In the winter of 1942, Camp White (today's Southern Oregon Rehabilitation Center) was the center of the Valley's wartime Christmas celebration. - Bill Miller

Community pulled together to celebrate the first Christmas at Camp White

Christmas 1942 was just around the corner and the war news still was not good. The country was entering its second year of combat and the patriotic folks at home still were struggling with their own war effort.

It was one sacrifice after another. No new cars to buy, no nylon stockings to wear. Tires and gasoline were rationed. Even a morning cup of coffee now required a war ration book.

Medford restaurants began "Meatless Tuesday," so the boys overseas would have enough to eat. Shoes were rationed to one pair each year and Oregon's weekly liquor allotment was cut from a quart to a pint.

No matter how bad it got, few people complained. After all, what were their troubles compared to those of a tank soldier in the African desert or a Marine on a Pacific island beach?

Five miles north of Medford, a new military city had appeared. A training center called Camp White, where recruits prepared for war.

With the camp about to celebrate its first Christmas, most soldiers would spend their holiday alone in the barracks. That was unacceptable to community leaders, who announced their intention to "bring gaiety and good cheer to our adopted sons."

Families invited soldiers to Christmas dinner. Women were asked to volunteer at local United Service Organizations to "make Christmas a joyous day for every Camp White serviceman."

The soldiers were organizing a band, but had no instruments. The call went out. "If you can't make cookies, perhaps you have a clarinet. If you can't knit a sweater, maybe you have a saxophone." Just in time, the boys got everything they needed.

Santa Claus, in a number of different shapes, began to appear all over the valley. At the 91st Division's "Kiddies Christmas Party," Santa even brought along one of his reindeer, Susie, a fawn adopted by the engineer's battalion. She carried a bag of toys for the children who giggled as they fed her their party desserts.

The stork even disguised itself as St. Nick, delivering four babies on Christmas Day.

But nowhere was the genial fat man more appreciated than in the wards of the camp hospital. Behind the white wig and whiskers, everyone recognized 1st Sgt. Henry Putnam, but they carried on with make-believe surprise and wonder. It didn't hurt that Santa was accompanied by three "attractive elves."

On Saturday, Dec. 26, 1942, the world went back to wartime normal. Artillery shells whistled northward on the practice range, boots marched over the parade field and engineers practiced bridge building on the Rogue River.

In a camp hospital bed, Pvt. Chegwidden, who had been trying to lose weight, stared longingly at the 10 pounds of candy he had received for Christmas.

Another Christmas would come and go before Americans landed in Europe. Soldiers would die for three more years.

Civilians returned to work and rationing, enduring one sacrifice after another, no matter how long it took, with a lingering hope that if they were very, very lucky, Santa would bring them the gift they all wanted most — peace on Christmas Day.

Writer Bill Miller lives in Shady Cove. Reach him at

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