October 27, 2015

Veterans and Families Tour Camp Iron Mountain, Part of Patton’s WWII Desert Training Center

Twentynine Palms, CA - Twenty veterans and their families made their way into the eastern Mojave Desert on Thursday, October 22, to visit the remnants of the largest military training grounds in world history. Camp Iron Mountain was one of thirteen camps set up as a part of General George S. Patton’s Desert Training Center during World War II, to prepare troops for the invasion of North Africa. 

Led by the Vet Voice Foundation, the General Patton Museum, and the Campaign for the California Desert, this excursion sought to reconnect veterans with the desert’s unique military past. Senator Dianne Feinstein has asked President Obama to protect this significant military history site as part of the proposed Mojave Trails National Monument. 

Veterans came from across southern California, including Twentynine Palms, Palm Springs, Tecopa, and Los Angeles. Participants served in Iraq, Afghanistan, Vietnam, and Korea; and many had family members who had served in World War II. 

Veterans and other tour participants met in Twentynine Palms and then caravanned about 70 miles east to the Camp Iron Mountain tour site.  Once there, participants were treated to expert historical interpretation of the site by Angus Smith, Vice President of the Board of Directors at the General Patton Museum. He arrived dressed in full World War II regalia, driving a 1942 Willys Jeep named “Fubar Flyer,” with a 30 caliber machine gun mounted on the crossbar. 

Also participating in the tour was Margit Chiriaco Rusche, a fifth generation desert resident who is the Founder and also a Vice President of the General Patton Museum, which is sited on land donated by Joe and Ruth Chiriaco. She has been documenting and advocating for the preservation of General Patton’s camps for decades. 

“The story of Camp Iron Mountain helps us understand the global stage the United States found itself on in 1942 as it prepared itself for the war in North Africa,” said Rusche. “We must preserve the stories and artifacts in this unique expanse of the California desert so that we can ensure future generations can explore our heritage.” 

One veteran’s family that participated in tour included three homeschooled children.  “My kids learn about the nation’s military history from me, but today the desert will be our classroom,” said mother Denise Perez of Twentynine Palms, whose husband is a Marine veteran. 

Integral to the experience of visiting Camp Iron Mountain is taking in the pristine and panoramic desert vistas which surround the site. 

“I think about young men from Georgia and Minnesota ending up out here for their military training. What isolation they must have felt; but what toughness training here must have bred,” said Megan Rodriguez, an Air Force veteran who lives in Covina. 

Carl Dennett from Tecopa, a Vietnam War veteran who served at the Twentynine Palms Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center, also joined the group on the trip. “Touring the Patton camp allowed me to reconnect with the past, when my father served in World War II. That was important to me.” said Dennett. 

Steve Dunwoody, Iraq War Veteran and California Director of the Vet Voice Foundation, expressed support for Senator Feinstein’s efforts to have Camp Iron Mountain included within the proposed Mojave Trails National Monument. 

“Veterans appreciate Senator Feinstein’s efforts to protect Camp Iron Mountain, its irreplaceable historic and cultural values, and the undisturbed landscape it is situated in,” said Dunwoody. “This fascinating piece of our nation’s military history should be permanently protected by President Obama from development as part of Mojave Trails National Monument.” 

Background on Camp Iron Mountain

To train U.S. soldiers to fight the Germans and Italians in North Africa during World War II, an 18,000 square mile area in the southeastern California and western Arizona desert was selected as the Desert Training Center. There, the men conducted large-scale military maneuvers and prepared for the hazards and difficulty of fighting a desert war.  General George S. Patton Jr. was the first Commanding General of the Desert Training Center from March-August, 1942, after which he went to North Africa to fight the Axis forces and face their legendary commander, Field Marshall Erwin Rommel, known as the “Desert Fox.” 

Camp Iron Mountain is perhaps the best known of the 13 camps and certainly the best preserved. The 23rd Armored Engineer battalion constructed Camp Iron Mountain in early 1942 with over 40 miles of gravel roads, firing ranges, walkways, and tent areas.  After the defeat of the Axis forces in North Africa in May 1943, the desert training camps were no longer a necessity. By 1944, they were closed and dismantled. Despite the ravages of time, a contour map, many rock mosaics, two altars, and numerous rock alignments along roads and walkways have survived. 

Note: When you visit these or other historic sites, please leave all historic objects as you found them. These sites and artifacts are protected by law, with substantial penalties for violators.

 

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