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General Patton Museum, WWII Army Airfield, Chiriaco Summit, California

An Indian Hills Airpark Great Museum Flight Outing

By Ron Kilber

Saturday, November 11, 2000

Red "C-150" Selover is descending from 4500' ASL to the WWII Army Airfield (L77) at Chirico Summit five miles ahead. Roy Root is in the right seat with him. I'm following in my Cessna 150 on their left wing one-half mile behind. It's just after 11:00 a.m., having flown good VFR against a headwind from the Indian Hills Airpark (2AZ1) in Arizona.

Museum aerial

T-34 Scofflaws Aerial

Incredibly, two yellow T-34s flying formation are on a mid-air collision course with Selover, who abrubtly descends to get out of their way. Oblivious to our presence and approaching from eleven o-clock, these guys must have their eyes fixed on each other's wing -- flying blind. As far as they are concerned, no one else could possible be in the air, so why should they bother to look for traffic? There's only a dedication ceremony today for the new WWII Army Airfield. Many pilots have been invited to attend. Besides my and Selover's C-150, many other aircraft are converging right now on this remote airfield, known previously as Chiriaco Summit.

WWII Army Airfield (L77)
(Previously Chiriaco Summit Airport)
  • N33 39.9    W115 42.6
  • Elevation: 1713 ft
  • Runway: 06/24
  • Length: 4600 ft
  • Pattern altitude: 2713 ft (1000 AGL)
  • CTAF: 122.9
  • No avgas or services
  • Autogas availabe from gas station/truck stop.
  • Café
  • General Patton Museum

The runway parallels Interstate-10 at at Chiriaco Summit, 28 miles east of Indio. The hump in the middle prevents seeing the end of the runway from either end, necessitating the use of the parallel taxiway, which is in bad shape and overgrown with weeds. There is high terrain south of the airport.

I'm clear of the T-34s as they cross my path, howver, after they make a wide one-eigthy, I'm in danger as they fly directly towards me. Like Selover, I descend, and the T-34s barge on as oblivious as ever. Who prescribed stupid pills for them?

When Selover is on final for Runway 24, I'm on left base. Incredibly, as I turn final, out of nowhere appear the T-34s on close-in left base. When they turn to final, I'm a quarter-mile on their tail. Even as Selover is still on the runway, both T-34s set down behind him. Naturally, I have to go around.

At this point, you'd think I'm safe with the gremlins on the ground where they can't do harm. But nooooo, while I'm on left base again, an errant Cessna is already on right base, forceing me to extend my pattern. Another oblivious pilot on stupid pills.

Once on the ground, I locate two yellow T-34s -- sans pilots -- and make note of the tail numbers (N45TB & N2042Y).

It's hard to win when the game is a free-for-all, with no one interested in playing by any rules.

Pilot food is for breakfast. Let's eat.

The restaurant is freeway busy, travelers eagarly munching away at the food in front of them. While we wait for our vittles, a senior couple next to us is having hamburgers and French fries for breakfast -- probably Provachol for desert.

Before I comment on the evils of French fires, I'd like to recount a documentary film I saw many years ago about beavers. The researcher was interested in knowing how these wonderful cratures always knew exactly where to build their damn on a creek. He theorized that the beavers "keyed" on rushing water as a way to know where to build their life-sustaining damn. So, being a clevor grant recipient and all, he recorded the sounds of "rushing water", then replayed them through high-output speakers on the shores of calm water for beavers to hear. Just as he suspected, the busy beavers responded to the sounds of rushing water, building damns wher no beaver before dared.

Just because instinc may have devine source, it don't mean it's infalible.

With heart disease at an all-time high, I'm not sure why so many can't or won't avoid deep-fried food, which is well known for causing damage to artery walls. The bodies natural response is to produce cholesterol, a healing hormone to aid repair of internal damage to the body. When arteries are attacked continuously, as they are with a daily dose of fried foods, cholesterol no longer works to repair things, but just clogs arteries, instead.

Truly, when we stupidly let pleasure prevail logic, we're no better than an instinct-driven beaver.

After breakfast, we walk the short distance to the museum. Twenty bits each gets us inside.

The Museum

I'm surprised how many people are here, considering Chiriaco Summit is a desolate town of about 60 residents in the middle of nowhere. Certainly, there are a thousand on hand visitng the museum and the airfield ceromonies today.

After I scan the huge facility, my eyes are drawn to a huge three-dimensional map, which sits horizontally about three feet off the floor. It dominates the huge facility, depicting the Desert Training Center (DTC), which was used to train Army tank soldiers during WWII and simulate conditions in North Africa where the Nazis presence threatened the important Suez Canal.

I learn that the map once belonged to the ```

I'm surprised to learn that the DTC encompased 18,000 square miles extending from Searchlight, Nevada and Indio, California to Aguila and Yuma, Arozna. Eleven camps were positioned throughout the huge training area. Camp Bouse, for example, was (and sitll is) near our Indian Hills Airport.

A Bonanza driver taxies to the end of 24, never mind that ------------------------ June 28, 1999 But Brandt has more tags to return. Three years ago he found one for a Frank T. Byrne, whose hometown was New York City. Byrne, along with 18 others, perished in a 1944 Christmas Day crash of a C-47, 15 miles southeast of Quartzsite. "It would be neat to find a home for it," he said. Sometimes less personal items he finds are donated to vintage aircraft restorers. -------------------------- Founded by General George S. Patton, Jr., The DTC was the largest military training ground ever to exist, used to train troops for North African desert battles of World War II. A site near Shavers Summit (now known as Chiriaco Summit) between Indio and Desert Center, was selected as the headquarters of the Desert Training Center (DTC). This site, called Camp Young, was the world's largest Army post.  Click here for map showing general overview of various camps.  Click here for a more detailed map of the training center camps.

On November 8, 1942, Patton commanded the Western Task Force, the only all American force, landing in North Africa. After the American defeat at Kasserine Pass, he was given command of all American forces in the Tunisia Combat Area.

He commanded the Seventh army during the invasion of Sicily in July 1943 and served in this capacity until March 1944, when he was given command of the Third Army which became operational in France in August 1944. When American forces broke through the German defenses, Patton's Third Army dashed across Europe and exploited German weaknesses with remarkable success. In October 1945, he assumed command of the Fifteenth Army in American-occupied Germany. On December 21, 1945, General Patton died in Germany as a result of an automobile accident. He is buried among the soldiers who died in the Battle of the Bulge in Hamm, Luxembourg.

A little revisionist history has taken place here -- Patton is the man who slapped a mentally ill soldier confined to a hospital and at the end of his rope as far as the war was concerned. ```

Chiriaco Summit (Shavers Summit then), which was the entrance to Camp Young, the command post for the DTC during World War II, was the world's largest Army post.

The museam site was donated by Joseph Chiriaco, one of the first area residents General Patton met when he arrived to set up the DTC. The desert hamlet was set up in 1933 -- before WWII. Children Bob Chiriaco and his sister, Margit Chiriaco-Rusche, operated the gas station still in operation today.

The museum pays tribute to twenty separate divisions consisting of more than one million men who trained here.

General George S. Patton, Jr. 1885-1945

Patton Interesting is the fact that Patton was a Pentathlon athlete at the Stockholm Olympics in 1912, placing fifth overall in the event. He also was a WWI veteran serving under General John J. Pershing.

Selover, a WWII veteran, reminds me of a fact I knew but forgot. Patton slapped a young soldier who was confined to a hospital and suffering from mental illness while fighting in Europe. This episode was a public-relations disaster for Patton. Goes to show how little respect was paid to mental health in past generations.

Patton was born in San Gabriel, California and died in a car accident while in Germany shortly after WWII ended.

Chiriaco Summit, California General George S. Patton chose this location to train his troops destined for North Africa in World War II. Its "18,000 square miles of nothing, in a desert designed for hell" served as a perfect training ground. Today, General Patton Memorial Museum is just a short walk from the airstrip he used. You can see how our troops trained in the desert heat--but you'll be in air-conditioned comfort! ------------------------------

Exhibits display memorabilia from the life and career of General Patton. The exhibit halls include the many and varied aspects of military life with particular focus on the Desert Training Center and soldiers of World War II. Interesting is the fact that the huge map was first used for Southern California water development and the building of the Colorado Aqueduct. Later donated the map to the museam.

History

In January 1942, just a month after the United States entered the war, German troops under the command of Field Marshall Rommel started pushing toward Egypt, threatening the Suez Canal. British troops were unable to stop the assault. It was evident that U.S. troops would have to engage in a desert campaign. There was no background for such an engagement in the history of the U.S. warfare.

On February 5, 1942, Lt. General Lesley J. McNair, Chief of Staff, General Headquarters, gave his approval to a plan developed to stop Germany's advance in Northern Africa. He designated Major General George S. Patton, Jr. to establish the Desert Training Center for the purpose of training men and machines for action under the harsh conditions of the African deserts.

With staff officers, he flew over a vast expanse of sand and brush weeds in Southern California and portions of Arizona and Nevada. Later, he covered much of the area on foot and on horseback. He decided this was the place to build a force for desert combat. The area selected by General Patton in the California and Arizona deserts encompassed approximately 18,000 square miles, making it the largest military installation and maneuver area in the world.

The first troops to arrive at the Desert Training Center described it as "The place God forgot." It was eventually to become the training ground for more than a million troops in seven armored divisions and thirteen infantry divisions.

General Patton arrived and the Desert Training Center became operational in early April 1942. Four days later, he and the troops took their first desert march. Within 15 days, all units at the center had been on a desert march. Within 23 days, he had conducted 13 tactical exercises, including some with two nights in the desert.

Patton was determined to move fast and to prepare his men well. Conditions were primitive. Some had wooden floors for their tents, but no electricity, no sheets for their cots, and none of the amenities common to other stateside military installations.

When the Metropolitan Water District in Los Angeles suggested that the men build storage tanks for water, the General declined, saying, 'They have no time to do anything except learn to fight." Within a month after arrival, every man sent to the Desert Training Center had to be able to run a mile in 10 minutes, wearing a full back pack and carrying a rifle.

When General Patton started operating the Desert Training Center, he knew little about the desert. He called upon the expertise of Roy Chapman Andrews, an explorer who had made several expeditions to the Gobi Desert. Patton explained to officers, "If you can work successfully here, in this country, it will be no difficulty at all to kill the assorted sons of bitches you meet in any other country."

In spite of the hardships to which he put them and the harshness of his manner; his troops respected, admired, and even loved General George S. Patton, Jr. Many of the troops felt bitterness when the War Department designated the Desert Training Center Command Post "Camp Young." True, U. Gen. S.M.B. Young had fought Indians in the area and was the first army chief of staff, but this was Patton country and the camp, according to his troops, should have been named for him.

Patton shunned accommodations at an Indio hotel and at a ranch house where his wife, Beatrice lived. He lived with his troops in the same primitive accommodations. With little notice, and to his surprise, Patton was summoned to Washington and then dispatched overseas to start planning Operation Torch, the North African campaign which was to be decisive in Allied victory.

While General George S. Patton, Jr. was at the Desert Training Center for less than four months, and only a fraction of the approximately one million men who eventually trained there were under his direct command his impact has been lasting.

For that reason, the Bureau of Land Management and General Patton Memorial, Inc. has established a memorial to the flamboyant, colorful and controversial general, the Desert Training Center and the Troops who served there.

Programs

Educational Programs include guided class tours, circulating and traveling exhibits, lending materials, Nature Study classes, lectures, field trips and publications through the Patton Memorial Museum Press.

Volunteer Service opportunities are available as Docents (Museum Guides) and Archival Assistants. Museum Assistantships are available in the Museum Gift Shop. Curatorial Assistants and Internships are available for members of the Museum and qualified applicants through the California College and University systems. For more information, contact:

General George S. Patton Memorial Museum
Chiriaco Summit, CA 92201
760-227-3483
Open daily 9:00 am to 5:00 pm

If you'd like to visit the memorial it is located on I-10, west of Desert Center or call:  General Patton Memorial  #2 Chiriaco Rd.  Chiriaco Summit,  CA  92201  (760)227-3483 

Four hours later, I can tell my breakfast is still in my stomach.

As I look and fly over this vast, desolate area, I think of what Patton said nearly 60 years ago: "The training area is the best I have ever seen . . . it is desolate and remote . . . large enough for any kind of training exercises."

And you know what, it still is today. No matter which way I look, it's virtually unihabited to every direction on every horizon.

I also think of something else Patton said: "If you can work successfully here, in this country (desert), it will be no difficulty at all to kill the assorted sons-of-bitches you meet in any other country."

Certainly, the men who trained for combat down there in the desert below me must've been the toughest, most resilient of all allied soldiers -- and enemies, too. ###

Copyright (C) 2000 Ron Kilber rpknet@aztec.asu.edu     RonKilber.tripod.com Non-commercial reproduction permitted in its entirety with this copyright notice intact.

8:31AM 11/15/00




Chiriaco Summit Airport

The airport is north of the Freeway; museum is on west end of field.


Desert Training Center Map

This map shows the entire 18,000 square-mile Desert Training Center. Camp Bouse, for example, is located in the lower-right quadrant (photo courtesy of BLM)

WORLD WAR II DESERT TRAINING CENTER CALIFORNIA-ARIZONA MANEUVER AREA

Courtesy of BLM

In the earliest days of World War II, when this Nation was thrust into the greatest global conflict the world has ever seen, the War Department realized the necessity for troops well trained under harsh conditions to withstand the rigors of battle over rough terrain and in inhospitable climates.  Thus, the Desert Training Center, California-Arizona Maneuver Area (DTC-CAMA) was created in 1942.  This simulated theater of operation was the largest military training ground in the history of military maneuvers.  These young troops would carry that early training on to victory in the sands of North Africa, the mud and mire to Europe, the ice and snow of Alaska, and even into the Pacific jungles

WWII Training Camp

Major General George S. Patton Jr. came to Camp Young as the first Commanding General of the Desert Training Center. His first orders were to select other areas within the desert that would be suitable for the large-scale maneuvers necessary to prepare American soldiers for combat against the German Afrika Korps in the North African desert. Ten other camps were established in an area stretching from Boulder City, Nevada to the Mexican border, and from Phoenix, Arizona to Pomona, California.

Tank training exercise

When the direction of the war shifted to the Allies' favor in 1944, the camps, plagued by shortage of supplies and equipment, were closed, thus ending the largest simulated theater of operations in the history of military maneuvers.

Although most of the structures were removed, much of the infrastructure, including rock-lined streets, staging areas, flag circles, and tent areas remain.

THE CAMPS TODAY

Now the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), charged with managing the public lands on which the camps lie, is engaged in an effort to protect and interpret them.

Camp Iron Mountain, designated as an Area of Critical Environmental Concern in 1980, is perhaps the best known and certainly the best preserved of all the camps. The area has been fenced to provide protection from vehicular traffic. Despite the ravages of time, a contour map, many rock mosaics, two alters, and numerous rock alignments along roads and walkways have survived.

The discharge or use of firearms and the use of metal detectors at all Patton Camps is prohibited

If you'd like to visit the memorial, it is located on I-10, west of Desert Center or call: 
General Patton Memorial 
#2 Chiriaco Rd. 
Chiriaco Summit,  CA  92201 
760-227-3483 

LOOKING TOWARD THE FUTURE

The BLM has made a dedicated effort in preserving the remaining features at these historically significant sites through protection and interpretation for the benefit of future generations. Much more was here, but thoughtless visitors have stolen the remains which were easy to carry. When you visit these or other historic sites in the desert, please leave all historic objects as you found them, so they can be enjoyed by those who follow you. These sites and artifacts are protected by Federal and State law, with substantial penalties for violators.



© Copyright 1996 - 2001 Ron Kilber All rights reserved.
rpknet@aztec.asu.edu