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.
Military history made at Fleet City
By Barry Schrader.................................July
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
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
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.
Theres 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
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 namesKottinger 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-townthe 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
* * *
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 :
or by snailmail at:
PO Box 446
Livermore, CA. 94551