Woman in historic Paine Field photo identified

MUKILTEO — Many decades have passed, but Tude Richter instantly recognized the woman in a World War II-era picture in Sunday’s Herald.

“That’s Helen Lee,” said Richter, 88, who recalled her own mother volunteering with Lee as part of the Aircraft Warning Service. During World War II, civilian spotters were trained nationwide to watch the skies for enemy aircraft.

The photo is included in Steve K. Bertrand’s new book “Paine Field,” part of the Arcadia Publishing “Images of Aviation” series. In the book, the woman isn’t named. But Richter, a lifelong Mukilteo resident, knew her well. “I loved her, she was wonderful to us,” Richter said.

Helen and Fred Lee owned Lee Grocery, a wholesale grocery business in Everett’s Riverside area. The couple lived near the Mukilteo Pioneer Cemetery, Richter said.

She said her mother, Peggy Zahler, was often on watch duty with Helen Lee. Zahler taught at Mukilteo’s Rosehill School.

After Japan’s 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor, there were two watch towers in Mukilteo, said Christopher Summitt, a Mukilteo Historical Society vice president. The tower in the picture was just off Mukilteo Speedway near Fifth Street, overlooking the water, he said.

Before satellite systems and electronic sensors, the Aircraft Warning Service was operated by the U.S. Army’s Ground Observer Corps. It was active through May 1944. Volunteers were to contact the local sheriff if they saw anything suspicious, said Summitt, a Boeing employee who leads tours of the Everett plant and Future of Flight Aviation Center.

Along with enemy aircraft, watchers looked for incendiary “Fu-Go” balloons, he said. In 1945, a Japanese fire balloon killed six people in Oregon.

Summitt’s wife Margaret, also active in the historical society, said their daughter, Isabella, dressed as an Aircraft Warning Service volunteer — with an original blue AWS armband — at the Mukilteo Lighthouse Festival several years ago.

Richter was 15 when World War II started. Recalling her mother’s four-hour lookout shifts, she said, “I’m not sure they knew what they were looking for.”

Julie Muhlstein: 425-339-3460; jmuhlstein@heraldnet.com.

More in Local News

A customer walks away after buying a hot dog from a vendor on 33rd St and Smith Street near the Everett Station on Friday. The Everett Station District Alliance pictures the area east of Broadway and south of Hewitt Avenue as a future neighborhood and transit hub that could absorb expected population growth. (Andy Bronson / The Herald)
How can Everett Station become a vibrant part of city?

A neighborhood alliance focused on long-term revitalization will update the public Tuesday.

Man arrested after police find van full of drugs, cash and guns

An officer on patrol noticed a vehicle by itself in the middle of a WinCo parking lot at 2 a.m.

After work to address issues, Lynnwood gets clean audit

The city has benefited from increased revenues from sales tax.

Bolshevik replaces BS in Eyman’s voters pamphlet statement

The initiative promoter also lost a bid to include a hyperlink to online coverage of the battle.

Man with shotgun confronts man on toilet about missing phone

Police say the victim was doing his business when the suspect barged in and threatened him.

Detectives seek suspect in woman’s homicide

Alisha Michelle Canales-McGuire was shot to death Wednesday at a home south of Paine Field.

Car crashes near Everett after State Patrol pursuit

The driver and a second person in the car suffered injuries.

Injured hiker rescued near Granite Falls

Woman fell and hit her head on a rock Saturday, and her condition worsened overnight.

Two teens struck by truck in Lynnwood

The teens, between the ages of 14 and 16, were taken to the hospital as a precaution.

Most Read