Construction of what became Camp White began shortly after the Dec. 7, 1941, attack on Pearl Harbor.

Construction of what became Camp White began shortly after the Dec. 7, 1941, attack on Pearl Harbor.

Congress acted swiftly, appropriating $27 million on Dec. 12 of that year to transform the Agate Desert into a large Army training center.

Building began in February of 1942, a massive task that continued nearly nonstop for six months. The camp was up and running by that summer, although construction would continue for several months. The 91st Infantry Division's reactivation ceremony was held at Camp White on Aug. 15, 1942.

When completed, the camp consisted of some 1,300 buildings and covered 77 square miles. At the height of its activity during the war, it would house nearly 40,000 soldiers, creating a community more than three times the size of Medford, which had a population of 11,281 in 1940.

It later had 2,000 German prisoners of war who arrived in 1944. Some of the POWs were recruited to help pick fruit in the local orchards.

Officially dedicated on Sept. 15, 1942, Camp White was named for Gen. George A. White, a one-time reporter for The Oregonian newspaper. White served in both the Spanish-American War and World War I.

He joined the Oregon Army National Guard in 1907 and was appointed its adjutant general in 1915. The Oregon Army National Guard was mobilized in March of 1917, shortly before the U.S. entered WWI. During the war, White served on the staff of Gen. "Blackjack" Pershing, overall commander of American forces.

He was one of 20 members of an officers' club based in France credited for creating the American Legion in 1919. He served as its first national vice commander.

Following the war, he helped reorganize the Oregon National Guard. In 1929, he became commander of the 41st Division, composed of citizen soldiers from Oregon, Washington, Idaho, Montana and Wyoming.

When Germany invaded Poland in 1939, White began preparing his division for war. Despite suffering from an illness that would prove fatal, he led the division through two strenuous maneuvers in the summer of 1941.

He died at his home in Clackamas on Nov. 23, 1941, just 14 days before the Pearl Harbor attack.

Camp White was deactivated in April 1946. The remaining buildings at the site are now home to the Southern Oregon Rehabilitation Center and Clinics, part of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.

Reach reporter Paul Fattig at 541-776-4496 or