More than 100 people turned out Saturday night to cut a rug for historic preservation at the first Camp Adair Commemorative USO Swing Dance.
Held in the Women’s Building at Oregon State University, the dance was a benefit for Adair Living History, Inc. The nonprofit organization is working to restore two barracks at Camp Adair, one for community events and one for an interpretive center about the camp’s history.
Saturday’s event also served as an interpretive center, with pictures, uniforms and period supplies on display from the days when more than 100,000 GIs trained at Camp Adair.
Matt Helget of Lebanon brought some of his World War II infantry gear, just a portion of a collection he’s been amassing for the past eight years.
Helget’s grandfather, Staff Sgt. Alfred Dennis Helget, trained at Camp Adair as part of his service with the 96th Infantry Division. He died when Helget was just 6 years old, but Helget is continuing to trace his history through his collection.
Weapons weren’t allowed to be part of Saturday’s display, but Helget brought uniforms, boots, canteens, M-1 ammunition belts, field manuals, a backpack walkie-talkie radio and even a few boxes that once held military rations.
Tom Foose of Seattle joined Helget at the table, dressed as an Army Air Corps pilot. Both men are part of living history re-enactor groups.
“A lot of people don’t think about the Pacific Northwest when they think about World War II, but we were very vital,” Foose said. “Our main mission is to educate the public and keep alive what these veterans did for our country in time of need.”
A few 21st-century reminders slipped into the evening: cell phones, for instance, and the iPad swipe for credit cards at the door.
But most of the guests at Saturday’s dance came determined to turn back time, with men wearing collared shirts, suspenders and hats, and women in dresses, pumps and pin curls. Megan Cummings of Corvallis donned a denim shirt and red bandanna to evoke a modern Rosie the Riveter.
Guests be-bopped to “In the Mood,” “String of Pearls,” “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy” and other period tunes, courtesy of the Albany Swing Band.
In between numbers, they munched on doughnuts and slurped Cokes, Pepsis and orange Fanta drinks through red-striped straws in glass bottles.
Barbara Melton, president of the board of directors for Adair Living History, said the group may make the dance an annual event. It’s a good way, she said, to educate new generations on the importance of Camp Adair.
“There’s a whole generation coming up that’s never heard of Camp Adair, that seven miles up the road was the second-largest town in Oregon in the war years,” she said.
On the other hand, she said: “The first thing I hope they’ll take (away) is fun. A good time. That’s the whole point of a dance.”