SWEET HOME, Ore. (AP) — During World War II, more than 100,000 GIs passed through an Army camp in Oregon’s Willamette Valley on their way to postings in North Africa, Western Europe and the Philippines. Before they shipped out, many of those soldiers said a prayer in one of the camp’s 11 military chapels.
After the war, most of Camp Adair’s 1,800 buildings were dismantled and sold for scrap. But not the chapels: Marked for special treatment, all 11 were set aside for religious organizations from around the region, to be used for worship or war memorials.
A man who grew up at the edge of the 57,000-acre base got interested in the camp’s history and set out to find the chapels. It took two years and some help from readers of the Corvallis Gazette-Times and its nearby affiliate, the Albany Democrat-Herald.
But with a visit last week to a church in Sweet Home that passed through the hands of a Mormon congregation to a nondenominational church, 71-year-old Gary Richards completed his quest.
“It is the right one,” Richards said, gazing at distinctive laminated wooden arches supporting the ceiling. “They’ve shortened it up a little bit, changed the windows, but it’s definitely a Camp Adair chapel.”
Richards, who plans a book on the camp, got leads on many of the chapels from John H. Baker, author of a 2003 history titled “Camp Adair.”
He’d tracked down nine when the papers published a story in July about his project. He was deluged by tips from readers. Most turned out to be dead ends, but some were fruitful.
Last month Richards confirmed the location of chapel No. 10: Saint Paul’s Episcopal Church in Crescent City, Calif., about 275 miles south of where it was built.
Then Henry Wolthuis, 75, of the Sweet Home Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints got in touch to supply the missing piece of the puzzle.
According to church records, Wolthuis said, Ivan and Leone Burnett formed a small Mormon congregation in Sweet Home in the early 1940s, hosting services in their home or local union halls.
In 1947 or 1948, when surplus buildings at Camp Adair went up for sale, they put together $1,000 to purchase a chapel and moved it to Sweet Home using their own labor and a borrowed truck.
“With eight male members in the congregation, they bought the building in Camp Adair and tore it down board by board,” Wolthuis said. “They put the pieces in the back of that truck and hauled it over, load by load by load.”
After months of work, the congregation dedicated the church building in 1949. The congregation grew, and in 1976 the church moved into a new and bigger building in another part of town. Now the old chapel is home to a small flock of Christian worshippers, about 30 members of the Abiding Life Community Church.
“Fortunately, it’s now in good hands and is being put to good use,” Wolthuis said.