Following WWII, Frank Passmore brings home a war bride from Germany
Frank Passmore has a lot of photos and mementos, including a Bronze Star, around his King City home, but two in particular may mean the most: A photograph of Frank and his German war bride Brigitta on their wedding day, and his framed elementary and high school graduation certificates that provided him with all the education he needed to enjoy a successful career.
Frank was born in 1926 in Rockwood, Ore., which is now part of Gresham, and graduated from Rockwood Elementary School. "The school doesn't exist anymore, but we still have reunions - we still get together once a year and bring memorabilia," he said.
Frank added, "My mother cooked at Rockwood School when I was in high school, and when I go to reunions, they don't remember me, but they remember my mother."
Frank graduated from Bensen Polytechnic, which at the time was an all-boys school complete with a machine shop, and it offered such courses as tool and dye making.
"It offered a whole manufacturing program, including blacksmithing," he said. "It was a wonderful program and wonderful high school coupled with a technical school. One of my favorite subjects was English, but my senior year, I ended up in the machine shop.
"My senior project was to make a new screw for the instructor's wooden leg. It took four or five days, and it fit perfectly - I got an A. While I was still in high school, I worked half a day in the machine shop at Wentworth & Irwin, which in addition to selling cars made truck bodies. I got school credit and made I think 65 cents an hour."
After graduation in 1944, Frank went to work fulltime at Wentworth & Irwin, but after only a month, he was drafted into the Army and sent to basic training in Texas.
"It was supposed to be a 17-week program, but the Belgium Bulge happened, and they pulled me out after 13 weeks and sent me to France, where I rode on a train north to Alsace-Lorraine and was assigned to the 103rd Infantry Division," Frank said. "After a couple of months there, the Allies were making their second big push into Germany. I was issued a used bazooka. My sergeant said, 'The bazooka man didn't need it any longer.' We carried them instead of a M1 carbine."
The 103rd Infantry Division crossed into Germany, which proved to be Frank's baptism of fire during the Battle of Niefern on March 15, 1945. They continued south through Germany picking up prisoners of war along the way.
Frank ended up in Bavaria in southern Germany, "and when the war ended, we were in Innsbruck, Austria, and stayed there in a house for three or four months," he said. "There was a big victory parade. I skied a lot. There was a little bar on top of the mountain, and you could ride a cable car up."
Frank, who had been a private first class, was promoted to sergeant and became part of the 9th Infantry Division anti-tank division occupation forces. He was first stationed in Schliersee, located 40 miles south of Munich on a lake, where he guarded a prisoner-of-war camp.
Frank was next reassigned north of Austria where he guarded trains taking displaced persons back to their homeland. "We had two jobs: No. 1, keeping them unarmed, and No. 2, keeping them from staying there," he said. "After six months, I was sent back down to Schliersee.
"This was the end of 1945 and the beginning of 1946. At first we couldn't talk to the Germans. Then we could talk to them. Then we could buy things from them in the stores, and finally we could fraternize with them. That's when I met my future wife Brigitta. She learned English while I learned German."
Frank was going to be transferred to Bremerhaven for transport home, "but by then we were madly in love and we couldn't get married then, so I re-enlisted for another year," he said.
The couple was married Sept. 6, 1947, with many townspeople helping with the wedding as materials were scarce, before Frank was shipped home.
"I couldn't live with her," he said. "She had to live in a dependents' hotel, and then she was sent to New York, while I was sent to New Jersey.
"I couldn't get to her in New York and went on to Portland. Two or three weeks later, she crossed the U.S. by train on her own. The Red Cross took care of all this, and they did a great job. She had to change trains in Chicago, and they met her and helped her."
According to Frank, in Europe, people meeting train passengers could go right out to the train when it arrived, but in the U.S., the passengers had to go into the station.
"She was waiting by the train for me, but finally we got together," he said. "She said, 'Don't go home right away. Drive around for a while.' She was in enemy territory."
Frank had moved in with his parents, and when the young couple pulled up to the house, "My mom met her on the front porch, and they fell in love with her," he said. "It was hard to write and send letters from Europe, and I had only written them four or five times about her. But everybody loved her - she had that kind of personality.
"She was the greatest American citizen you would ever meet. She couldn't wait to become an American citizen."
Frank went back to work at Wentworth & Irwin in the shop; shortly afterwards, based on his training at Benson High School, he was transferred to the engineering department as a draftsman.
He and Brigitta moved into their own place, but in January 1948, a recession hit, and Frank lost his job.
"A union executive took me to lunch at the old Multnomah Hotel and told everybody there I needed a job," Frank said. "I left with one."
He was hired by Silver Eagle Transportation Company to make drawings for patent applications and complete drawings for a parts catalog, which took him almost a year, but that was only the beginning. "I was never out of things to do," Frank said.
However, in walked the chief engineer and son of the owner of Peerless Trailer, who offered Frank a job in east Portland. "I went to work for them around 1950, drafting in the engineering department," he said. "Brigitta and I purchased a house in Northeast Portland."
Brigitta worked for many years at Montgomery Ward, and at one point, Frank purchased Citizens Photo in east Portland, and she ran it for three years before selling it.
"Peerless Trailer grew so fast they had to move, and the company moved to Tualatin, Frank said. "This was around 1965, and Brigitta and I started looking in the westside to buy. We bought a piece of property on 30th off Barbur Boulevard and built a house. The company kept growing and branched out, and they needed brochures."
Frank volunteered to design brochures and advertising and became the advertising manager. "I did all the media and eventually had two guys working for me who were college graduates," he said.
"I put out a quarterly magazine - the Peerless Digest - that had a circulation of 12,000 worldwide. I did all the interviewing, writing and editing. I got awards for the magazine, and I also did trade shows and a logging truck show."
After Frank had worked for Peerless for 23 years, the board decided to sell Peerless to a company in California, a move that Frank opposed because it was the first step in selling off the company piecemeal for tax purposes.
"After one more year, they fired all the department heads," he said. "Nine of us walked out the door on the same day. I went job hunting, did one interview and decided it wasn't for me. I wasn't going to go begging for a job.
"I started my own advertising company, Passmore & Associates, and former competitors of Peerless became my clients. I had clients all over the West Coast - Roseburg, Silverton, Springfield, one on the coast, one in Portland, one in Seattle and one in Vancouver, B.C."
Frank said he was "on I-5 all the time" and ran the agency for almost 10 years.
"My wife got very sick, and I decided to start taking Social Security at 62 so I could take care of her," he said.
Brigitta was mistakenly diagnosed with lupus, and the Passmores became very active in the American Lupus Society, with Frank becoming executive vice president, before she was correctly diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis.
"She died from rheumatoid arthritis in 2001, and her two sisters died of it too," Frank said. "She died about 10 years after I stopped working."
Frank lived in their house for two more years, "but I couldn't stand it," he said. "I played golf in Tualatin after Peerless moved there, and I had always wanted to live on a golf course, so in 2003 I bought a home in King City on the golf course."
Frank's home is located across from the Pro Shop and bowling green, and he enjoys watching all the activity from his windows and patio.
He plays golf with the King City Men's Golf Club all year long. "I try to play twice a week in the winter," he said. "You just wear the right clothes. When I first played here, I carried my bag - now I have a cart.
"I can see the Pro Shop from my house, but I can't drive directly to it in my cart. I have to drive around on the streets to get to it."
Frank is still creative, always looking for ways to utilize his ingenuity. Around the perimeter of his patio, he points out hose guides sticking into the ground with golf balls attached to the top of them.
"I've seen guys trying to pick them up because they think it's their lost ball," he said. "Making them is a fun thing to do, and it's something to do with old golf balls. I also made a 'Slow-moving vehicle' sign for the backs of golf carts, but no one wanted them.
"I keep looking around for something to do. Every time something's a challenge, I've got to see if I can make it. I like challenges and finding things to make."
Toward that end, he started designing and making birds and other garden ornaments out of copper tubing, selling them under the name EPC Garden Art.
"I made the first one as a gift for my brother-in-law in Germany," Frank said. "We sat at the kitchen table and sketched it, and I made it. Now I sell them at the King City holiday bazaar and two or three other shows a year. I like meeting all the people."
Frank is active in Beaverton American Legion Post 124, and he edits the post newsletter. "I used to march in the annual Beaverton parade," he said.
He also participated in an Honor Flight Network trip last September that took WWII veterans to Washington, D.C., to tour monuments, visit various points of interest and meet government officials.
Frank visits high schools to talk about his war experiences and usually relates one close call he had with his platoon while moving up a hill toward a German encampment on the other side.
"It was steep, and we were climbing on our bellies," he said. "Our left flank had pulled back, and the guy to the left of me rose up a little to say something. He was shot and rolled down the hill.
"Then they were shooting at me, and someone threw a concussion grenade at me. I could see it spinning toward me. It hit the ground in front of me and bounced away. I thank the guy in the factory who made it incorrectly - I didn't get a mark on me."