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MONTEREY HISTORICAL SOCIETY NEWSLETTER November/December 2010
THE FORGOTTEN WARHORSE HISTORY OF FORT ORD
By Margaret Davis, 2010
THE FORGOTTEN WARHORSE HISTORY OF FORT ORD
By Margaret Davis, 2010
Few may remember, but in the massive buildup to World War II, the burgeoning army base of Fort Ord was planned as a major warhorse installation. Thanks to the work of military researcher Greg Krenzelok, this forgotten history has been rediscovered.
Already by the time of the Great War, the dashing cavalry charge of old had been checked by barbed wire and the depredations of the machine gun; yet World War I was nevertheless very much a “horse war,” with horse-drawn artillery and pack trains used heavily on all sides. During the Thirties, the role of mounted and horse-drawn units in the war of the future—if any—was hotly debated. But as America mobilized in 1940, horses were still in.
Just south of Fort Ord at the Presidio of Monterey, the 76th Field Artillery Regiment’s second battalion had been training with the 11th Cavalry since 1922. Now it was decided that the full regiment, whose units were scattered throughout the country, would be reunited and brought to wartime strength by the addition of a third battalion. The regiment would assemble at the new cantonment, where the mild climate, varied terrain, and sheer sprawl provided a peerless training ground. For the 76th’s permanent home, a major warhorse installation was in order.
STABLES AND BARRACKS
In June 1940, the 76th’s men and horses moved into a tent encampment and temporary corrals at Camp Clayton (by the present Marina Dunes shopping center)—the first unit to arrive. Fort Ord was built by Works Progress Administration civilians, who lived in their own tent city fringing Highway 1. Policing these crews at the various construction sites was among the troopers’ chief duties.
Along 4th Avenue, running south from 8th Street, twenty-one stables for the 1,400 horses of the field artillery—flanked by stable sergeant, blacksmith, and saddler shops—were among the first raft of buildings erected. To the southwest were barracks for the troopers, followed in early 1941 by a station veterinary hospital just northeast. When the first of the new barracks was ready for occupancy in December 1940, Lt. Lee Stickler was among those reprieved from the mud and cold. (Now 93 and a resident of Monterey, Mr. Stickler witnessed the demolition of his barracks, at the corner of 1st Avenue and Divarty Street, in June 2009).
Mr. Stickler relates that besides police duty and drilling with guns, horses, and artillery sections, the men had stable chores: feeding, grooming, turning out, and loading the wryly named “honey wagon” morning and night. Artillery horses were burly animals to meet the weighty cannons, and reportedly less than exquisitely cooperative: Stickler describes the morning hitch-up as a “circus.” Nevertheless, one minded one’s temper: mistreatment, neglect, or injury was grounds for court martial. Army horses and mules were procured and trained by the Quartermaster Remount Service, which in 1939 had anticipated a need for 200,000 equids (horses and mules) as war in Europe loomed.
Mr. Stickler has a tale to tell about the boss. Major General Joseph Stilwell of the Seventh Division had first command of Ford Ord. He was not known as a horseman, and Mr. Stickler confesses to a personal encounter. During a night exercise, one rider kept falling behind, requiring Stickler to double back and administer “strong words” to the silent laggard. In the morning he was chagrined to learn he had chewed out “Vinegar Joe” himself.
THE FIELD ARTILLERY IN ACTION
The field artillery’s job is to bring big guns to the action, via a pair of carriages that together constitute an artillery section. The rigs are the same except for payload, which is either a cannon or a caisson (ammunition chest), and are drawn by a six-horse team, with each pair having a rider astride the near (or left)-side horse to handle the reins of both. Artillery sections have no brakes, so the challenge of wrangling four tons of horseflesh towing a two-ton cargo is all the more gripping. Rolling out, a sergeant on a saddle horse leads the way, with perhaps a captain or lieutenant at the fore. The horses had unvarying positions within the hitch, based on their qualities, e.g., aggressive horses for the lead team and strong, stolid horses by the wheel. A crack battalion at the gallop, displacing the earth in a thunder of iron-clad wheels, hooves, and groaning wood, impelled by hollering wagon soldiers, a-jangle with chains and tack, is a tumult of staggering power.
In the end, it was not advanced weaponry after all, but automotive technology that did the warhorse in. The Army had hesitated to trust in motor vehicles, which broke down, went flat, and ran out of gas, but as reliability grew and mobilization funds came available, the Army rapidly mechanized its units. The tank and truck were the beast of burden for modern war, and the scrappy, jaunty jeep (1940) the very image of versatility and fresh thinking.
By December 7, 1941, the swift displacement of the horse was near completion. Days after Pearl Harbor, the 76th was sent to war without their “most trusted companion” for the first time, as they deployed to France. The horses were shipped to San Rafael, Jolon, or Bay Meadows Race Track in San Mateo, where, as trooper Teddy Nelson of the 76th Battalion tells Krenzelok, they were handed to the Coast Guard or auctioned off. Hollywood was a big buyer.
BRING IN THE CAVALRY
Before the month was out, Fort Ord received a fresh contingent of horses and men: the National Guard’s 107th Cavalry (Horse–Mechanized), originally of Ohio, brought west to watch the beaches for signs of Japanese invasion. The unit arrived on a rainy Christmas 1941 after a six-day rail journey, their horses so spent and irritable, they had chewed each other’s tails off. Cpl. Walter Schweitzer, now 91 and living in Cincinnati, has written an engaging account of his year at Fort Ord (see “Memoirs of a Fort Ord Cavalryman”). About beach patrol, Schweitzer notes, “ten portees [trucks] carried men and their mounts to various locations. Each portee delivered a team of eight horsemen who traveled in twos for a 25-mile duration. Because of the rocky terrain it was not possible, even on horseback, to follow the coastal waters. None of our patrols reported a sighting.”
Horse–mechanized combined units such as the 107th were an attempt to conserve the advantages of the mounted cavalry by integrating motorized support, notably horse-transport portees to speed the cavalry to the fray. The unit’s hybrid status ended in June 1942, when the Coast Guard took over beach patrol and appropriated the animals, leaving the unit, thereby, mechanized only. The horseless 107th spent the next six months fighting sand and heat in the Mojave Desert and in December 1942 departed for patrol south of Eureka.
Memoirs of a Fort Ord Cavalryman by Cpl. Walter Schweitzer “… Elaborating on daily cavalry life, the day began at 6:00 am with water call, followed by hay feed and later 9 lbs of oats. After caring for their horses, the men went to their breakfast mess, followed by roll call. ‘C’ Troop lined up with its 3 rifle and 1 machine gun platoons. After roll call they followed through with their personal training schedule, weaponry training. The horses were only a means of transportation and not used for attack purposes.
“In the morning the horses would stay in their stalls in the stable and in afternoon were released into the corral, where Big Cain [Cpl. Schweitzer’s mount] would play and roll and become infamously known for jumping the [5´9½] fence. Big Cain seemed to have a free spirit and still he was a beautiful, disciplined, prize-winning horse. [I] never referred to him as an animal. Inspections were thorough: the appearance of the men, the weapon care and even the horse’s hoofs! Each cavalryman cared for his own horse; grooming, trimming tail and mane.
“Because of [Big Cain’s] celebrity, the Fort Ord Post wanted to spotlight this amazing animal. They thought it would be a great publicity shot to picture Big Cain jumping a jeep, a feat that could possibly physically jeopardize him, yet a feat he gracefully challenged himself to numerous times. I remember the moment on May 2 when that photograph was taken and I remember the feeling of exhilarating pride. That photograph froze for all time my Cain and me in midair above a military jeep.
“The next month our cavalry horses were taken from us by the Coast Guard to continue the mounted coastal patrols. Big Cain, however, went to Stanford University ROTC. He served in the officers training for social and historic events. I was never to see him again and he had been so human to me… .” (W. Schweitzer, unpublished memoirs, 2008)
Walter Schweitzer jumping Big Cain over a jeep at the stables and corral area, Fort Ord, California, 1942. (Source: W.J. Schweitzer Collection)
DAWGGON’ ARMY MULES
Besides field artillery and cavalry, the Army’s third employment of equids (principally mules) was as pack animals in the quartermaster supply trains. According to Krenzelok, the 68th Quartermaster Corps Pack Troop was stationed at Fort Ord circa 1941, departing thence to Australia and the China–Burma–Indian theater in 1943. Krenzelok estimates forty-nine men in the command with around 140 animals. Research indicates a different QMC troop stationed at Fort Ord’s East Garrison in 1943-44, consisting of Negro enlisted soldiers.
A September 1944 article, “Dawggon’ Army Mule!” in the Fort Ord Panorama extols the trooper’s cranky comrade thus:
Many people have the mistaken idea that since this is a fast-moving, mechanized war, the Army would have no use for the mule. True, he’s slow, and if not handled properly he’s stubborn as the devil. But there are two important campaigns that have already been successful that might not have been finished as yet if it weren’t for that Army ancient called the mule. One of those little campaigns was the deal in Italy, where the boys ran into some rugged mountains. Jeeps, trucks and even the footslogging infantryman were stopped. The mule pulled us through in that campaign. In many cases he was the only source of supply for many units. The other case was in Burma where General “Uncle Joe” Stilwell called on the mule to carry supplies and ammunition to the front through what had been called “impossible” jungles and mountains. So don’t write the mule off as washed up yet.
This one single troop in East Garrison will be able to carry plenty of equipment and supplies once they hit a combat zone. With their present supply of animals the can carry an estimated 20 tons— and that’s lots of K rations in anybody’s book. Each mule packs 300 pounds, and they can carry that load all day—up and down hills, over narrow, treacherous trails, and through the sweaty jungle. They’re even known to ford streams too, providing they aren’t too swift. Like one of the guys said, “If you can’t get somewhere, take a mule—you’ll get there.
Fort Ord, 1940. Note northern end of artillery stables row (1), corrals (2), gun parks (3), and first building of SVH (4). (Source: National Archives) 4 1 2 3
THE HORSE DOCTORS
From 1940 through 1942, 1,450 stalls and twelve horse hospitals were added to the Army veterinary system. Fort Ord’s station veterinary hospital (SVH) was one of the biggest. Completed in January 1941, the complex included a clinic building with hitching rails and stocks to keep the patient still; a colic building, padded to prevent injury due to thrashing; two wards of thirty stalls each; a surgery with operating table, dressing floor, laboratory, and dispensary; and (what may be unique on Fort Ord) a 3⁄4-size barracks to accommodate forty-five veterinary staff.
The doors of the station veterinary hospital were opened by a platoon of the 1st Veterinary Company, attached to the 1st Medical Regiment (which opened the post’s station hospital one street over). With hundreds of patients to inoculate, worm, dip, float, treat, and operate on, the SVH staff’s duties were 90% horse care, 10% small animal and food inspection. By 1945, these figures were reversed for the veterinary corps as a whole. Fort Ord’s SVH was converted to a small-animal clinic in 1946, with Cpt. Charles Elia in charge. In an interview with Greg Krenzelok, General Elia (ret.) recalls that the wards were not used for horses in 1946–1948; this datum is helpful in establishing when horses were no longer present in significant numbers.
OTHER KNOWN HOOFPRINTS
a. The Fort Ord Military Police Rangers patrolled on horseback in 1943 for “strange boats, people who have no business on the beaches, and objects that drift ashore from the bay.” b. A blurb in the Fort Ord Panorama, September 1951, notes that Fort Ord Riding Stables (at the station veterinary hospital) had twelve horses available for pleasure riding. c.The Aggressor Forces at Fort Ord trained in tactical exercises on horseback in 1951.
Top of page: Fort Ord corrals, facing north, c. 1941. Horses received daily turnout. Note stables, support shops, and covered hay to west; mark twin water-towers location here and in photo below. (Source: 1941 Fort Ord Yearbook, 17th Infantry, 7th Division) Right: An impressive lineup—the twenty-one stables of the 76 Field Artillery, 4th Avenue, running north to 8th Street, c. 1941. Between each stables was a picket line for tethering horses while harnessing, saddling, and grooming. (Source: DLIFLC and POM Archives)
Fort Ord’s World War II warhorse construction has been hidden in plain sight for seventy years—its vivid origins with the horse-drawn field artillery, mounted cavalry, quartermaster pack trains, and Army Veterinary Corps long forgotten.
Displaying all the assets Army horses require to live and do their job, this de facto historical district testifies of the turning point before which it was assumed that horses were vital to military tactics and operations and after which a deep and ancient mutual reliance was abruptly sundered. In the face of mechanization and modern battle conditions, the American trooper was dismounted and his partner taken away. The quickly built, quickly abandoned warhorse facilities at Fort Ord capture the final phase in the evolution of horse-reliant warfare: its decisive rejection by the U.S. Army after 1942.
On the close of Fort Ord, the City of Marina inherited the complete, intact SVH—the sole survivor, according to Krenzelok’s research, of the dozen built during mobilization—as part of what is now the Marina Equestrian Center Park, located at 5th/California Avenue and 9th Street. This historic site was deeded by the National Park Service to the City of Marina in 1998 as part of a 35-acre transfer for the creation of a multiuse, horse-oriented city park. A proposed living history museum to interpret Fort Ord’s warhorse and veterinary history, enriched by cavalry, field artillery, quartermaster, and veterinary events, will enhance public usage of the park and attract visitors to Marina.
Twelve cavalry stables with blacksmith shops still stand along Gen. Jim Moore Blvd (aka 4th Avenue). Now owned by California State Monterey Bay, they are currently slated for demolition; but the preservation of key structures would make possible such uses as housing artifacts of the era, potentially including horse-drawn caissons for service in military funerals at the future Central Coast Veteran’s Cemetery.
Out on old Fort Ord recreational land, the 11th Cavalry’s pre-World War II watering troughs line the grave of Comanche, Fort Ord’s last ceremonial warhorse, who was buried with honors in 1993. A three-mile route, the Sgt. Allan MacDonald Cavalry Trail, connects the warhorse stables and SVH with Comanche’s Grave and 82 miles of trekking beyond. Sgt. Allan MacDonald, the trail’s namesake, was Comanche’s owner. Joining the 5th Horse Cavalry in 1938, Mr. MacDonald was stable sergeant for General Douglas MacArthur in occupied Tokyo and worked and rode on Fort Ord after retirement in 1965. At 87, Mr. MacDonald now rides Comanche II and obligingly dons his uniform for Marina celebrations—displaying a chestful of medals including two Purple Hearts (Admiralty Islands and Korea) and a Bronze Star for action in the Admiralty Islands.
Thanks to Greg Krenzelok for his punctilious research, impelled by love of a rich history and respect for what remains. Much of the documentation underlying Krenzelok’s findings was gleaned at the Defense Language Institute, Presidio of Monterey, archives at the Chamberlin Library in Seaside, California. The Army performs an invaluable service in making this resource, including the indispensible Fort Ord Panorama newspaper archives, available to the public. Research was also conducted in person at the National Archives in Washington, D.C.
The advisory support of Cameron Binkley, Deputy Command Historian, Presidio of Monterey, is cited by Krenzelok as instrumental in the success of the project.
Special gratitude must be expressed for the testimony of the “old troopers” found and interviewed by Krenzelok—Lt. Lee Stickler, Sgt. Ralph B. Lawson, Sgt. James T. Horrocks, and Pvt. Teddy L. Nielson of the 76th Field Artillery (Horse Drawn); Cpl. Walter Schweitzer, 107th Cavalry (Horse–Mechanized); Sgt. Allan MacDonald, 5th Cavalry (Mounted); and Gen. Charles Elia, Army Veterinary Corps. They flooded the dusty records with color and life, in yet one more service to us all.
FRIENDS OF THE FORT ORD WARHORSE
Friends of the Fort Ord Warhorse (FFOW) is a grassroots community group whose members recognize the importance of preserving the history of the U.S. Army mounted cavalry, quartermaster pack trains, horse-drawn artillery, and veterinary corps at Fort Ord. FFOW seeks to create a history museum where history was made, combining relevant buildings in the warhorse historical district with interpretive events and exhibits for the visitor.
FFOW includes representatives from commemorative cavalry, artillery, and veterinary groups, historical societies, citizens for recreation and cultural enrichment, and local stakeholders who appreciate the value of attracting tourists to Marina. The goal is to form a nonprofit corporation and commence fundraising, while garnering broad-based community support.
To contact the Friends or schedule a tour, email firstname.lastname@example.org or visit our Facebook page. Donations may be made c/o Steinbeck Country Equine Clinic, 15881 Toro Hills Ave, Salinas, CA 93908
May 2011: “A TRAGIC LOST OF HISTORY AT FORT ORD, CALIFORNIA” just after Memorial Day the last complete example of our country’s end of the U.S. Army Warhorse which were still being used at the beginning of World War II. The Series 700 temporary type buildings: artillery, cavalry stables along with their blacksmith shops are being demolished on the California State University at Monterey Bay Campus, California. Leaving only the Fort Ord Station Veterinary Horse Hospital the only buildings remaining to testify of the memory of the “Fort Ord Horse Soldiers” that were there from 1940 to 1942. This action ends a two year long battle for their recognition and preservation.
U.S. Army Veterinary Corps Preservation Group
Words cannot express what is in my heart at seeing and walking the grounds of where the Fort Ord Field Artillery and Cavalry stables once stood.
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FORT ORD U.S. ARMY STATION VETERINARY HOSPITAL (HORSE) WW2
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Fort Ord U.S. Army Station Veterinary Hospital (Horse) WW2
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11TH CAVALRY PRESIDIO OF MONTEREY, 1919 TO 1940
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11th Cavalry Presidio of Monterey, 1919 to 1940
76TH FIELD ARTILLERY REGIMENT PRESIDIO OF MONTEREY, 1922 TO 1940
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76th Field Artillery Regiment, 2nd Battalion
THE ARMY VETERINARY SERVICE DURING THE GREAT WAR, WW1
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The Army Veterinary Service During the Great War, WW1
SERGEANT LEONARD MURPHY VETERINARY HOSPITAL NO. 18, A.E.F., WW1
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Sergeant Leonard Murphy Veterinary Hospital No. 18, A.E.F., WW1
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U.S. Army Veterinary Corps Historical Preservation Group is a group of individuals that are concerned about the preservation of the History of the Veterinary Corps, Remount Service and Cavalry or wherever our country’s history is being lost in conjunction with our beloved “Horse and Mule”. There is no cost to join and membership is for life. We believe by uniting together in numbers we will be a more powerful force to be heard. Our membership list is private and only used to contact our members. Email us and become a member.
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