MEDFORD, Ore.–When the United States was plunged into World War Two at the end of 1941, the rush to mobilize troops also included activating most National Guard units. And while thousands were drafted or enlisted, many more were left at home to grow the crops and make the materials needed to supply the troops. It happened in World War one and again, Oregon turned to those at home to become what was known as the “Home Guard.”
Alisha Hammel with the Oregon Military museum explains that “locals started worrying that something might happen at home and so they pulled in people that couldn’t be deployed. People that were older. Spanish-American veterans perhaps (in the case of World War One). They were called up and then their missions were to protect sensitive places and deal with propaganda. Make sure that the armories which the National Guard had been using were kept up, or used while they were gone.”
A picture is of a gathering of the home guard from Josephine county about 1943, shows everyone in uniform. They were farmers and others who were either too old or worked in critical industries, or had physical issues that kept them out of the service. One man in the front is identified as Nat Wooley who was the mail carrier in the Illinois Valley. And a guy in uniform is my maternal grandfather, Frank Ayris, who, at age 50, appears very proud of his uniform. “The guys that you see in those pictures are always so proud of the fact that they are still helping maintain the safety of the United States”, says Hammel. They were required to have training. The initial home guard actually even trained in military tactics. It was in the expectation that they can train some young people who might be getting ready to join up, and that they have the discipline that they military is gonna have. That’s why the military training is important.”
Only Ashland and Woodburn did not have units because at that time they had no state guard units. A lot of the impetus for creating home guard units came from the American Legion and V.F.W. Governor Sprague authorized the formation of the Oregon State Guard the day after the Pearl Harbor attack. The state was divided into 26 battalion areas. State guard members were all volunteer and many furnished their own guns, clothing and personal equipment. The state guard also encouraged many of the independent local home guard organizations to integrate with the state guard. Some were actually guerrilla units formed to turn back possible beach landings or other enemy incursions. By the end of 1942, the guard numbered 464 officers and nearly 85-hundred men. That dwindled greatly as the war went on and it appeared many invasion fears were unfounded. At the same time, many women helped at home by manning ground observer stations watching for enemy aircraft.
Today the “home guard” is organized as the Oregon State Defense Force… formerly the National Guard Reserve. Hammel says, “the cool thing about the home guard or the Oregon State Defense Force, even today, is that they can be called up by the county. They can be called up by a mayor. They can be called up by the governor to protect because they’re not a military organization officially. So they don’t fall under the posse comitatus law.”
The roots of the Home Guard really go all the way back to the Civil War, but it was really World War One and World War 2 where they came into their own, and today there’s still a local defense force that takes up the gap when the National Guard is deployed overseas.