look at us!'
Lee also has strong opinions on the current state of the war, as well as wars in general. Having lived through World War II, Korea, Vietnam, the first Gulf war and now the Iraq war, Lee says that he has always been saddened by war.
'I think we should consider things more before we send more troops overseas and expose them to losing their lives. I suppose I'm what you'd call an isolationist,' Lee mused. 'We should protect our own lives and not force our people to expose theirs to others that don't appreciate them. Those people overseas have fought and had wars since time began and always will. We're peace loving and should stay that way.'
Lee also belongs to the Columbia Aviation Association, which is a group of about 250 pilots that meets out in Aurora once a week to have dinner and talk about flying. The association has several prominent members from Portland who have gone on private tours around the world. Lee has been in the association for at least 30 years, and is still very much connected to his lifelong history of flight and aviation.
Now that Lee is 84, he has stopped flying because of health reasons, though he is still very active. In addition to being a member of the association he also takes care of his garden, spends time with his family, reads up on airplanes, and still manages to get to the gym six days a week.