Camp Roberts Historical Museum Brings Army History Alive
by U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Ryan Getsie
November 22, 2019
“Out you go!” Yelled Cpl. Harold W. Roberts as he pushed his gunner Sgt. Virgil Morgan to safety, just before their two-man Renault FT17 light tank sank into the water and Roberts drowned.
This isn’t a work of fiction. Cpl. Roberts was a part of the U.S. Army Tank Corps during World War I. He fought in the Argonne Offensive and it was one of the bloodiest and final battles of the war. He was 22 years old. Cpl. Harold W. Roberts was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor, the Croix de Guerre, and the Italian War Cross.
August 08, 2019 - A mannequin of Cpl. Harold W. Roberts is on display at the Camp Roberts Historical Museum at Camp Roberts, California. He was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor and Camp Roberts was named after him, in honor of his sacrifice during World War I. (U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Ryan Getsie)
Camp Roberts is the only Army camp still in operation that was named after a Non-commissioned Officer (NCO). It has a long and rich history since its construction began in 1940.
According to Gary McMaster, chairman and curator of the museum, it took roughly nine months to complete the construction of Camp Roberts.
“When it was completed it was the Army’s largest basic training installation in the entire United States. It was built to train 30,000 trainees at once, but normally during World War II on any given day between 40 to 48 thousand recruits were being trained, plus all the staff. There was an army of civilians, just the laundry alone employed 1,100 people.” He said.
Almost a half-million Soldiers trained here at the camp before being sent overseas during the Korean War alone. There were some celebrities in the mix, such as Red Skelton, Bob Newhart, Steve Allen and many others. The Camp Roberts Historical Museum features educational exhibits that bring some of this rich history alive.
“We had all the A Lister’s come here. They would do shows up the street at the Soldier’s Bowl amphitheater. They would have 20 to 22 thousand Soldiers sitting on the hillsides watching the big shows.” McMaster said.
Camp Roberts still remains one of the primary training facilities for pre-mobilization for Army National Guard units in the state of California. Many other units from across the country come to train here as well.
McMaster talked about how Roberts is still relevant today.
“We get all the different components that come here to train: Special Ops, Airborne, Marine Corps Reserve, Army Reserve, and Navy Seals. For quite a few years now we’ve been getting units from the British Royal Artillery, reservists from Salisbury Plain.”
Most recently the 17th Sustainment Brigade and 757th Combat Sustainment Support Battalion from Nevada conducted their annual training from August 2-14, 2019.
Col. Troy E. Armstrong, commander with the 17th Sustainment Brigade described the significance of just having trained at Roberts.
“It allows everyone to reflect back on why we serve, what’s important, and then remember the sacrifices of the people who have come before us.”
The museum has two historic World War II-era buildings that house many exhibits that include wheeled and track vehicles on display. Museum Docent Donald Avery spent 8 years in the California Army National Guard as an E-5 Gunner for the M55 self-propelled howitzer, and discussed the new project vehicle he is working to restore for the museum.
August 08, 2019 - Two Vietnam War mannequins are displayed at Camp Roberts Historical Museum at Camp Roberts, California. (U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Ryan Getsie)
“We have a 41 Dodge sedan that’s been here for over 30 years. My goal is to get something that our Army staff could drive for parades…maybe a couple Generals to escort on post. More money is needed to bring it back to life though. ” Avery said.
Aside from vehicles, there are many exhibits for visitors to interact with: video viewing rooms, picnic areas, military research libraries, archival room, historical weapons exhibit, vintage maps, tons of photos, signed memorabilia, and about fifty life-like mannequins as well. The museum also has a gift shop where patrons can purchase books, souvenirs, and military-related items.
Also, the docents always stand ready to serve and are happy to help students complete historical research, from grade school up to college.
The Museum is an official non-profit organization run by the Camp Roberts Historical Museum Foundation. It has membership programs for both individuals and corporations, and all donations are tax-exempt. To find out how you can help preserve our precious and time honored military history please visit camprobertshistoricalmuseum.com.
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