Matt Helget wore a khaki U.S. Army officer’s uniform Saturday during Adair History Day at Santiam Christian School.
The uniform is a reproduction of the summer service outfit worn by officers during World War II, said Helget, a Lebanon resident. The historian and anthropology student said he wore the uniform to honor his grandfather, Staff Sgt. Alfred Dennis Helget, who trained at Camp Adair in the 1940s as part of his service with the 96th Infantry Division.
The grandson displayed original and reproduced World War II artifacts from his personal collection. About 50 people attended the history day and asked Helget questions about the items, which included a M1 Garand rifle, a Thompson submachine gun, grenade launcher, bayonet, haversack, helmets, a soldier’s handbook and more.
Helget said his passion for World War II and Camp Adair history came about when he started asking questions about his grandfather’s service and found few answers. He started his own research. Helget is now studying anthropology at Oregon State University.
Dorothy Bush, who is 89, worked at the post exchange at Camp Adair in the 1940s. Bush, who lives east of Corvallis in Linn County, perused Helget’s historical collection with her son, Bob.
The Bushes also listened to a presentation about work being done by the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife to restore habitat at the E.E. Wilson Wildlife Area, where Camp Adair once stood, while also preserving what remains of the military base.
“It’s just an interesting place,” Bob Bush said. “You see the remnants of the base but it’s hard to picture the base as it was.”
Some of the concrete foundations and pillars of the more than 1,000 structures that made up Camp Adair remain in the wildlife area, which was established in 1950. Daniel Pettit, an Oregon Department of Transportation archaeologist on loan to ODFW, surveyed all of the structures to determine what condition they were in.
A department management plan calls for many of the structures to be preserved, as well as the original road network, Pettit said. The ruins of some of the buildings that are not in good condition will be cleared out, he said. This will allow for better habitat creation to support species native to the grassland.
“We’ve begun to look at how to preserve and more actively celebrate Camp Adair while also opening up more of the wildlife area for rehabilitation,” he said.
Pettit said it’s not an either-or issue; he hopes to create an interpretive center in the wildlife area that visitors could use to learn about the military camp.
“The goal is to build habitat that can support higher wildlife populations and is more consistent with the natural historic wood and grasslands of the Willamette Valley while preserving the history and the feel of that base,” Pettit said.
McMinnville resident and veteran James E. Black, who also served in the 96th Infantry Division, attended the history day and listened to Pettit’s presentation.
“I’m interested in the history and want to keep it alive,” Black said.
Marshall Anderson, a Corvallis resident who worked on the Adair Air Force Station in the 1960s, said it’s difficult for people to know what part of the military base they’re looking at when visiting the wildlife area. It’s a good idea to provide more information about Camp Adair to visitors, he said.
Helget said he’s happy with Pettit’s work.
“For some of us (Camp Adair) is a very personal story,” he said. “It’s what brought my family here to Oregon.”
Helget’s grandfather was originally from Kansas and moved to Oregon to train at the base. He met Helget’s grandmother in Oregon.
“(Camp Adair) made such an impact in people’s lives,” Helget said.