Recording history of Camp Adair
Published: Wednesday, January 9, 2013
Updated: Wednesday, January 9, 2013 12:01
Imagine the second largest city in Oregon magically sprung up overnight, just 15 minutes north of Corvallis.
In September 1941, the U.S. Army decided that an area north of Corvallis would be the site of a cantonment to train American soldiers before being sent off to combat in Europe and Japan. This place became known as Camp Adair, and was responsible for the training of four infantry divisions, including the 104th Timberwolf Division.
Mike Jager, a graduate student pursuing a masters of arts in interdisciplinary studies, has been working as an intern with Adair Living History Inc., on recording some of the remembrances of veterans from the division. Jager began interviewing veterans from the division as part of an oral history project to record what they remember from the war before those memories are lost.
Jager started the project because of his interest in how new media is changing the way history is being recorded as society shifts from keeping its history in print to using newer technologies.
Jager conducted the interviews during the division’s reunion in Colorado in September. The reunion brought together veterans as well as some of their children and others who have been affected by the division. The interviews, which are all on YouTube, bring history that may have been lost or recorded only in a book, to the public at large.
“They can see them, and their grandkids can see them,” Jager said. “It took persistence to get a lot of them to tell their stories. Some of them are the only ones to know their story.”
The interviews will be incorporated into a new interpretive center about Camp Adair planned in Adair Village.
Barbara Melton, president of Adair Living History, the non-profit group working to preserve the history of Camp Adair, said the group is currently working on raising money to renovate two buildings from Camp Adair and to transform one of them into a new interpretive center.
The group grew from a committee set up by the city of Adair Village to save two original buildings in Camp Adair from destruction. The buildings, which are currently located near Highway 99W in Adair Village, were moved there and placed on new foundations in 2010. In addition to the interpretive center, the other building will be used as a community center for Adair Village.
Melton said the group has been working with the departments of history and new media communications at Oregon State University to partner with interns to help document the history of the camp.
Camp Adair took over 55,000 square acres of land in Polk and Benton counties during World War II. To build the camp, the Army destroyed the small town of Wells, displaced many farmers and even had to move 414 graves from cemeteries. Around 110,000 soldiers passed through the camp during the war, and it had a population of 30,000-50,000 at any given time, which made it the second largest city in Oregon at the time. Corvallis had a population of only 14,000 during the 1940s.
The camp was a boon to the local economy and students from Oregon State College organized dances for the troops and visited to keep the morale up. Many local families took in soldiers and their wives, and it had a huge impact on the community.
The Army built 11,000 buildings for the camp, including barracks, chapels, theaters, kitchens and machine shops. Camp Adair also hosted German and Italian prisoners of war and included mock German and Japanese villages to help soldiers train for combat overseas.
After the war, Camp Adair served for a time as a Naval hospital for wounded veterans, and also as housing for the surge of students coming to Oregon State after the war. The camp, which had always been intended to be temporary, was largely dismantled, with many buildings sold off and others broken down for salvage. Many of the displaced farmers returned to their land, while a portion of it remains under the Bureau of Land Management and is open to hiking and mountain biking.
Don Iler, editor-in-chief
On Twitter: @doniler