Former Korean War POW Gene Evers will be honored Saturday at salute

by: COURTESY PHOTO: GENE EVERS - Chinese interrogators found this photo of Gene Evers and his three nieces in Evers billfold and tried to use it during interrogation, assuming the girls were his daughters and threatening to kill them.Korean War veteran Gene Evers of Verboort will be honored this Saturday, April 20, at an All-Star Salute in downtown Portland, a fundraiser for the Oregon Military Museum at Camp Withycombe in Clackamas.

Now 81, Evers spent 14 months in 1952-53 as a prisoner of war with the Chinese military, who captured him after Russian fighter jets shot down a plane he was on. He endured a variety of tortures — from beatings to isolation to painful, forced body positions to extreme temperatures — before returning to Oregon.

"When I came back in September of '53," Evers recalled, "the News-Times interviewed me. That's the only paper that did."

News-Times Sales Director Michelle Thomas and her whole family are close friends of Evers' large family. We asked some of them to describe their memories of Evers.

Evers' sister Florence Herinckx remembers when their letters to him started coming back:

"We had no idea where he was. He just completely vanished. The army first confirmed he was dead. Then they said 'missing in action."

(Because Evers' presence on the RB-29 reconnaissance plane was a last-minute fluke — a camera inspector, he hopped on board for a single flight in order to check a problem with the aircraft's camera — his name was not included in the list of the plane's occupants.)

Before Evers left the U.S., his mother had a goodbye party and took a photo of him with Herinckx's children. Herinckx sent it to him when he was overseas and wrote on the back "You look so fatherly."

Evers put it in his billfold, which is where the Chinese found it when they captured him.

"Florence, that picture caused me so much grief," Evers told her after he came back.The Chinese assumed the children were his and kept threatening to destroy them if he didn't tell them "the truth."

Marilyn Peters was in the Verboort 4-H Dairy Club in the 1940s and 50s, when a teenage Eugene Evers helped his father lead it. Evers himself exhibited dairy animals and excelled in all the events, Peters said, winning many awards, including a trip to the national 4-H convention in Chicago.

Peters (Marilyn Ireland back then) remembers a particular day during the Oregon State Fair in 1953, about a year after Evers disappeared and was presumed by many to have died:

"At 5 p.m. every day there was a national news radio announcement naming released prisoners of war. We had stacked bales of hay against the wall behind our cows and that is where we quietly sat every day at 5 to listen to the announcement along with four of Eugene’s brothers. None of us will ever forget the day we heard 'Eugene Evers, Forest Grove, Oregon.' Oh my gosh, everyone went crazy, yelling, laughing, crying, praying.

"Little could we have realized what he had endured and would continue to deal with. As a young teenager you think, 'Hurrah! He’s safe and coming home. Now everything is going to be fine.' We saw him as an amazing, heroic survivor of war. I realize now he knew we didn’t have a clue what his life had been and what he was dealing with. How hard that must have been for him."

Decades later, in the early 1970s, Michelle Thomas remembered sleeping over at the Evers home with Annette Epifano, one of Evers' daughters and Thomas' best friend since second grade:

by: NEWS-TIMES PHOTO: CHASE ALLGOOD - The Sept. 24, 1953, Washington County News-Times featured a story about Gene Evers return on its front page."I remember waking up in the middle of the night hearing him screaming out of control. It would scare me to death. Annette would tell me, 'It's OK. Dad is just having one of his nightmares.' It took him years before he could even talk about his ordeal in detail."

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