The McDonald-Dunn Research Forest northwest of Corvallis is a mid-valley jewel.
I was reminded of that on a recent hike with Nancy at the southern end of the forest off Oak Creek Road. We saw lots of bicyclists, runners, hikers and a few dogs.
We took a trail that looped back into the main road, following a map we got at an information kiosk. If we ever take long hikes there, I’d bring along a topo map and compass or a GPS unit.
With the network of trails and roads in the forest, I can see why people end up getting lost or disoriented there. At the G-T and D-H, we seem to write at least one story a year about missing people and searches for them in the McDonald-Dunn Forest. They are usually found the next day.
On the hike, I thought of the Army troops from Camp Adair (what is now Adair Village) who did some of their World War II training in the McDonald-Dunn Forest before shipping off to the battlefields of Europe.
And then I thought of Willi Gross, a German soldier, who spent a year at Camp Adair as a prisoner of war.
I interviewed Gross in 1995 for our Focus edition called “Wars’ End,” which coincided with the 50th anniversary of the end of World War II. Gross and his wife Ericka did the telephone interview from their dairy farm east of Heidelberg. If they’re still living today, Willi would be 88 and Ericka would be 85.
After the recent hike, I stopped by the D-H and pulled out the Focus story, “Former German POW recalls year at Camp Adair.”
I don’t know if Gross and fellow German POWs ever got up to the McDonald-Dunn Forest for a work patrol. They picked beans and hops in neighboring counties during the summer months and sprayed the notorious poison oak found around the camp.
I do know that Willi liked the camp and the surroundings, which would have included views of the forest.
“It was a nice place,” he said in the interview. “It was very much like Germany — the land and the people.”
I asked if he was ever mistreated by his American captors, and Ericka answered.
“There was no mistreatment,” she said. “He liked the Americans and liked the way they were to the German prisoners and to each other.”
An American warehouse foreman named Wendell Clack, who later lived in North Albany, befriended Willi and the other German soldiers.
“He was a very nice man,” Gross said. “We had to do our work, but after the work was done, we talked about Germany, family and everything else. And that was forbidden.”
After the war, Clack and Gross wrote several letters to each other. Clack and his wife Emma visited Willi and Ericka Gross in 1974 in Germany.
After Wendel Clack died in December 1989, Gross sent a letter to Clack’s daughter, Janice Bethell in Albany.
“It was very kind that you sent us the speech and the prayer, which were spoken at the grave,” he wrote. “We both had wet eyes when we read it. He was a good man, and we like to remember him.”