March 10, 1922 - September 16, 2018 James Burdett Thayer passed away peacefully with his family at his side Sept. 16, 2018 at his home in Lake Oswego.
Jim lived an extraordinary life of 96 years, with his wife Patricia, his family of five children, six grandchildren, and his strong faith in God. He was a military hero, a successful businessman, and a renowned civic leader.
Jim was born March 10, 1922 in Portland to James and Ruby (Alexander) Thayer. His maternal grandparents raised him on a farm in Carlton where he attended Carlton High School. He became an accomplished editor of the school's newspaper leading to a scholarship at the University of Oregon School of Journalism.
The 1941 Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor changed his life. Jim left college at the end of his sophomore year and joined the Army. He entered service at the Presidio of Monterey as an infantry private and was selected for Officer Candidate School shortly after induction. He was commissioned a second lieutenant on Oct. 3, 1944 and assigned to a frontline antitank company in the 71st Infantry Division, arriving in Le Havre, France in February 1945.
As a mine platoon commander, Jim led his unit across France and into Germany clearing minefields along the Maginot Line. He was reassigned as a reconnaissance platoon leader with a unit of 16 men, two halftracks, and a Jeep. In April 1945 his platoon engaged German SS troops who were occupying the Austrian town of Horbach. In the battle, his platoon overtook the German soldiers. When reinforcements from his battalion arrived, 800 German soldiers surrendered. For his action, Jim was awarded the Silver Star.
On May 4, 1945, his platoon was hunting for German ammunition dumps near Wels, Austria. As they followed a remote forest road, the platoon began to find dead, dying, and emaciated people. At the end of the road, Thayer and his men discovered and liberated the Gunskirchen Lager concentration camp, part of the Mauthausen-Gusen complex, saving the lives of over 15,000 Hungarian Jewish refugees.
Jim returned to U of O after the war, graduating in 1947 with a Bachelor of Science degree in economics. In 1952 he met his future wife Patricia Cunningham in The Dalles. They were married April 19, 1954 and settled in Beaverton to start a family together. Jim and Pat were founding members of St. Bartholomew's Episcopal Church in 1954. Together they co-founded the J. Thayer Company in 1955, selling office products, furniture, stationary and fine gifts.
Over the years, Jim served as president of the Oregon Historical Society, president of the Port of Portland Commission, and president of the Beaverton Chamber of Commerce. He chaired the Tuality Community Hospital board and Governor Victor Atiyeh's Lower Columbia River Task Force. He served on the Reed College Board of Trustees, and sat on the board of directors for GTE Northwest, the Oregon Graduate Institute for Science and Technology, the Knappton Corp, the Lewis and Clark Bicentennial Commission, Evergreen Aviation Museum, Boys & Girls Aid of Portland, and Church Divinity School of the Pacific.
He received honorary doctorate degrees from Hanyang University in Seoul, Korea in 1988, Pacific University in 2009, and received the University of Oregon Alumni Association Distinguished Alumni Award in 2005.
Jim retired from the US Army Reserves as a full colonel in 1982 and became Oregon's Civilian Aid to the Secretary of the Army in 1989. He was awarded the Secretary of Defense Medal for Outstanding Public Service in 1994. Jim reactivated as Commander of the Oregon State Defense Force and became Brigadier General.
The Brigadier General James B. Thayer Oregon Military Museum at Camp Withycombe in Clackamas, near completion, will be a fitting tribute to General Thayer with plans to open in 2020. The $20 million museum and historic park will honor all Oregon veterans and citizen soldiers past, present and future.
After 50 years in Beaverton, Jim and Pat sold their home in 2008 and moved to The Stafford Retirement Community in Lake Oswego meeting new friends and enjoying a simpler lifestyle together. Patricia passed in 2014, and Jim has spent recent years at home holding vigil with his family and close friends.
Jim is survived by his sons, Jim, John, Tommy and Mike (Kristy) Thayer; grandchildren Matthew and Patrick Thayer, and Haley, Eli, Tristan and Carson Thayer. Jim was preceded in death by his wife Patricia, and his daughter Anne.
A memorial service to celebrate Jim's life was held at 3 p.m. Friday, Sept. 28, 2018, at St. Bartholomew's Episcopal Church in Beaverton. In lieu of flowers, memorial contributions can be made to the St. Bartholomew's Vicar's Fund, 11265 S. W. Cabot Street, Beaverton, OR 97005.