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Public welcome to attend Somerset Lodge's rededication of veterans wall


by: PHOTO BY ELLEN SPITALERI - Kurt and Myra Mathews, co-managers of Somerset Lodge, pose with resident veterans Phil Shriver, left, and George Imhoff.New Guinea — 1942. One man, George Imhoff, was on the ground as part of Company D in the Oregon National Guard. Another man, Phil Shriver, was in the air flying a P-39, as a member of the U.S. Army Air Corps.

by: PHOTO BY ELLEN SPITALERI - Myra Mathews, co-manager of Somerset Lodge in Gladstone, displays the book of honor and several photos for the new wall honoring veterans.Both men were born in Oregon, both served their country in the South Pacific in World War II and both are now residents of Somerset Lodge, 8360 Cason Road, Gladstone, where they will have their photos displayed on the Veterans Wall, to be rededicated at 2 p.m. Sunday, March 3.

“It is very important that our military veterans not be forgotten. This is a way to make sure the community knows them,” said Myra Mathews, who with her husband, Kurtis, is the co-manager of Somerset Lodge.

The facility has had an informal wall for a long time, she said, but she and her husband, who have been managers for six months, wanted to make the wall a real showcase to honor the vets.

There are 28 veterans at Somerset, including two women, so Mathews framed a current photo and a military photo of each of them for the wall in the main building. She also put together a book of honor, containing photos of residents who have died or who have moved on to a higher level of care.

At the rededication, members of the VFW will make up the color guard for the opening ceremony, Gladstone Mayor Wade Byers will read a poem, and that will be followed by singing of the national anthem and reciting of the Pledge of Allegiance.

“We will then have the reading of the names of the residents on the wall, and the VFW will retire the colors,” Mathews said, adding that members of the community are welcome to attend.

George Imhoff

Imhoff, 92, joined the National Guard in 1940, and served in Australia, New Guinea and the Philippines as a forward observer in a heavy weapons company, specializing in mortars.

His earliest memory of being in New Guinea occurred when he had just landed in that country and was walking down a trail.

“Here came a native singing ‘Show Me the Way to Go Home,’ wearing a wool sweater,” in that tropical heat, Imhoff said.

He was born and raised in Gladstone, attending Gladstone Grammar School, when Walt Kraxberger was the principal. He graduated from Oregon City High School. He has lived at Somerset Lodge since June 2012.

Although Imhoff saw a lot of combat in the South Pacific, he wouldn’t trade that experience for the world he said, adding, “But I wouldn’t want to do it again.”

Phil Shriver

Shriver, 92, joined the Army Air Corps and graduated from flight school in November 1941. He was first assigned to a fighter outfit in Everett, Wash., but “the Japanese were pushing pretty fast toward Australia, and all the Australian men were fighting in Africa,” he said.

So in January 1942, Shriver and a group of newly minted pilots sailed for Australia, escorted by a U.S. Navy cruiser.

They landed in Melbourne in February, and by March Shriver was assigned to the 40th fighter squad; he had no experience flying the P-39s, and said he was lucky to get 30 hours in the airplane before being assigned to his first mission in New Guinea.

“The Japanese were attacking airports in New Guinea, and an Australian air squadron had almost been eliminated, so I was part of the first two American squadrons sent there,” he said.

The P in the P-39 stands for pursuit, Shriver said, and thus he and his fellow pilots were supposed to pursue and intercept the Japanese, but because of the altitude limitations of the P-39, the pilots could not get above the Japanese planes.

“The early part of the war was pretty rough. On our first mission, there were 12 planes in our squadron, and 20 Japanese above us. We lost five planes that day,” Shriver said.

“But we got a little better, and on July 11, 1942, I shot down my first, and only, bomber. Then the P-38s came over in the fall of 1942, and the war turned around for us, because those planes could fly higher than the Japanese,” Shriver said.

He flew 120 missions before coming home in May 1943.

Shriver was then made a test pilot and assigned to Tinker Field in Oklahoma. He left the U.S. Army in 1946 but stayed in the reserves. Shriver was born in North Bend, and even though he lived in Oklahoma for 35 years, he always knew he would return to Oregon. He lived in Sweet Home and Salem before moving to Somerset Lodge a year and a half ago.

“I was really proud to serve in the armed forces. This

country would not exist if not for the wars we fought,” Shriver added.