Camp Adair was named in honor of Henry Rodney Adair, a West Point graduate and descendant of Oregon pioneers.
Lieutenant Adair, an officer in the 10th Cavalry, was the first Oregonian killed in the 1916 Mexican border clash.
When General Pershing pushed over the Mexican border in search of the bandit general Pancho Villa, Lt. Adair wiped out two machine gun nests and accounted for more than 30 Mexican bandits before he was killed.
For Camp Adair to be constructed, many families had to give up their homes. The government rerouted railroad tracks and roads, relocated cemeteries, and wiped out the small community of Wells, Oregon.
Most evacuees were farmers. Many were descendants of pioneers who had crossed the plains in covered wagons to make their homes in the Willamette valley. They had no choice but to sell their land, livestock, and machinery and move out.
During the construction of Camp Adair, it was necessary to move cemeteries located within camp boundaries. The government relocated pioneer cemeteries with graves dating back to 1850. A total of 414 graves were moved.
Although most people realized it was necessary to relocate homes, farms, and cemeteries for the new camp, many lamented the loss.
“The government purchased the 150-acre farm my grandmother, Bonnie Smith, owned in the Lewisville (Lewisburg) community. It had been her home since her marriage to my grandfather in 1893. Her four daughters, my two sisters, and I were all born on the farm. Needless to say, it was a sad, traumatic time for her when she was forced to move out of her home and off the farm after 49 years.”
Nada Runkle, in Homesteading Camp Adair
91st Infantry Division
At Camp White in southern Oregon near Medford, the 91st Division participated in intensive training. Soldiers were subjected to extremes of heat, cold, snow, and rain to prepare them for what lay ahead. Known as the “Powder River” Division, the 91st arrived at Camp Adair in November 1943 for further training.
By April 1944, the division reported for duty in North Africa. These soldiers later landed in Italy and fought their way north until enemy forces finally surrendered on May 2, 1945.
96th Infantry Division
The 96th Infantry, organized almost three decades earlier in World War I, became active again at Camp Adair in August, 1942.
This “Deadeye Division” received special training in marksmanship and land/water vehicle landings in order to be combat-ready.
The 96th saw combat in the Philippine Islands in the Pacific in 1944. Later they encountered fierce fighting for three months in Okinawa, Japan. Casualties on both sides were high.
The “Deadeyes” returned home and were deactivated in February 1946.
70th Infantry Division
On June 15, 1943, the 70th Division was activated at Camp Adair. They were known as the “Trailblazers,” remembering the courageous pioneers of the Oregon Trail. The division remained at Camp Adair until July 1944, then continued their training in Missouri before going to France.
The 70th spent 86 days in intensive combat, helping to liberate 58 towns and taking 668 prisoners.
The price of combat was high for the Trailblazers: 835 men killed in action; 2,713 wounded; 397 taken prisoner; and 54 listed as missing.
104th Infantry Division
Originally known as the “Frontier Division,” the 104th later adopted the name “Timberwolf.” The army activated the division on September 15, 1942, at Camp Adair. It was made up of 840 officers and 16,000 enlisted men.
They fought in France in September 1944, and also saw action in Belgium and Germany. In March 1945, they crossed the Rhine River, capturing several towns and many German troops. After fighting in the European theater for ten months, this division returned home.
After the War
In July, 1944, the local newspaper reported that Camp Adair had been abandoned and the soldiers sent away.
When the divisions left, the U.S. Army turned the hospital at Adair over to the U.S. Navy. The Navy brought wounded men from the Pacific Theater to Adair for treatment. The hospital was enlarged to take care of about 3,600 patients.
Shortly after the last division left, part of Camp Adair served as a prisoner-of-war (POW) camp for Italians and Germans. Civilians in Benton and Polk counties were mostly unaware of the prisoners’ presence.
Soldiers who trained at Camp Adair remembered many aspects of Oregon’s climate and natural surroundings. Many soldiers got poison oak, encountered snakes, choked on summer’s dust, and got sore muscles climbing Coffin Butte. Most remembered training in the driving Oregon winter rain.
After sloshing through the countryside, marching in the rain, fording swollen streams, pushing and pulling vehicles through the mud, and trying to keep their equipment from rusting, many soldiers felt like they were living in a swamp. It’s no wonder they called it “Swamp Adair.”
Photos and information courtesy of Benton County Historical Society.