SALEM — A former Douglas County state representative and World War II pilot expected Tuesday’s event to be only about dedication of a monument to a woman who was an American spy and humanitarian during the Japanese occupation of the Philippines in World War II.
To Bill Markham’s surprise, it turned out to be much more than that.
Markham spoke at the dedication of a monument to honor Claire Maybelle Phillips, a Portland woman who was decorated with the Medal of Freedom in 1948, for her efforts in the Philippines. Following the dedication, Markham was recognized for his contributions in World War II and his many years of public service in the Legislature.
Bill Markham, who turns 95 in October, served a record 14 terms in the Oregon Legislature while representing southern Douglas County and Riddle from 1969 through 1997. He also piloted a B-17 bomber in World War II, where he flew many missions over Europe.
Norm Smith, who served with Markham in his early days in the Oregon House from 1979 to 1985, said it was Markham who was the catalyst for the overdue recognition honoring Phillips with the memorial. Smith, the former director of the Ford Family Foundation in Roseburg, helped keep the recognition of Markham a surprise.
“It was a good deal, and I really enjoyed myself,” Markham said.
The event attended by Oregon Gov. Kate Brown included current and former political figures from both sides of the aisle.
“I think he was visibly touched by all the old faces that came up and hugged him and said hi. I think it was a very enjoyable day for him,” Smith said.
Reading the story about Phillips’ life prompted Markham to go to work on getting a memorial for her erected on the Capitol grounds next to the World War II Memorial.
“She had a phenomenal life and I was really quite taken by the book I read about her,” Markham said.
Markham thought the woman should be honored for work she did during the war in supporting the prisoners and getting secret information from the Japanese soldiers.
Phillips ran a nightclub for enemy personnel in Japanese-occupied Manila, and used the profits to buy and smuggle food and medicine to starving American soldiers in prison camps and to gather information she could relay to the Americans. She was convicted of espionage and sentenced to die, but was rescued by Army Rangers when Manila was liberated in 1945.
A movie was made about her life in 1951 called “I was an American Spy.” Phillips died in 1960 at the age of 52.
“Although Phillips was not actually a soldier or a veteran from Oregon, she was a significant person in keeping the troops supplied with information in the prison camps as to what was going on and getting information from the Japanese and sharing that with MacArthur’s people,” Smith said.
The monument is now in place by the World War II Memorial on the capitol grounds, and donated by the Oregon State Capitol Foundation, on which Bill Markham served for many years.
Markham is the father of The News-Review owner Pat Markham.