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Friendships forged in Gaston come full circle

by: COURTESY PHOTO: VICKI FOTHERINGHAM - Beatrice Bangs of Warrenton and Everett Lee of Forest Grove stand in front of Elmers restaurant in Hillsboro, where Lee hosted Bangs for her 90th birthday brunch last Saturday.Lifelong friendships rarely last this long.

On June 7, Forest Grove musician and World War II veteran Everett Lee, 90, hosted a birthday brunch at the Hillsboro Elmer’s restaurant for his high school friend, Beatrice Bangs of Warrenton, who also turned 90 in May.

The two nonagenarians share a special connection: while still in high school in Gaston, Everett introduced Beatrice to his buddy and her eventual husband, Howard Bangs.

“I was dating a girl in Yamhill,” said Everett, “and she asked me one time, ‘I’ve got this girlfriend Beatrice ... can you ask a buddy to go along with her and we can double date?’ So I came up with Howard, and by gosh they met and they started going together. And when they married they had me as their best man.”

Beatrice and Howard tied the knot in 1943, but the tides of World War II separated the three friends for a long time. Everett was drafted into the Army, where he fought with the 7th Infantry Division in the Philippines and on Okinawa.

“That was a rough one, Okinawa,” recalled Lee. “I don’t know why I’m here. I’d be talking with a guy and a mortar would come down and blow his arm off and it never touched me.”

Meanwhile, Howard spent several years transporting men and materials to foreign shores with the Merchant Marine while under constant threat of enemy ships, planes, mines and submarines.

“Howard didn’t have it easy either,” said Everett. “He could have been sunk at any time.”

According to a Merchant Marine website, one in 24 merchant mariners died in the war, one of the highest casualty rates of any service branch.

Luckily, both Howard and Everett escaped death and returned to a country teeming with life. Howard’s return was particularly fruitful — Beatrice soon gave birth to their first children, Virginia and Karen, in 1946 and 1947, respectively. The women were present at the June 7 brunch.

Everett also married later, and had two sons who still live close by.

However, the three friends lost touch over the years as they moved to separate towns and raised children.

“There was a big period of time after the war when Beatrice and Howard were still getting established in life,” said Karen. “It’s hard when you’re raising kids, but they sent Christmas cards, that sort of thing.”

Both Howard and Everett worked in the logging industry, and Everett played guitar and sang for KGFR, a former Forest Grove radio station.

“I had an hour-long program all to myself,” he said. “They would say, ‘Oh my God, you could go to Nashville with that voice! But I was making more money in the logging business so I stuck with that.”

Howard eventually started working for a paper mill, while Everett got involved selling real estate. Meanwhile, Beatrice worked as a lookout in the Tillamook Burn area for 10 years.

“It was her job to send in readings like temperatures and wind direction, because if there was a fire the firefighters needed information to control it,” Karen explained. “She would go up to this tower in the hills in May and come down around Halloween time. We all used to go up there with books and games for the summer.”

“I liked it ... the longest I stayed there was about three months,” said Beatrice. “I had the kids up there with me a lot.”

All those summers in the tower must have given Beatrice plenty of time to reflect on the people in her life. She invited Everett to the coast to celebrate the Bangs’ 50th wedding anniversary. After that, the three drifted apart again for the last time — Howard died 10 years ago due to congestive heart failure.

“He was never sick before the last month or so,” said Karen. “He lived a great life.”

Howard’s was a life filled with loved ones. Today, Beatrice has five children, 13 grandchildren and 18 great-grandchildren.

“I never have time to get lonesome,” she said. “I live by myself, but I have good neighbors and the kids call and come to see me.”

None of it would have happened if not for Everett.

“We’d heard about Everett our entire lives growing up but we had never met him,” said Karen. “Mom turned 90 in May, so the children threw a big birthday party and we invited Everett. Everett called and that’s how we got in touch. It’s so nice to meet him now.”

“If I brought a different guy there’d be different people sitting here,” Everett joked.

He’s made a pretty good life himself. While he and his late wife divorced after 20 years, he now has five grandchildren from his two sons. He also plays in a country band, the Young and the Rest of US, which holds concerts in the Elks Lodge on the second Sunday of every month.

Beatrice and Everett caught up on old high school classmates and memories Saturday, but — perhaps because of all the years in between — the two still can’t remember what they did on that first double date so long ago.

“Oh I don’t know, where’d we go, Everett?” asked Beatrice at the brunch.

“That part I don’t remember,” he replied. “I just remember going to Vancouver for the wedding.”

“We definitely went to a movie, that I remember,” Beatrice recalled. “I don’t remember the movie though; it was a long time ago. We saw a lot of movies and then we’d go out to eat.”

Movies, memories, marriages and military service have all faded for Beatrice and Everett. But their friendship stands to this day.

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