NEWPORT — John Baker is well known in Lincoln County. He moved to Newport in 1973 and worked as the curriculum director for the Lincoln County School District for a number of years before beginning his own consulting firm called Northwest Management Specialists. He is also known to many for his involvement in various community organizations and for his role as one of the instructors of the popular Leadership Lincoln class, a nine-month course, sponsored each year by the Greater Newport Chamber of Commerce and Oregon Coast Community College, with a goal of developing leaders with an interest in, and commitment to the future of Lincoln County.
But Baker, 86, also has a love of history, with a particular interest in World War II. Over the course of nearly 20 years, he has documented Oregon’s involvement in WWII, including stories from Lincoln County, and his research has been compiled into several books. His most recent book, called “Oregon At War: the WWII Story,” was released last fall. It completes the trilogy, he said, which also includes “Camp Adair: the Story of a World War II Cantonment” and “Lost and Found: Lessons from Life.”
“I started writing ‘Camp Adair’ in 2002, but it got out on the marketplace about 2005,” Baker said. That book has done well over the years. “We’ve sold, I think, over 8,000 now. Camp Adair has 23 or 24 printings — it’s by far those most successful. Powell’s (book store in Portland) has sold probably a couple thousand of these, maybe more than that.”
Camp Adair, which is described today as Oregon’s largest ghost town, was a United States Army division training facility established north of Corvallis, operating from 1942 to 1946. During its peak period of use, the camp was home to approximately 40,000 people and consisted of around 1,800 buildings, which included barracks, a hospital, a bakery, a post office, a bank, 13 post exchange stores, five movie theaters and 11 chapels, among other structures. “That really impressed me when I was a kid growing up in Salem,” Baker said.
It was also those growing-up years that provided subject matter for the second book. “I thought those stories about growing up as a young person have resonated well, so I decided I’d just write these little vignettes down. There were about eight or nine of us in this neighborhood in north Salem,” Baker said. That resulted in “Lost and Found: Lessons from Life,” which was published in 2011.
“Oregon At War: the WWII Story” tells stories of Oregon’s involvement in WWII, both on the war front and home front.
“I thought there ought to be closure to this thing,” Baker said in describing his final book in the trilogy. “I have personal stories in all of them.”
As part of his research for this final book, Baker obtained copies of the Lincoln County Leader (the predecessor to the News-Times) for the entire year of 1941, the period leading up to America’s involvement in the war.
“The one thing that always hit me, even as a kid in school, was we were totally unprepared for war,” Baker said. “So I thought I’m just going to use the Lincoln County Leader … and I looked for some local things and posts around the state of Oregon.
“This is a four-part book,” he continued, “and the first part is were we, or were we not prepared for war? We were not prepared, and the Lincoln County Leader did a great job of doing that.”
The second part of the book contains the personal stories of people affected by the war, either through serving in the military or growing up during that time. Some of these stories are about people from elsewhere in Oregon, but there are also names from Lincoln County that people will recognize — names like John “Jack” Wienert Jr., Sam Eddy, Don and Ann Davis, and Milt Kelly Jr.
Part three of the book contains stories about Oregon’s involvement in the war, and part four includes postscripts.
Baker said the process of documenting Oregon’s involvement in WWII through this trilogy has brought him personal satisfaction.
“The thing I’ve come away with is that I brought back together a lot of history that tells the story of Oregon and the United States early in the war and later in the war, as well,” he said. “It is a kind of a bird’s eye view of one little guy growing up in the area then getting older and getting to look back at some stuff and then getting stories from other people. That’s all been satisfying, to keep the language of history and the trends of history going. There’s so much interest in it.”
Baker’s books can be found locally at JC Market and Canyon Way Bookstore in Newport. Copies are also available at other outlets, including history centers and libraries. In addition, people can contact Baker directly for copies by writing to John Baker, 2014 NE Crestview Drive, Newport, OR, 97365.