PORTLAND, Ore. — To the world, he was the mystery man in white shirt and fedora, an unknown Samaritan carrying a boy through the Vanport flood.
Lorraine Spring just called him dad.
Spring said this week that her father rescued Earl Woods in 1948 after the Columbia River flooded Oregon’s second-largest city.
Spring, now 82 and living in Kalama, Washington, was 14 the afternoon of May 30, 1948. She and her family were driving home to Vancouver after attending church in Portland.
“When we got to Kenton, there were hundreds of people walking up the road toward us, crying,” Spring remembered.
She and her father, Roy Ludwig, were both adventurous types. Spring begged her father to walk down into Vanport with her to see what had happened.
“Dad and I went down to the edge of the water,” Spring said. “Then he saw that little boy. He said, ‘Here, babe, hold my coat,’ and he just went right in. He saw the emergency.”
Woods was 5 then and sure he wasn’t going to make it to 6. He’d been trying to swim out of Vanport, but the Columbia River water was too much, he told The Oregonian last week.
“I was done in,” Woods said. “I didn’t believe I had any more strength. I think it was the adrenaline then going into the cold water. I was pretty doggone tired.”
Spring said she watched from the sidelines in a yellow dress. Her father deposited Woods on a bank then he went to help other people.
Ludwig was a strong man, Spring said. He worked as a landscaper. He had only a fourth-grade education, but he studied the dictionary and National Geographic magazines. He wrote poems and lived to make his family laugh.
“He was childlike in that he wanted all the time to have fun,” Spring said. “If he could pay the family to have fun, he would. One of his favorite sayings was, ‘If you’ll all go to the beach today, I’ll pay for it.”’
The Sunday afternoon of the flood, Spring saw a different version of her father.
“He was very intense about it,” Spring said.
He helped others out of the water, Spring said, then he drove his family home, on a long detour that included a trip over the Bridge of the Gods, soaking wet.
He didn’t talk about what he’d done on that drive, and he didn’t speak about it much in the 30 years he lived after.
“He never gave any regard to the good things he did,” Spring said.
He died three decades ago of pneumonia. He was 76.
Spring kept the 1948 Sunday Oregonian article that included two photographs of her father. She often wondered “what became of that little boy,” she said.
Woods, too, grew up studying the photograph. He went on to become a prosecutor and a district attorney. Like Spring, he spent nearly 70 years wondering.
When Spring heard this week that Woods wondered who had rescued him, she opened her old cedar chest to find portraits of her father.
“I’m sure he’d like to see dad’s face,” she said.
But all the photographs showed her dad just as he had been in 1948 — pictured from behind, just a man in a white shirt and fedora.