May 28, 2009

ECV dedicates Desert Training Center monument

Clamper officials pose with pride, after their latest historical monument installation.

D. Westermeyer, BLM
NewsBytes Issue 374

On May 1-3, 2009, the Ancient and Honorable Order of E. Clampus Vitus, Billy Holcomb Chapter 109, descended upon the small town of Desert Center, California for their annual Spring Clampout event. Four hundred and twelve members in black hats and red shirts adorned with tin badges, buttons and pins gathered to initiate fifty three “Poor Blind Candidates” (PBC’s) into the organization under the reign of Noble Grand Humbug, Rick Gavigan.

For the unknowing, E. Clampus Vitus (members are commonly referred to as Clampers) is a fraternal organization dedicated to the preservation of western heritage that is active in state, local, and county Historical Societies. The Holcomb Chapter has worked with the Bureau of Land Management and the California Department of Transportation to place roadside plaques at--as E. Clampus Vitus describes them--“greater and lesser historical sites within San Bernardino and Riverside Counties.

Since October 1969, they have erected and dedicated 109 plaques, including those along parts of the Mojave Road, The Patton Desert Training Center (C.A.M.A.), Route 66, Speed of Light Experiments, various historical buildings and other edifices, local native sites and ruins, and other varied and sundry persons, places and events of historical significance.”

Besides initiating new members during the Clampout, the Clampers erected a concrete monument and brass plaque commemorating the site of the 36th Evacuation Hospital for the Desert Training Center (DTC). Later renamed the California-Arizona Maneuver Area, the training center encompassed an 18,000 square mile area in the Mojave Desert and served as the country’s foremost armor training facility and maneuver area where American soldiers were trained in ground and air combat as well as desert warfare from 1942 to 1944.

The size of the training center made it the largest military installation and maneuver area in the world. It was eventually to become the training ground for more than a million troops in seven armored and thirteen infantry divisions. Major General George S. Patton Jr. was the first Commanding General of the DTC tasked with organizing large scale maneuvers necessary to prepare American soldiers for combat against the German Afrika Korps in the North African desert.

As part of the DTC, the 36th Evacuation Hospital was a 400-bed unit that provided care to sick and wounded soldiers under combat conditions. The unit was instrumental in developing procedures for training doctors and nurses and later served in the Pacific theater of operations where it took part in the New Guinea, Luzon, and Leyte campaigns, the occupation of Japan, and was stationed in Vietnam from 1966 to 1969.

The BLM now manages the majority of the land where the training camps existed. While little remains of the original encampment of the 36th Evacuation Hospital, the layout of streets, tent sites, and patterns of hand-laid rocks for unit insignias can still be seen on the ground.

The site is located along Interstate 10 near the town of Desert Center and can be reached by traveling east of Indio or west of Blythe. The monument is located at the northeast corner at the intersection of Ragsdale and Eagle Mountain Roads at the Eagle Mountain offramp

While visiting the area, please remember that the camp sites are considered Historical Period Archaeological sites eligible for the National Register. The use of metal detectors and the collection of artifacts by individuals are strictly prohibited. Visitors are welcome to walk through the area after parking near the monument or along Eagle Mountain Road but please refrain from driving off the paved roads.

While the BLM completed the required paperwork, environmental review and provide archeological assistance, the Billy Holcomb Chapter was responsible for organizing and funding the monument construction and dedication.

For addition information on the Billy Holcomb Chapter of ECV, visit their website.