Southern Oregon Rehabilitation Center & Clinics (SORCC)
From History Makers to History Keepers
The history of Camp White is preserved in two places. One is the Camp White Military Museum located in the VA SORCC facility in White City. The other is the mind of Al Inlow.
As the curator of the Camp White Military Museum, Al Inlow knows the history of every artifact and display. He can tell you all about the rusted shell of a 500 pound practice bomb in the corner. The police dug it out of Table Rock, a local landmark, and brought it to the museum. He can tell you about the over-100-year-old uniform from the Spanish-American War and about the family that brought it in. Each piece relays some of the history of Camp White—its uses, its significance, and—most importantly—its people.
“The most important thing is the people who trained here,” said Mr. Inlow. “Everything else is secondary.”
Indeed, this museum was created to honor people. It was out of an effort to remember their own friends, family members, and comrades that a group of Veterans came together in the 1990’s to form the Camp White Historical Society. After the first president of the association, Oscar Johnson, passed away after presiding over only one meeting, Mel Cotton took on the leadership role. Standing right beside Mel Cotton from day one was Al Inlow.
At first, the Camp White Historical Society was funded by the local government. The county gave the society $60,000 to procure a place to house the museum. After failing to find a space in town to fit their budget, they finally decided to talk to George Andries, the then director of the VA Domiciliary (now the SORCC). Andries granted their request easily, saying, “I don’t know what took you so long to get here.” The society spent much of their grant refurbishing the space to provide electricity for all of the display cabinets that needed to be installed.
As the museum facilities started to come together, the historical society began to focus on increasing their collection. They used their monthly publication to get the word out. In those days, Camp White Historical Society’s monthly bulletin circulated to over 1,500 members, most of whom were connected to the 91st Division that once trained at Camp White. People from all over the United States responded to this call, sending in their military memorabilia to be displayed in the museum. Because the museum space was not yet finished, most of the memorabilia ended up being stored in Mel Cotton’s garage, much to his wife’s dismay. “All this stuff was coming in hot and heavy,” said Mr. Inlow. “It was a big job.”
Many of the early artifacts came from the personal collections of the very people putting together the museum. For example, Mr. Inlow donated embroidered pillowcases he had sent to his mother along with photographs of himself in Germany. Mel Cotton donated photographs and his service uniform, which may be the museum’s longest-held item. “We’ve had it as far back as I can remember,” said Mr. Inlow.
The museum is filled with items rich in personal meaning. This sense of personal history—of a human story bound to each artifact—endows the pieces in the collection with greater significance. For instance, a group of photographs on the wall becomes so much more important when one learns that they were taken by Monique Fleming in her role as a war correspondent. Ms. Fleming donated these to the museum herself. Likewise, an old telephone switchboard is just a novelty until one learns that it was used until 1981 by operator Melody Hall and that Ms. Hall still works for the VA to this day. The uniform just beyond the switchboard was worn by her son, Ryan Hall, during Operation Iraqi Freedom. Ryan Hall also spent a few summers during high school volunteering in the museum.
Due to the budget cuts of the late 2000’s, the museum lost its local funding and is now supported by the VA; nevertheless, the museum continues to accept new items and create new exhibits to honor the men and women of Southern Oregon who served their country in the military. Al Inlow and his staff—Dennis Downing, Jack Gallagher, Rusty Hosey, Jim Bausano, Bob Jacobsen, Angelo Trotta, Don Gale, Wayne Holbrook, and Ken Vallier—continue to operate, manage, curate, and clean the Camp White Military Museum. The most fantastic part of this operation is the fact that Al Inlow and every member of his staff is a volunteer. Everyone who works at the museum does so out of nothing more than their commitment to the memory of the Veterans who passed through Camp White.
The Camp White Military Museum is the memorialization of a place—Camp White—and a people—our Southern Oregon Veterans. These Veterans gave years of their lives to serve their country in the armed forces. Now, a select few continue to serve by volunteering their time to ensure that the great history of our Southern Oregon Veterans is acknowledged and lives on. So, come down to the Camp White Military Museum, a place where you can learn about the great men and women who dedicated their time to serve us. And, while you’re here, make sure you take the time to meet the volunteers who continue to serve by keeping memory alive.
Would you like to donate your time and expertise? Camp White Military Museum is looking for friendly and reliable volunteers. Available positions include inventory specialist, greeter, and assistant manager. For more information, contact Al Inlow, Museum Curator at (541) 830-7467 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.