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Barry Schrader
Columnist

 

I currently have columns running in 3 newspapers;

  • Tri-Valley Herald : Looking Back
  • Valley Times : Do You Remember?
  • The Independent : Do You Remember?

The Articles appear in the Herald and Independent on Thursdays,
and the Times on Sundays.

They will also be found on this page each week as well.

 

If you've missed any please follow the links on the dates to catch up.

Archive Page

Military history made at Fleet City

By Barry Schrader.................................July 28, 2005

“Fleet City” may not ring a bell with most people in the Tri-Valley, but Camp Parks is certainly a familiar name. There were actually three military bases side-by-side that funneled thousands of military personnel through here during World War II and then again during the Korean War, right up to today.

I learned a lot about these local bases last week when I visited the little known Camp Parks History Center which has been open to the public since 1993 and is probably the best kept secret of any museum in the Bay Area. Greeted at the door by Tommie Simpson, docent extraordinaire and a longtime area resident, I received a one hour crash course in the history of the three bases--Camp Parks, Camp Shoemaker and the US Naval Hospital Shoemaker.

Tommie joined the WAVES (that stands for Women Accepted for Voluntary Emergency Services) and was stationed at the mammoth 3,000-bed Shoemaker Naval Hospital in 1946 when she met her future husband William who was an Operating Room Technician at the time, serving in the US Navy.

Camp Parks, first opened by the Navy in 1943, soon became a burgeoning training and replacement center on the West coast, holding as many as 20,000 military personnel on more than 2,000 acres. It was first a vital post for the Seabees. It closed down in 1946 and then was re-opened as Parks Air Force Base in 1951. Then in 1959 control was given to the US Army and used until 1973 when it was declared excess property and much of the land was turned over to Alameda County, except for 1,600 acres to be held for National Guard and Navy use. Camp Shoemaker and the hospital were closed after WW II and all the buildings eventually demolished.

Meanwhile, in 1947 the biggest Navy Brig on the West coast was converted into Santa Rita County Jail and those barracks served as the county lockup until the new Santa Rita was built. In the Sixties part of the base was used for the Parks Job Corps Training Center where underprivileged youth were sent to learn academic, athletic and trade skills. Its most famous graduate was George Foreman who won the boxing title for the US in the Olympics and then became world heavyweight champ a few years later.

Back in 1959 the Army took over much of the facility but declared it inactive for a number of years. By 1973 the Army decided it was needed as a Reserves center and renamed it the Parks Reserve Forces Training Area (PRFTA). But it will always be known as just plain Camp Parks to locals, no matter what the government decides to call it next. Dubliners can still see the quaint art deco Camp Parks entrance sign on Dougherty Road and even though the main entrance has been moved to Dublin Boulevard the old sign has been preserved. (But the Dublin Historic Preservation Association had better keep an eye on it.)

Tommie can show you the old hospital beds, WW II and newer uniforms, pictures of the old buildings now long gone, and even street signs saved from the old days. As an aside, if you ever shopped at the JC Penney store on Second Street in Livermore you may remember Tommie as one of the sales clerks. She worked there just short of 25 years and recalls fondly her boss Bob Bruns who many of us knew around Livermore.

There’s a lot more history to tell, but plan a trip over there some Tuesday or Wednesday between the hours of 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. You will need to ask at the main gate how to find the building, otherwise you could get lost for hours…. On Tuesdays you will be met by Tommie and another World War II veteran Bob Walker, a Seabee who spent time as a patient at Shoemaker and can tell you his own story about nearly freezing his ears off at a base near Sitka, Alaska. On Wednesdays the docents are Wilfred and Jessie Taylor who have their own experiences to share.

Some good news--the little museum will be given a new home not too many months down the road when the current base commander Col. James Doty departs and plans are to turn his four-bedroom, 1940s style house into the history center, thus giving them one of the finest quarters of any military facility around.

Another thing I learned from Tommie: she and her late husband moved into Komandorski Village, the military barracks-type housing across Dougherty Road, during the Korean War when he was recalled to active duty as a corpsman at Oak Knoll Naval Hospital. Did you know that name comes from the Komandorski Islands in the Bering Sea? Now where did the other two military housing complexes in the Tri-Valley get their names—Kottinger Village in P-town and Villa Gulf in Livermore?

* * *

By the way, I was chagrined to get a call last week telling me I had better look again when I pass Wayside Park in P-town—the old Chamber office has been removed from the park so could not be named after Carol Bush. So how about naming the new comfort station in Delucchi Park across the street in her memory…. They named a hotel balcony after Ed Kinney, so why not the Carol Bush Comfort Station? After all, she had to suffer through all those years when the little Chamber office never had restroom facilities!

* * *

The history mystery question for this week was posed to me by Bob Williams and Bob Butler of Pleasanton Community Band fame. What was the name of the popular bar frequented by Camp Parks military and civilians located at the intersection of old Highway 50 (now I-580) and Hopyard Road back in the Fifties and Sixties?

 

The columnist can be reached via email at :

Historian2sbcglobal.net

or by snailmail at:

Barry Schrader
PO Box 446
Livermore, CA. 94551

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