Part of World War II Oral History Series
Tape 1, Side 1. This oral history interview with John Helmer was conducted by Jim Strassmaier at the Oregon Historical Society in Portland, Oregon, on August 27, 1994. The interview was one of a series of brief oral histories created to accompany the Oregon Historical Society's World War II exhibit that same year. In this interview, Helmer discusses his family background, including his parents' experiences as immigrants from Sweden and the origins of his family name. He talks about his early life in the Albina and Overlook neighborhoods of Portland, Oregon, including working at his father's store, John Helmer Haberdasher; his education; and his involvement in sports. He talks briefly about working in a sawmill after high school. Helmer then speaks at length about his service as a bomber pilot in the U.S. Air Force in the Pacific Theater during World War II. He describes his training, flying missions out of Okinawa, Japan, and his experience as part of the occupation of Japan. He talks about returning to Portland after his discharge in 1946, his marriage to Beverly Carroll in 1948, and taking a trip to Europe in 1952. He also discusses his family's political beliefs. He talks about purchasing John Helmer Haberdasher in 1956, his attempts to expand the business, and how the recession of the 1980s affected the store. He discusses the difference between a large department store and a small family-run business. He talks about his children, their families, and their careers. He also describes his and Beverly Helmer's retirement activities. He closes the interview by reflecting on how his experiences in World War II affected him. Photographs of John Helmer, Jr., are included with the interview. They were taken by Jim Strassmaier at the time of the interview, both inside and outside the John Helmer Haberdasher store in Portland.
Helmer, John, Jr., 1923-2011