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Fighting on the homefront
WWII sites around the Yuma area
Oceans may have separated Yuma from the front-lines fighting of World War II, but our area served the United States as a site for troop training and equipment testing.
At what is now the Marine Corps Air Station-Yuma, the Army Air Corps trained hundreds of pilots for overseas combat.
And Yuma Proving Ground's forerunner, the Yuma Test Branch, tested floating bridge designs at the Colorado River near the present-day Imperial Dam. The Army planned to use these bridges to lead U.S. troops across European rivers on their way toward liberating that continent from Nazi Germany.
And U.S. soldiers and tanks trained for battle in the African campaign of the war at the Desert Training Center, a large swath of land extending on the California side of the Colorado River from the area of Yuma north to Searchlight, Nev. Before war's end, the boundaries of the area would be expanded into Yuma County and western Arizona.
Many decades have passed since the Second World War, but reminders of Yuma's role in the war effort can still be seen at historic sites around the area. Some of the sites that can be visited in a day trip from Yuma are as follows:
The Italian Castle
The “Italian Castle” is a stone-faced concrete storage shed built by former Italian prisoners of war along what is today Highway S-24 not far from the Colorado River.
As the bridge testing mission at the Yuma Test Branch increased during the war, the Army assigned much of the work to previously captured Italian solders who renounced Italy's fascist regime that was aligned with Adolf Hitler.
Many of the prisoners were talented craftsmen, including sculptors and stone masons, and one of their contributions was to build the storage shed to hold paint for the Army. Atop the shed, they constructed several stone towers, one of which was inscribed with the word “Italy.”
Although the shed has fallen in disrepair, the Bureau of Land Management has built a wire fence around the structure and has posted a brass sign to commemorate it.
Bomber crash site near Telegraph Pass
Interstate 8 and Telegraph Pass did not exist back in World War II, but on the third peak south of the freeway and the pass is the site of a B-17 bomber crash in June 1944.
The flight crew had been assigned to Yuma to train for oversees combat missions, and the crash occurred as the plane bomber was returning from a night flight. All aboard perished in the accident.
The crash occurred about two-thirds of the way to the top of the mountain, and two large whitewashed crosses have been painted on large boulders to mark the site. Nearby is a steel plate that lists the names of the crewmen, and wreckage from the bomber can still be found scattered around the point of impact.
At the top of the peak is another monument to the flight crew.
The crash site remains a popular attraction for desert hikers. If you decide to visit, be aware there is no path to the site. You won't need climbing gear, but you will be ascending steep, rocky terrain in a hike that will put all your leg muscles to the test.
Wear sturdy boots, take water and, depending on the time of year you tackle this hike, watch out for rattlesnakes. It's probably not a good idea to try this climb in the summer months.
To get to the site, follow the South Frontage Road to the east from Foothills Boulevard. The asphalt eventually gives way to a dirt road. At some point, you'll have to park and walk to reach the base of the mountain, where the hard part begins.
The site is located with in the Barry M. Goldwater Range, which is under the control of the Marine Corps Air Station, and MCAS asks hikers to contact the public affairs office, 269-2275, to request access to the site prior to visiting.
For more information, visit http://www.everytrail.com/view_trip.php?trip_id=222286
Camp Horn and Camp Hyder
Located near Dateland, the Camps Horn and Hyder were among the camps within the Desert Training Center.
The center was used initially by Gen. George S. Patton to train troops for battle in North Africa. As designated by Patton, the center was located entirely west of the Colorado River, says Bill Heidner, curator at Yuma Proving Ground's Heritage Center.
But after Patton went overseas with his Army, the center was extended into Arizona, and Camps Horn and Hyder became one of many of the camps where troops lived in rugged conditions meant to condition them for the rigors of war.
Little remains of the camps today, but near Camp Horn is a pyramid made of rock to memorialize soldiers killed in a training accident during the war, says Joe Orman, an Arizona photographer who has visited and photographed the memorial for his web site http://joeorman.shutterace.com/Bizarre/Bizarre_Camphorn.html.
The memorial today is included in the National Register of Historic Places.
To visit the memorial, says Orman, turn off Interstate 8 at the Dateland exit, continue north on Avenue 64E to the railroad tracks. Turn left, following the tracks on the south side for about 1-1/2 miles, then turn north onto the road that crosses the tracks.
YPG Heritage Center
The Heritage Center is a museum dedicated YPG's role in testing and evaluation the weapons and equipment used by America's armed forces, from World War II to present day.
It is located next to Cox Field in the main administrative area of YPG. To enter the area, visitors will need to have a driver's license, vehicle registration and proof of insurance. All other adult passengers in the vehicle will need to present photo identification.
Hours of operation are 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Thursday. No admission fee is charged.
Located in the Butler Valley between Swansea and Alamo Lake, in La Paz County, this site requires more driving time of Yuma-area residents.
Camp Bouse was set up in 1942 as a top secret post where the Army tested tanks that had been modified to carry a 13-million-candlepower searchlight, according to the Arizona Pioneer & Cemetery Research Project.
Designed to illuminate battlefields for nighttime frontal attacks, the lights were intended to make it difficult for the enemy to focus on the tanks. While the light-equipped tanks proved successful in testing, they never saw action in World War II, according to APCRP.
In the decades since the war, the desert has mostly reclaimed the camp site, although visitors will find concrete sidewalks, stone walkways, building slabs and other remnants of the site, where an American flag flies in the camp's honor.
The research project offers these directions to the camp site:
Follow the Alamo Lake Road over Cunningham Pass. Within a mile of cresting the pass, turn left onto Powerline Road. Proceed northwest for about 10 miles until passing through a gate. Continue another two-tenths of a mile, watching for a road on the right-hand side. Turning on that road, you'll be at the main gate of the former camp. Follow this until you come to the flag on your left about three-quaters mile. Here you can walk the desert and witness many remains of the former camp.
For more information, visit www.apcrp.org