This presentation is part of Preserving U.S. Military Heritage: WWII to the Cold War, Fredericksburg, Texas, June 4-6, 2019.
by William J. Heidner and Erin R. Goslin
War was being fought in North Africa. US troops were preparing for it, and the areas of the desert Southwest were ideal training grounds. MG George S. Patton Jr. declared this [Desert Training Center] to be ‘…the largest and best training ground in the US’” (Meller 1946, 3). LTG Leslie McNair, Commander of the Army Ground Forces, was pleased with the training facilities, calling them “our best training agency for both combat and service units” (Meller 1946, 44).
McNair later ordered the center to expand and be renamed the California – Arizona Maneuver Area (C-AMA). MG Walton Walker, who commanded during the expansion, understood the requirement; “It is our job to rehearse for war, to bring these units to a state of perfection that will be demanded of them by actual warfare, the perfection necessary to win battles” (W.E.B.S. 1984:7). Walker’s Chief of Staff echoed his boss’s sentiment; “We don’t have to simulate problems of supply in the desert. They already exist… We hope to make our troops so tough that the ‘real McCoy’ will come easy. This is war – all but!” (W.E.B.S. 1984, 11).
Camp Laguna was the first of 4 Arizona camps, hosting 3 Infantry Divisions in turn. The DTC/C-AMA trained 25 Divisions and over 1.5 million men. By early 1944, most of the communications and transportation specialists had deployed overseas. McNair, recognizing the degraded experience, closed the C-AMA. Left behind by time, areas of Camp Laguna remain relatively untouched by modernity. Rock lined pathways look much like they did at the time of closure.
Today, Campsite Laguna and many of its training ranges are within the U.S. Army Yuma Proving Ground (YPG). YPG’s land is under the care of the Cultural Resource Manager, part of Environmental Sciences. For purposes of preservation, safety, and security, the remaining un-touched footprint of Camp Laguna is off limits.
For years, the AZ Historical Preservation Office (SHPO) has urged YPG to offer interpretive opportunities to the public. There have been many efforts to preserve (CRM) and interpret (Museum) the archaeology, history and heritage of Camp Laguna and the DTC/C-AMA. The revitalization of YPG’s Heritage Center included galleries dedicated to the C-AMA and to Camp Laguna. SHPO was hoping for more.
As is often the case, a problem presented an opportunity. When the Army initiated enhanced security screening, plans were drawn for a new Visitor Control Center (VCC). The VCC was to be located within the Brooks’ interpretive area which contains 21 Macro artifacts, trails and an interpretive Kiosk. However, the initial location did not meet anti-terrorism standards for stand-off from parking areas, and moving the site further south brought it into an area of Camp Laguna that had not been cleared for such activity. Did the SHPO have veto power over that site encroachment?
Our presentation will illustrate how Cultural Resource Management and the Museum worked together to meet the needs of the key stake holders. The VCC was built with new exhibits featuring the interpretation of Camp Laguna and a better visitor experience. Everyone was very pleased.
Bill Heidner is the Museum Curator for the Museum of the U.S. Army Yuma Proving Ground (YPG). His interest in the WWII training facilities associated with the Desert Training Center/California – Arizona Maneuver Area (DTC / C-AMA) is due to the fact that the YPG is the only active Army Installation that contains significant portion of that historic area. Bill co-presented an award winning poster to the 2009 (?) Annual Conference of Archaeology. His paper, “Preparing for War in the Desert SW”, presented at the 7th Annual International Conference of Military Geosciences, was published in the findings of that conference.
Erin Goslin is the Cultural Resources Manager at USAG Yuma Proving Ground, AZ. She has been with the Yuma Proving Ground for four years, and during this time has worked closely with Bill Heidner, the base Museum Curator, to interpret various aspects of the base’s history and to conserve unique artifacts that have been found on range.