Camp Roberts is celebrating its seventy-sixth anniversary this year. We know the story but if you somehow don’t, it’s time to learn it. Camp Roberts is massively important to Paso and San Miguel for many reasons
including the boost it gives our local economy, which is often overlooked.
Half-million troops took their basic training there for WW2 and 200,000 for the Korean War. Thousands of men and women from America and our allies still train there each year under the direction of the California National Guard managed by Col. Nicole Balliet and Lt. Col Kevin Bender.
It was in the early 80s when the Camp Museum was created. Today, it is a WOW FACTOR and a true destination for the 3,000 or so who visit each year.
The People: Gary McMaster is the de facto boss, curator, fundraiser and chairman of the four-person Board and four advisers. He’s been there for 15 years, leading the charge, so to speak.
Today, the Museum has two locations that are a short distance apart. The Museum’s focus is on military displays beginning with WW1 which was the time of Corporal Roberts. It is he whom the entire camp is named after. From that period right up to today’s military is represented in the museum.
“Represented” isn’t probably the right word because the displays are so life-like that one feels as if he’s in the midst of the action, be-it WW2, Korea, Viet Nam, Afghanistan, Iraq or in the camp’s post office, auditorium or the laundry!
Don Avery, with brothers Dirk and Mark Hale, have assisted Mr. McMaster to create many of the exhibits. They’ve been with Gary for years and are the backbone behind the construction of the displays by collecting, salvaging, refurbishing and preserving artifacts. Almost everything has been donated by either the military itself, private collectors or military members who have decided it is better to have people see and understand rather than keep items themselves. If there hadn’t been a place for these items to be donated to, this utterly fantastic slice of history would have been lost or trashed. Honestly, Gary’s team’s dedicated work has produced a truly marvelous collection.
The Places: The first building to see is where one goes to sign in and get a flavor of what’s in store. The history of the Salinian Indians, very early ranches in San Miguel, the work of the Army Corps of Engineers at the beginning of the last century were all important steps in to establishing the camp. History of the camp itself, Corporal Roberts’ story, and most of the memorabilia of the thousand entertainers who came during WW2 along with the first displays of America’s military presence beginning with WW1 are located here. It’s a busy building to absorb.
The Museum Annex will blow your hair back. I, like so many, have just been busy and it’s been about three years since my last visit, when the Annex was in its early stages. Viva la Difference! 80 mannequins wearing period uniforms or clothing — be they us or the enemy — are the first thing one notices.
The Things: Seemingly thousands of photos and original letters are framed on the walls. Simply amazingly preserved memories! The laundry operated 24/7/365 and employed 700 women and 400 men to keep up with the demand in WW2.
The Post Office display shows why it was the busiest military post office anywhere. There is a SATCOM display, radio room, and enough vehicles both inside and outside to stagger the imagination.
There’s even an area where kids can don different uniforms and be photographed holding frightening weapons (all non-operational of course) that were part of preserving America’s freedoms.
Tanks, self-propelled howitzers, wheeled vehicles and helicopters can actually be climbed into for the ‘oohs and ahhs’ that make the experience much more real.
For more information, go to CampRoberts HistoricalMuseum.com or their Facebook page.
The museum is open Thursday and Saturday from 9 a.m. to 4p.m. This is an active military base so you’ll need your driver’s license, proof of auto insurance and car registration at the main gate just up the 101 at exit 244.
Once inside, you might decide that this is a place for your donations to go, or even end up being a volunteer to work on vehicles, do publicity or clerical work. For sure, you’re gonna have a great visit or my name ain’t “wanna-be General Chuck.”