On Dec. 14, 1944, American POWs were massacred by the Japanese at Palawan, an island province of the Philippines.
“The POWs incarcerated at Palawan were primarily Americans captured during the battles near Manila,” says Alisha Hamel, founder and executive director of the Historical Outreach Foundation (HOF), supporting the Brigadier Gen. James B. Thayer Oregon Military Museum in Clackamas, in her written account of the U.S. Army National Guard 186th Infantry Regiment of the 41st Infantry Division at Palawan.
According to Hamel, the Japanese were using the prisoners to build an airfield on the western perimeter of the Sulu Sea to support their Borneo operations, but news of advancing American troops led to a more somber outcome.
“The prisoners were herded into air raid shelters and were then set ablaze,” Hamel says of the 150 remaining prisoners, of which about 40 escaped by going through or under a 6.5-foot high barbed-wire fence, where several secret escape routes had been concealed for use in an emergency.
“Escaping prisoners were shot, but amazingly 11 men managed to escape, bringing their story to the world,” she adds.
Marine survivor Sgt. Douglas Bogue took refuge in a small crack among the rocks after escaping the massacre area. The Japanese, he said, even resorted to using dynamite to force men from their shelters among the rocks and foliage.
“The stench of burning flesh was strong,” Bogue said. “Shortly after this, they were moving in groups among the rocks, dragging Americans out and murdering them as they found them. By the grace of God, I was overlooked.”
These are the stories that are preserved along with military weapons, documents and artifacts at the Oregon Military Department, established in 1975 by the Oregon Military Department. Housed in the old Clackamas Armory at Camp Withycombe, the museum has built unique collections that extensively document the role of the Oregon National Guard and Oregonians’ military contributions to state, national and world history.
“The museum has more than 14,000 artifacts in its collections, from ribbon-laden uniforms to a thousand examples of ordinance, from rare prisoner-of-war relics to military vehicles and aircraft,” says Tracy Thoennes, curator. “Perhaps it is best known for its weapons collections, which include many one-of-a-kind examples and a large collection of restored Japanese artillery pieces.”
Hamel adds, “The museum also houses over 30,000 volumes of books in the library, some dating back to the 1860s. Each tells its own historically significant story.”
Additionally, HOF’s educational program now consists of “Lewis and Clark,” “Civil War in Oregon” and “Oregon’s Role in World War II,” outreach programs started during the Lewis and Clark Bicentennial by the Oregon National Guard, as well as presentations on World War I and the progress of the Oregon Military Museum.
“The presentations are interactive with touchable artifacts and replica items, a PowerPoint presentation and participation from the audience,” Hamel says of the outreach to Oregon and Washington schools. “The Veteran’s Legacy Program collects stories from veterans from all eras and areas to better connect our communities to their veterans. It’s also a way for veterans to heal by telling their stories.
“You can’t tell Oregon’s history without telling Oregon’s military history, and you can’t tell Oregon’s military story without telling Oregon’s history,” she adds. “The museum keeps alive our military stories and makes history important to today. When our military history is forgotten, we have the chance of repeating it and not learning the lessons of our past.”
The Historical Outreach Foundation supports the military museum in keeping Oregon’s history alive, “from the times of the tribes through what Oregon industry is doing for our future,” Hamel says.
HOF is a nonprofit organization established in 2009 after the Oregon National Guard no longer could fund the educational outreach programs. HOF supports the fundraising activities for the museum, raising more than $1 million in 2014 through grants, a membership program, naming opportunities, and fundraising events such as the 2014 All-Star Salute and the Veteran’s Day Run/Camp Withycombe Open House.
HOF will participate in the Historic Preservation Fair on May 28 at the state capitol in Salem.
“We will have a booth along with other historical entities from Oregon,” Hamel says.
Other May events include: Armed Forces Day on May 14 at the state capitol grounds; Living History Day on May 16 at Camp Withycombe; and Memorial Day on May 25 at Willamette National Cemetery.
HOF is now raising funds needed to transform the Clackamas Armory and grounds into a regionally significant, state-of-the-art home for the Oregon Military Museum. When completed, the expanded museum will quadruple its exhibition space, allowing for expanded public hours to welcome a greater number of visitors.
“Upon reopening, there will be many more opportunities provided to the public to learn about Oregon’s military history, with interactive exhibits to enhance the visitors’ experience across the entire 4.9-acre site,” Thoennes says. “In addition to the main museum building, we are historically preserving two buildings, the circa 1911 Quartermaster Storehouse and the circa 1911 Battery A Field Artillery Horse Barn that will feature exhibits and displays.”
In the central plaza area, a large honor garden is being planned along with the “Tracks and Treads” pavilion which will feature macro-artifacts such as tanks, self-propelled guns, and weapons carriages.
The total package of completing the park, the Quartermaster Storehouse, and the “behind the scenes area” in the main building is $3.1 million. The entire capital campaign is $14.6 million which will additionally finish the construction of the main museum building and the exhibits inside telling all of Oregon's military history.
“The Historical Outreach Foundation honors our veterans by remembering them,” says Hamel, a former member of the Oregon National Guard. “We hope that you will also want to remember our veterans and support the Historical Outreach Foundation by donating.”
Donations can be made via check to: Historical Outreach Foundation, P.O. Box 1822, Clackamas, OR 97015. For more information, visit historicaloutreach.com.