75 years ago

John Day boy relates experiences in Saipan Invasion

A 7th AAF Base in the Marianas (Special) – Fighting off Jap snipers and then helping treat battlefront casualties under emergency makeshift conditions isn’t part of the routine day’s work for the personnel of a 7th AAF fighter group hospital. But Cpl. Barry T. Larkin, of John Day, Oregon, did both when he landed on Saipan five days after the invasion started.

Coming ashore in Higgins landing boats, Cpl. Larkin, four other enlisted men and a flight surgeon comprised the first unit of the 7th AAF hospital to land on the island. They hit the beach at 8 o’clock at night and it took them until 4 a.m. to make their way up to the newly captured air base. The men carried medical packages, bandages, morphine and sulpha powders, in addition to combat equipment, and the flight surgeon had an operating kit on his back.

“The Japs were still throwing shells at us as we came in,” Cpl. Larkin said. “And just as our boat reached shore a nearby ammunition dump blew sky high. We hit the bottom of the boat and stayed there until the air had cleared.”

Finally the members of the group began making their way from the beach to the airstrip. Climbing on a truck loaded with 100 octane aviation gas drums, they hitched a ride. As they came to a ridge leading to the base, someone shouted: “Where are you guys going?” “We’re going out to the strip,” Cpl. Larkin shouted back.

At that moment bullets whizzed all around the vehicle. A Jap sniper attack was in full progress and the medical men, wedged in between the gas drums, crouched low and waited. It was one of many sniper attacks the medics were to go through before the field was made secure.

“One night the Japs broke through from the hills,” Cpl. Larkin related. “It looked like a counter attack for a while, but it turned out to be just another raid – this time in force. They were driven back and we went on with our work.”

The small hospital unit first operated out of a partly demolished Jap hangar, treating battle casualties, and then moved to a tent. Now the 7th AAF hospital has been established in what was formerly a Jap building near the strip.

In addition to handling Air Force casualties, the medical unit treated more and more front line cases as the tempo of fighting on Saipan increased. Cpl. Larkin assisted the flight surgeons with several operations.

Today, with Saipan secure, the unit has stopped doubling in brass and is working under fairly normal conditions.

50 years ago

50 acres burned – Swift actions stops blaze

Swift action by federal, state and local firefighters prevented a 50-acre blaze from reaching heavy timber areas Sunday afternoon near Mt. Vernon.

Harry (Swede) Pearson, East Central Oregon District forester, said the fire was headed towards the timber of the Little Black Butte area before being controlled.

The fire burned 50 acres of high grass, brush and juniper about four miles north of Mt. Vernon on property owned by Roy Kilpatrick, said Pearson.

The fire was reported at about 5:30 p.m. A B-26 from Burns dropped two loads of retardant at the head of the fire, which was advancing up steep ground.

“It could have easily gotten to the timber had it not been for the retardant drops,” said Pearson.

Some 13 State Forestry personnel, a 12-man fire suppression crew from the Malheur National Forest and members of the Mt. Vernon Rural Fire Protection District fought the fire.

One crawler tractor and four tankers were also used.

The fire was apparently caused by a vehicle being driven through a grassy area.

Pearson termed the fire danger in grassy areas as “explosive.” “It won’t take much to touch off a grass fire this year,” he added, noting that the excellent grass year has created an extra hazard. He cautioned people against driving cross-country in grassy areas.

The fire near Mt. Vernon was the first man-caused blaze for the season in the East Central Oregon District. “This speaks well for the people. They should be commended for their fine record,” said Pearson.

It was also the first fire in Grant County since June 16 for the state forestry district. The district has had 33 fires. All but one have been caused by lightning.

10 years ago

Grant County’s 100th Fair

Wagons, Ho! Historic wagon train will visit Grant County’s 100th fair

A symbol of Oregon's colorful past, the wagon train is making a comeback this month in Eastern Oregon - just in time for the 100th Grant County Fair.

The Oregon Statehood Wagon Train, created in honor of Oregon's sesquicentennial, will travel through seven Oregon counties: Baker, Malheur, Grant, Wheeler, Gilliam, Sherman and Wasco. It is scheduled to be at the Grant County Fairgrounds from Tuesday, Aug. 18, to Monday, Aug. 24.

The train starts its journey Saturday, Aug. 8, in Huntington at that town's "Pioneer Days," with its ultimate destination at The Dalles on Thursday, Sept. 17, in time for "Historic The Dalles Days."

In honor of Oregon's sesquicentennial celebration, it will follow the historic Dalles Military Road, which connected Fort Dalles to Fort Boise, providing a passageway for freight, supplies, mail and travelers in the late 1800s.

Other scheduled Grant County stops include Summit Prairie, Aug. 16; Prairie City, Aug. 17; Moon Creek, Aug. 24; and Dayville, Aug. 25.

Driven by former Prairie City resident Ben Kern, the train will consist of at least 10 wagons, including a covered wagon and a stagecoach, drawn by horses and mules.

People are invited to visit the wagon train during its journey, pet the horses and mules, and talk with Kern and the other riders and drivers.

Those thirsting for a real first-hand experience of pioneer life and the wide open spaces of the old west, can even ride on the train as either a day-rider or an outrider with their own horse or wagon.

The registration fee is $35 per day per adult, and $25 per day for children under 12, who must be accompanied by an adult. The fee includes grub and thanks to a donation by Equis Feed, horse feed, too. Spaces are limited; sign up by Thursday, Aug. 6.

Kern is an old hand when it comes to organizing and heading up wagon trains.

Raised in Wyoming, he moved to Prairie City in 1947.

During his Grant County years, he worked at the Oxbow and Tuttle Hereford ranches, among others. He also worked in the timber industry, for Ellingson Logging, G.L. Pine and Blue Mountain Mills, and owned the Coffee Cup Cafe (later, the Branding Iron Cafe and Lounge) in Prairie City.

Soon after, Kern got into the wagon train business, joining up with a group of others who journeyed from Prairie City to the Pendleton Roundup in 1969.

He moved back to Wyoming in 1978, where he resides in Evansville. But his love for wagon trains and stagecoaches endured and he has continued retracing ruts and trails of the old west with many such ventures.

A sampling of the longer wagon trains he has led include: Independence, Mo. to Independence, Oregon in 1993, following the 3,000-mile Oregon Trail; St. Joseph, Mo. to Coloma, Calif. in 1999, 2,600 miles with the California National Historical Trail Wagon Train; and Fort Laramie, Wyo. to Virginia City, Mont. in 2001, 765 miles on the Bozeman Trail.

Kern was the subject of a Nov. 23 Eagle article "Blazing Trails Across the West."

Still going strong, now well into his 80s, Kern strives for historic authenticity while out on the trail.

"We want to breathe history and wake people up to the fact that we are still living that history," he explained.

With the Oregon Statehood Wagon Train, Kern said, "Lots of people didn't realize there was a military road (Dalles Military Road). We want to help people understand where was it and what's the reason for it."

The wagon train is an official Oregon150 event, in partnership with the Wasco County Historical Society.


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