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From Camp White patient to volunteer at SORCC

Jeanette Gold couldn't make it for the official dedication of the new outpatient primary care building at the Southern Oregon Rehabilitation Center and Clinics on Sept. 27.

She was volunteering that day at the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs' facility. She just couldn't break away from her duties for the dedication.

Its dedication reminded her of another new building, one which opened on May 22, 1943, at what was then Camp White. Now the home of the SORCC, the huge Army base lived and died with World War II.

"The building that was the maternity ward is still there," observes the Central Point resident. "It's the first one on the right when you go in the front gate. The doctor's offices were on the left."

Gold, who is 87, knew the maternity ward well: it was there on Oct. 27, 1943 — 70 years ago this month — she gave birth to a healthy baby boy.

"I was known as the milk baby because I drank milk, not coffee," she says with a laugh. "They called my son the baby elephant because he was a 10-pounder. He was the largest ever born out there."

That would be son Robert, who turns 70 on the 27th. He is now a retired firefighter for the city of Sacramento.

"You had to be 18 years old to get into the hospital," she recalls, noting she fibbed about her age because she was a bit shy of that requirement.

At the time, she and then-husband, George Spracklen, a soldier attached to an ambulance unit on the base, lived in a house in northwest Medford.

"My husband called the base when I got ready to have my fun and told them to send an ambulance out for me," she says. "It was an Army ambulance. He had called his own crew."

That was 12:30 a.m. She would be in labor for about 12 hours, and spent 10 days in the maternity ward. Back in the day, it was routine to keep new mothers in bed as long as possible.

"They didn't even let you out to dangle your feet," she says.

Not only was the maternity ward new but the camp itself had only been up and running for about a year. In fact, the two had been married on Aug. 15, 1942, the day the base was activated.

There were no lawns around the 20-bed maternity ward, she remembers.

"There really wasn't much there except for the maternity ward with a delivery room," she says. "The cook used to tell the doctors dirty jokes. Everybody was always laughing. I remember the food was very good."

Better than the marriage which didn't survive those turbulent times.

The young mother would stay in Medford where her father operated a gas station. Her family originally hailed from Minnesota.

"Me and two girlfriends ran the photography booth in the Greyhound depot during the war," she says. "We had some servicemen helping us."

There were some 40,000 GIs at the camp during the height of the war, creating a population more than three times the size of Medford in the early 1940s.

"It was known at that time that Medford had the largest number of pretty girls than any other town around any Army base in the country," she says. "That was the scuttlebutt. The GIs loved being here. They came out to town in full force."

Those who went over the hill — away without leave — could often be found in Lithia Park in Ashland.

"Anytime a soldier went AWOL, he would head to the Ashland park," she says. "The park was one of the main attractions."

By war's end, there were about 2,000 German prisoners of war at the camp. Many worked on the railroad or in area orchards since many local residents were away in uniform, she noted.

"The POWs were nice people," she says. "They were also good dancers. You would see them doing a little jig here and there while repairing the railroad."

But there was real dancing to be found in dance halls in Medford where they listened to the "good stuff" by big band leader Harry James and others, she said.

"Where the armory is now, that was a popular dancing area," she recalls.

That was where, in 1946, a young veteran smitten by her dedicated a popular song of the day in her honor, "Rumors Are Flying." Crystal "Chris" Leon Gold, a Jackson County native born in the long defunct hamlet of Climax, had served in the Navy during WWII.

As the song concluded, the rumors were true. The two were married in the spring of 1947. The marriage, which produced sons Lawrence and Leon, lasted more than half a century until his death in 1998 at age 71.

Her husband had been a member of several veterans groups, including the Veterans of Foreign Wars. It was 35 years ago that she first began serving as a volunteer for the VFW auxiliary, a service she continues today.

"There is nothing better than helping them," she says. "It's a lot of fun as well as work. But we are doing it for a good cause. And it keeps me active."

Reach reporter Paul Fattig at 541-776-4496 or email him at pfattig@mailtribune.com.