By Lynne Schmitz

D-Day. June 6, 1944. 80 years ago. Operation Overlord. Years in the planning and making, it involved the greatest, most diverse group of forces ever assembled — some called it “The Greatest Military Operation in History.” This massive invasion of France was the beginning of breaking the Nazi stronghold on Europe, leading to their eventual unconditional surrender on May 7, 1945. This is one of the most significant anniversaries in history. 

Camp Roberts was built in 1940 and became the Army’s largest Training Center for World War II. It was named in honor of Army Corporal Harold W. Roberts, who died heroically in France during World War I to save his crewmate. At its peak during WWII, the camp trained up to 47,000 soldiers daily. Hollywood stars, some of whom were there in training, often entertained the troops in a large, outdoor bowl. During the Korean War era in the 1950s, training continued. 


In 1971, the base was turned over to the California Army National Guard, which continues to use it. Camp Roberts is home to the largest Army museum in the west and features displays from the time of the Salinan people through the recent conflicts in the Middle East. The museum was the dream of Al Davis, a Paso Robles resident and military history buff.  

Recently, I was ushered through the myriad of exhibits built by museum curator and chairman for the past 22 years, Gary McMaster, and his dedicated helpers. Two historic buildings house the collections. A large house with a pillared porch features a video room, a military research library, an archival room, office, and gift shop. 

In honor of Corporal Roberts, a re-creation of the parlor from his grandmother’s home is set up with his portrait hanging on the wall. Nearby, a statue of a horse reminds us that, as an Army private, Roberts served in the Mounted Cavalry in the Philippines. One room is dedicated to the vital civilian working force and the Women’s Army Corps (WACS). The second building is the Annex, which was originally a post office. There, you will find pictures of the Italian and German POW sites that were situated across the highway. A group exhibit represents the many countries that have been our allies in the Middle East. One room is dedicated to a display of equipment from the satellite communications site on the base, which is maintained by regular Army. 

There is an outdoor exhibit of tanks, howitzers, and helicopters. Walls in both buildings are covered extensively with historic photographs. Gary has traveled to many countries in his long military career and brings extensive expertise and enthusiasm to the museum. 

Hours open are Thursdays and Saturdays from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., and their phone number is (805) 238-8288. Camp Roberts is 2 miles north of San Miguel on Highway 101, Exit 244. A valid driver’s license, current license, and insurance documents for your vehicle are required.  

Where would we be without our history! Visit a museum, or better yet, volunteer. It’s fun, and you meet the neatest people.


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