WWII living history encampment is deeply personal

By WYATT STAYNER | The Columbian, Vancouver, Wash. | Published: July 21, 2018

VANCOUVER, Wash. (Tribune News Service) — It started with something as simple as a military Musette Bag.

Eric Porter was only 16 when he acquired the bag, a popular World War II alternative to a haversack. About 20 years have passed, and Porter’s collection of military antiques has only grown. Now his garage in Sherwood, Ore., is filled with the antiques.

“My wife has never been able to park in the garage,” joked Porter, 36.

Porter is an organizer with Living History Group Northwest, which is conducting a World War II encampment from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday at the Pearson Air Museum in Vancouver. Many war-era artifacts will be on display.

All the items are from 1942 to 1945, and there will be plenty of group members on hand, dressed in WWII-era gear, to explain just how those antiques factored into battle. There will be a U.S. Marine Corps display, multiple tents showcasing nursing, communication and logistical stations, plus vehicles, guns and much more.

“A lot of veterans love seeing this stuff,” Porter said. “It’s different to see it in a book, but to see it, touch it, smell it. It’s different in real life.”

Porter drove his 1942 Ford GPW from Sherwood. He spent more than four years restoring the jeep-type vehicle, stripping it down before rebuilding it.

His father, Corky, who will be a company clerk and a truck driver at the encampment, served in Vietnam for a portion of his 28 years in the military — 26 years in the Navy, and two in the Army. Porter, who has participated in the Clark County encampment three times now, said throwing these events with his father has brought the pair closer. It also presented a bonding experience for Porter and his sons Noah, 10, and Andrew, 6.

“Lots of parents or fathers, they go hunting or fishing with their children,” Porter said. “Me and my dad went out and we went hunting for this stuff. This is our thing. This is what we did. Never got tired of it. And now my boys are out there. They’re doing it with me now.”

Corky Porter said he enjoys the company of others at the encampment most, and relishes the opportunity to speak with veterans, and jog their memories about their service. Jordan Stray of Tumwater, who will operate a U.S. Marine Corps display, feels similarly.

He started collecting antiques in the second grade with an ammo belt he bought at a yard sale. Then he had to have a uniform and helmet. Being a part of Living History Group has a personal touch for Stray, whose great uncle David Wollan served in World War II.

Wollan flew a B-17 called “The Big Moose” during the war. He ditched it in the ocean on his way to Iceland because his plane ran out of fuel during a storm. Wollan was saved by a crew aboard the British destroyer HMS Onslaught. The crew signed Wollan’s life vest, and now Stray has the vest. That war story has stuck him, and he even named his antique jeep after Wollan’s plane. He likes swapping stories like that with veterans.

“WWII veterans are kind of getting few and far between,” Stray said. “Any veteran that comes through and just sparks conversation, something they might not talk about on a whim, it’s really positive in a lot of ways. It just keeps those connections and memories going.”

©2018 The Columbian (Vancouver, Wash.)
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