Placing Oregon in military history

Artist George Hoerner sketched images from locations around the world during World War II. Oregon Coast Military Museum has more than 150 of his pieces.

Oregon Coast Military Museum showcases local veterans, artifacts

Feb. 2, 2022 — Founded in 2015, the Oregon Coast Military Museum is a valuable archive of local history. The idea originated with locals who sought to establish a museum to honor the veterans that comprise over 20% of the Siuslaw-area population. The military history museum came to fruition after a seven-year effort. 

Shortly after the opening, 17-year-old Geoffrey Cannon began working with the museum as a volunteer, and only 6 months later he inherited the museum leadership from its founders after their retirement. 

“It was a fun learning curve, [especially] working with the veterans and learning about some of the locals in the town and ... their stories,” Cannon said. 

During his time volunteering, he also further developed the marketing strategy of the museum.
“What [I] ended up doing was looking at other museums, seeing what they did, and from there I was able to build up a repertoire. [The museum] hired me about six months later because of that. And from there it has just been evolving,” he said.

Cannon spent another three years running general exhibits and displays. Then, when the first executive director, Cal Applebee, retired, Cannon became the full operations manager, his position for the past three years. 

“Military history? I would say that I have been studying it since I was about four,” Cannon offered regarding his prior experience with the subject. “So, quite a bit of history.” 

At the moment, he is pursuing a bachelor’s degree in history at Oregon State University. Capturing his interest most, however, is local Oregon history. 

“Most people don’t even think of Oregon during [some] conflicts because we’re one of those lesser known states,” he said. “Our history goes all the way back to the Civil War. People forget Oregon was a state at the time and that we had importance in it.” 

Cannon’s goal with the museum is not only to educate patrons on coastal history, but to commemorate the contributions of the many living veterans who retired in the Siuslaw area. The most prominent veteran-oriented exhibit is the Wall of Heroes, which contains photos and information about veterans that are submitted by museum visitors. They can do so for either themselves or a relative who they wish to honor. 

“I would say that probably one of the most special stories we have in this facility is the story of George Hoerner,” said Cannon. 

Hoerner was a cartoonist for the Portland Tribune before World War II, who sketched his travels during the war, including those to Africa, Europe and Sicily. 

“He did these beautiful watercolors of it all and eventually retired to the Florence area here,” Cannon continued. “I would say that is one of our more unique stories here in Florence.” 

Oregon Coast Military Museum has approximately 175 of Hoerner’s pieces, two of which are on display. 

One of Cannon’s other favorite exhibits is one of World War I trench art. 

“During the first World War, with the massive amount of shell casings being spent and used, you would get these giant mounds of artillery shells,” he said, going on to describe how some soldiers and companies decided to turn the shells into vases and pieces of art. 

"One of the more unique pieces we have was actually made by a soldier in the trenches. We don’t really have any information about said soldier, but the artwork on it relates to the 13th
Aero Squadron which was the only US air-to-air combat unit during World War I. And here we have this one special piece of it.” 

Making the artifact even more significant is the fact that the official documentation on the 13th Aero Squadron is a scant 40 pages, while the vase is extraordinarily detailed, providing insight into a little-documented part of history. 

Another significant local artifact held by the museum is a World War II B-17 propeller. 

“During World War II, Camp Pendleton Airfield was a military site for B-17s and coastal patrol aircraft. Sadly, one of the aircraft from that patrol crashed into a mountainside on the coast by Tillamook,” said Cannon. “We have on one of the propellers from that and it has been an interesting research project for the museum to look into.”

The Oregon Coast Military Museum contains many such potential research projects, as it is home to over 15,000 artifacts, the majority of which have never been researched. 

“Sadly, due to COVID-19 about 95% of our volunteers have dropped out,” said Cannon, citing age and COVID-19 risk as the main reason for the dwindling volunteer force. “However, we are always looking for volunteers to work in our gift shop, as docents to show people around, and in research fields that do the research on the artifacts that we have.” 

Always striving for improvement, there is always something to be done in the museum. 

“It is kind of like one big family down here, so to say,” Cannon said. “All the volunteers just [help] each other how they can.”

For more military heritage, visit the Oregon Coast Military Museum on Kingwood Street, adjacent to the Florence Municipal Airport, open from noon to 4 p.m. Thursday thru Sunday, or by visiting the museum’s website at oregoncoastmilitarymuseum.com.

Ferris Haukom is a sophomore at Stanford Online High School who is an intern for the Siuslaw News and an associate editor at the OHS Observer. Aside from journalism, he is interested in quantum physics, programming, entrepreneurship and music, specifically violin, viola, orchestral conducting and classical composition. Haukom and his family reside in the Florence area, and he often travels as a member of the Los Angeles Philharmonic Composer Fellowship Program.

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