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Reprint of hometown newspaper among events celebrating 97th birthday of Vancouver WWII veteran

By , Columbian staff writer
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Frank Wallace, left, along with his wife Donna Wallace, center, and Deb Wallace, his daughter-in-law, tour the The Columbian's pressroom on Tuesday.
Frank Wallace, left, along with his wife Donna Wallace, center, and Deb Wallace, his daughter-in-law, tour the The Columbian's pressroom on Tuesday. (Taylor Balkom/The Columbian) Photo Gallery

Frank Wallace of Vancouver watched as 500 copies of his hometown’s newspaper, dated from May 30, 1925, zoomed on belts overhead.

His daughter-in-law, Deb Wallace, and his one of his sons, John Wallace, surprised Frank Wallace for his 97th birthday on Tuesday with a reprint of The Dispatch-Herald that was published on the day he was born in Erie, Pa.

“I used to work there,” he said through the noise.

The top story covered a plane crash and, among the various other stories, one addressed World War I. These themes would reappear later in Frank Wallace’s life, as he would serve in the Air Force during World War II.

Loud whirling and the distinct smell of ink filled The Columbian’s pressroom, where the Wallaces arranged for the custom reprint.

Radio interception

Frank Wallace was born on May 30, 1925, and raised in Erie. He grew up during the Great Depression, requiring him to work as a paperboy for the local newspaper. Since he was young, Frank Wallace has had a tenacious spirit to prosper regardless of his circumstances, which extended through his military and post-military career.

Wallace enlisted in the Army Air Forces in 1943, shortly after graduating from high school. He was trained as a radio operator and gunner on a B-24 Liberator, a heavy bomber.

During his service, Wallace earned an Air Medal to recognize his heroism — yet the exact operation he was awarded for is unknown. According to John Wallace’s research, he believes his father received the medal for his contribution to the Office of Strategic Services’ Norway heavy water mission, a successful Allied effort to obstruct the Nazis’ production of nuclear weapons by removing hydroelectric dams.

In 1946, after the war, Frank Wallace was commissioned as a second lieutenant and trained as a radar officer. His assignments took him from Alaska’s Aleutian Islands to New Jersey.

He continued developing his skills, leading him to radar intercept officer training, and was assigned to a fighter squadron at the Otis Air National Guard Base in Massachusetts. Soon after, Wallace was deployed to Thule, Greenland, to intercept Russian aircraft, commonly known as “Bear” bombers, from photographing American and Canadian radar facilities.

Frank Wallace was among the first few officers to fly a Lockheed F-94B Starfire above the Arctic Circle, a mission for which he received an award. He recalled departing as the sun shrunk into the Earth and, later, witnessed it reemerge while soaring in the air. Frank Wallace could see glaciers and whales below as they zipped near Greenland.

Often when he was in the air, he would bring his color film camera, which he still has today. On it, he captured images from his placements around the globe.

Later, Frank Wallace was assigned to a squadron in Portland, which is where he met his wife of more than 67 years, Donna. Before retiring from the military in 1963, Frank Wallace worked as an Air Force adviser to the Oregon Air National Guard and in aircraft flight testing.

Establishing new paths

After his military service, Frank Wallace was skilled at reinventing himself and adding more knowledge to his arsenal.

The World War II veteran worked as a salesman for a few companies, including one focused on emerging technology — telephone answering machines. He also traversed various occupations: insurance, real estate and as a director of food service as Providence and St. Vincent hospitals in Portland.

However, he eventually circled back to the familiar realm of aviation as a Boeing quality control inspector of Air Force projects.

When John Wallace visited his dad at work, he would wander around F-101 and F-102 jets and run his hand along the aircrafts’ smooth surface. John Wallace, fascinated by his father’s job, was determined to do something similar. And so he did.

“I checked his logbooks in some of his last airplanes that he flew. (Some) were the same airplanes I flew because they were antiques at the time when I started flying,” John Wallace said.

John Wallace followed in his father’s footsteps and joined the Air Force. Just like Frank Wallace, he began his career in an intercept squadron and ended it as an active-duty reservist. Frank Wallace’s other son, Marc, also served in the Air Force Reserve and National Guard. He was unavailable to speak with The Columbian on Tuesday.

Deb Wallace said Frank Wallace has always been modest about his accomplishments and doesn’t speak about them often. Her father-in-law was never afraid to start something new or pursue his interests, she added. It’s something that was impressed on his family and how they navigated their own aspirations.

“Dad has inspired me to really persevere in my endeavors,” John Wallace said. “No matter what.”

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