Defending the Border
January 1, 1993
In the summer of 1940, the United States began preparations for war. President Franklin D. Roosevelt demonstrated America’s increasing concern over world events by announcing that the United States would extend military aid to all countries resisting aggression, and, simultaneously, would make itself strong enough to meet any threat to its own security. As part of the nation’s overall defense plans, the army was assigned the task of safeguarding the continental United States against invasion. Preparations focused on protecting the country against naval bombardment, air raids, and an assault by ground forces. The army also coordinated civil defense plans, and guarded vital non-military installations—public works and utilities—whose continued operation was essential to the war effort.
Identifying San Diego as particularly important because of its strategic location, numerous military installations, and rapidly expanding war-related industries, the army decided to deploy the cavalry along the United States-Mexico border. The troops were stationed at Camp Lockett in Campo, sixty miles southeast of San Diego. Completed in December 1941, Lockett’s construction transformed this small tranquil border town into a bustling military post. There, first white and later black soldiers guarded the region’s communications and transportation links that were vital to San Diego and also prepared to stop an invasion that military strategists feared might come through Mexico.
The black soldiers faced an added dimension to their service in San Diego’s back country—the harsh reality of institutionalized segregation. The history of Camp Lockett in Campo, the last cavalry base built in the United States, encompasses two stories—the defense of the border and how the army struggled internally with the issue of race relations. From 1941 to 1944, the troops at Lockett patrolled the border from the Otay Lakes area, north and east of Chula Vista, to El Centro in the Imperial Valley. They also protected San Diego’s water supplies, and provided security for the railroad that served as the city’s only direct link to the manufacturing centers in the eastern part of the country.
Beginning ins 1941, until it was reassigned to North Africa in June of 1942, the 11th Cavalry Regiment performed these tasks. The 11th was almost immediately replaced at Lockett by the 4th Cavalry Brigade, made up of two regiments of African-American soldiers—the 10th and the 28th. The deployment of thousands of black soldiers, at a time when racial intolerance was the rule rather than the exception, presented numerous logistical and social problems for the army. At the height of the camp’s activation, approximately 3,500 horse soldiers and hundreds of civilian support personnel occupied Lockett. The camp would eventually expand to more than 500 buildings and cover nearly 7,000 acres.
Several factors influenced the army’s decision to construct a military facility in Campo. It was the port of entry from Mexico for the San Diego-Arizona Eastern Railroad, which served as the only direct eastwest line connecting San Diego with the rest of the country. The possibility of sabotage necessitated the stationing of troops at various tunnels and trestles along the border. In addition, Campo was near Morena and Barrett dams, at that time providing essential supplies of drinking water for San Diego’s growing population. The troops also provided security for electric transformers and relay stations. And probably the key reason was Campo’s proximity to the international border— approximately one mile. In the event of an enemy invasion through Mexico, the cavalry could act as a first line of defense until reinforcements were brought in. The army argued that if the country was invaded by Japan, the enemy might land an invasion force in Baja California, move north and attack the United States through the interior.
There can be little doubt that Camp Lockett was strategically important to the nation’s overall defense plans. In addition, the horse soldiers stationed there played a significant role in protecting resources vital to San Diego’s war effort.
In the midsummer of 1940, the army dispatched Lt. Gen. John L. DeWitt to Campo with orders to conduct a preliminary survey and report on the feasibility of locating a military facility in the area.1 As the commanding officer of the 9th Corps Area headquarters in San Francisco, the general was responsible for the camp’s construction.2
The army was interested initially in 702 acres of land in Campo. Of this, Ellsworth Statler—heir to the Statler-Hilton Hotels—owned about 510 acres. Most of the remaining property was located on a ranch owned and operated by local residents F.J. and Isabell Ferguson.3 At that time, Statler was the principal property holder in Campo, controlling nearly 1,600 acres including most of the town.4 Statler’s buildings played an essential role in the camp?s early development because the structures were used to house employees of the architect-engineer and the constructing quartermaster. The workers took over the entire downtown area, which consisted of a two-story house, probably the old mansion built by the early pioneer Gaskill Brothers, and “four cottages and an old hotel.” Several additional buildings were later constructed in the area.5
Water became an important issue in the early planning stages of the camp. To meet its needs, the army petitioned the San Diego City Council for permission to utilize Morena Reservoir located approximately six miles northwest of Campo. On 5 October 1940, the city council approved the application on the condition that the “expense of installing and operating the necessary pipeline, meter, pumps, and treatment facilities shall be borne by the government which is to pay the same rate for the water as do other agencies.”6
The army and the city were both pleased with the agreement. Upon completion of the pipeline between Morena and Campo, the military’s water problems would be solved, and the city would benefit because the army would provide “valuable protection” to the reservoir.7
On 11 October 1940, the army announced that the men and officers of the 11th United States Cavalry stationed at the Presidio at Monterey would be assigned to new camps at Seeley, California, in the Imperial Valley and at Lake Morena five miles northwest of Campo. Both camps were intended as temporary facilities until construction of Camp Lockett8 was completed.9
The 11th Cavalry was first organized at Fort Myer, Virginia on 11 March 1901. The regiment’s early service record includes campaigns in the Philippines, Cuba, and—in response to Pancho Villa’s raid on Columbus, New Mexico in March of 1916—the 11th joined General Pershing’s punitive expedition into Mexico. On 19 July 1919, the regiment moved to Monterey, California.10
On 15 November 1940, 450 officers and men of the 11th Cavalry, accompanied by 730 horses, began the move from Monterey to Seeley and Morena.11 All the troops traveled by train with part of the regiment disembarking at the Seeley station with the remainder of the troops getting off at the depot in Campo.12
By the end of November, the temporary tent camps had taken form. According to an eyewitness account, the camps resembled a “sea of tents with an orderly tent at the end of each two rows. Constructed on wooden platforms, the sides of the tents could be rolled up to allow for better air circulation. Six men were assigned to each tent.”13
On 26 November 1940, the Los Angeles Times printed a story about the camp at Morena, and the army’s decision to use the cavalry to protect the border and provide security for San Diego’s reservoirs. “Mechanized Army Still Relies On Horses: Cavalry Squadron Will Be Brought To Full Strength for Patrol of Dams,”14 the paper announced in bold headlines. On the same day a feature story in the Tribune-Sun said that “eastern San Diego county may well be a battle ground for a full scale invasion of the United States should the western hemisphere be violated via Mexico.”15
The decision to deploy horse soldiers instead of mechanized units along the border was made—in part—because of the extremely rugged terrain. Soldiers on horseback could patrol the hills and gorges, places inaccessible even to jeeps. As the newspaper put it, “Along the Mexican border and in the areas surrounding the dams impounding San Diego county’s water supply system, the cavalry—the horse cavalry—is the only army unit able to function effectively in a period of national emergency.”16
Initially, the camp at Morena consisted of the 11th Cavalry’s Second Squadron, a complement of approximately 250 soldiers. But with the possibility of war, the squadron was bolstered with the addition of a third troop.17
While at Morena, the squadron quickly assumed its duties. On horseback or—in some cases—with lightly armored jeeps18, the troops scouted the areas along the Mexican border. Reconnaissance missions were also mounted, primarily to determine the possible routes the enemy might use through the canyons and mountain passes.19
For example, on 26 August 1941 1st Lt. James D. Green led a reconnaissance mission of the Otay Lakes area near Dulzura. In his report dated 12 September 1941 Green wrote,
The defense of this locality is complicated by gently rolling hills to the west which afford easy travel for mechanized forces Infantry or Cavalry. The defense must be strong and reinforced by .50 Calaber [sic] Machine Guns for Anti-tank protection as well as by motors and H.M.G.’s [heavy machine guns].20
Green also recommended that in the event of an enerny attack, the bridge just north of Highway 94 and Otay Lake Road be destroyed and that American troops take up positions on the south side of the lake.21
The squadron stationed at Seeley performed similar duties along the border. Due to the intense desert heat throughout most of the year, the men operated on a “tropical schedule,” which meant that often the missions were carried out in the very early morning beginning at 4:00 A.M.. According to Col. Harold M. Rayner, the 11th’s commanding officer, “The afternoons [were] devoted to swimming instruction, parades, and the well known border siesta(s).”22
In addition to reconnaissance missions, war games—at least on paperwere played against Mexican troops.23 Various scenarios were envisioned in which the 11th was charged with defending the border. For example, in one conflict, two thousand Mexican troops crossed into the United States and took up positions along Highway 80 between Ocotillo and El Centro. The l1th had to stop the enemy from advancing any further north.24
By far, the biggest training operation occurred on 21 July at 6:00 P.M., when the l1th Cavalry set out on a march from Seeley to Live Oak Springs, approximately ten miles east of Campo. Describing the 11th’s departure from Seeley, Capt. H. J. Rosenberg noted:
The evening sun, still merciless at 6:00 P.M., shone on the burnished surfaces of six scout cars bristling with machine guns, on 684 mounted men armed with pistols and rifles, on thirty officers, on three cyclists armed with sub-machine guns, on pack horses bearing machine guns, mortars and special weapons, on seventeen trucks, a semi-trailer truck, a sedan, a pick-up, two side cars, and two reconnaissance cars.25
Known as the Live Oak Springs maneuver, the march through the desert and into the mountains was led by Col. Rayner. After reaching Mountain Springs, the regiment made its way through Devils Canyon. According to Rosenberg, the path was so narrow that the “men leading pack horses with short halter shanks had to lean backwards in their saddles.” By noon, the regiment reached Jacumba where it spent a day and a half resting for the final assault on Live Oak Springs.26
By the time the troops arrived at their destination, advance parties had already established “picket lines and kitchen posts.” A mountain stream had been diverted by a series of dams into a water trough for horses.27
Although the squadron’s 40-mile trek from Seeley to Live Oak Springs brought the horse soldiers less than twenty miles from Campo, they would have to return to their desert camp because Lockett was far from completion. In fact, a labor dispute brought construction to a grinding halt.
Because of San Diego’s booming defense industry, nearly all skilled civilian workers at Lockett were imported from Los Angeles. In addition, the lack of adequate housing in Campo forced contractors to pay higher wages. Nevertheless, the government was willing to incur the higher costs because it considered Lockett vital; “emergency construction” was the way officials put it.28
Although the army may have considered the project important, the fact that the United States was not yet at war meant that civilian workers could strike legally. On 23 July 1941, the San Diego Building and Trade Council argued that the men working in Campo were entitled to “free room and board in addition to [their] daily or hourly wages.” Over the next three weeks, threats were made to “interfere with the progress and the construction of the Cantonment and Sewage Disposal Plant.”29
Finally, on 18 August 1941, the workers at Campo went on strike against the George A. Fuller Company, the project’s general contractor.30 According to J.D. Kaufman, the company’s general superintendent, he was surprised by the strike because union and company officials were still in negotiations, and the camp was already about 75 percent complete.31 But at 7:00 A.M. picket lines went up around the construction site, and county deputy sheriffs were called in to maintain order. But the strike was shortlived because on the following day the men returned to work and the dispute was sent to a “board of review” for arbitration.32
Obligated to complete the camp’s construction by 1 December 1941, the Fuller Company—in an attempt to expedite the project—erected its own saw mill and lumber yard near the railroad tracks where materials were precut and delivered by trucks to various sites.33
Some time in September or early October of 1941, the Second Squadron of the 11th Cavalry stationed at Morena was moved into its new home at Camp Lockett in Campo.34 Although the Campo facility was still under construction, it can reasonably be assumed that the barracks and mess halls were ready for occupation. Plans called for the construction of 132 buildings to accommodate 1,568 men and 1,668 horses.35
Over the next eight to ten weeks, construction continued at an intense pace. Administration buildings, stables, and warehouses were routinely completed. The earlier decision to utilize the existing civilian structures in Campo was drastically altered when it became obvious that the buildings were not suitable for their intended use. The army, therefore, authorized additional expenditures for a new post exchange and recreation building. Sometime in early December, the construction of Camp Lockett was completed at a cost of $1,937,619.98.36
According to an 11th Cavalry soldier still stationed at Seeley, December 7th was a “sunny day, and the usual number of officers and enlisted men were on 1-day passes to El Centro and San Diego.” The rest of the troops were busy packing for the move to Lockett when at 12:37 P.M. the camp received a radio message about Pearl Harbor from the 11th Naval District in San Diego.37
Eeeeeeeeeooooooow, went the fire sirens at El Centro, signaling all our men to report back to camp. So did the highway patrols. In less time than it takes to say japs over Honolulu’ the camp was functioning on a wartime basis. The rest of the Sunday passed swiftly. At the request of railroad officials, troops were dispatched to guard strategically important tunnels and bridges. The guards along the Mexican border were “doubled and redoubled.38
Rumors about an impending invasion were circulating throughout the camp. One report said that “a certain coastal section of Mexico not too far from [Seeley) was believed to be the center of Japanese activity.”39 In another report, “Hundreds of Japanese and Axis bombers, long rumored to be in Mexico, had received word to soar from Sonora to San Francisco, dropping their Blitzkriegettes as they flew, and that various Pacific coast cities had already received their share of gas bombings.”40
Throughout the day the squadron at Seeley coordinated defense plans with the troops at Lockett. “Maps containing areas that (the cavalry) was defending according to Defense Plan Number 0 were rushed back from Camp Lockett.41 Other maps were quickly made on improvised drafting tables and rushed to other army headquarters.”42
The tension mounted throughout the day. Radio reports “wipped [the troops] into a fine frenzy of sabotage-suspicions.” The guards at the border were “redoubled,” and San Diego railroad officials asked for “protection of certain strategically located tunnels, bridges, [and] gorges.” By the end of the day “almost every important dam, highway bridge, and railroad bridge” had guards.43
Less than two days later and in keeping with their pre-war schedule, the 11th Cavalry, led by Lt. Col. Frederick Herr, who had replaced Colonel Rayner as commander,44 left Seeley for their new home in Campo on 9 December at 11:05 A.M. The ride out of the desert and into the mountains was a wet one, particularly during the second night. “It came down in sheets, oversize, double bed sheets,” one soldier recalled. “Horses neighed in terror and drenched men talked about taking off their boots and swimming out of the flooded valley.”45
On 10 December at 10:30 P.M., the first column of soldiers reached the gates at Lockett. “The camp was in a blackout. Wet, frightened horses were slowly, inch by inch led into strange, dark stables, tied, unbridled, unsaddled and rubbed.” After spending sixteen hours in the saddle that day and completing a three-day march in two, the men looked forward to spending their first night at Lockett in “real beds under a real roof,” comforts unknown since they had left the presidio in Monterey.46
War brought an abrupt tightening of security procedures throughout the camp, a situation that had an immediate effect on Ben Wyly. As track supervisor for the San Diego-Arizona Railway, Wyly lived in a small house near the Campo Depot within the borders of Camp Lockett. He was in charge of maintaining the line between Campo and El Centro. Using a small motorized car called a speeder, Wyly checked the track every day for vandalism or storm damage.47
For Wyly, the war created new challenges. “Before the war, four trains, two freight and two passenger, passed by each day. But when the war started, there were five and six troop trains every day. There were extra freight trains too. All the equipment was covered, but you could tell they were guns and boats headed for San Diego,” said Wyly.48
When Wyly got the news about the attack on Pearl Harbor, he was ffteen miles east of Campo in Hipass hunting quail and visiting his parents. “After I got back to Lockett, the security was so tight they wouldn’t let me in. I got mad and told the guards that I lived inside and needed to call my boss in San Diego for instructions. After a couple of hours Col. Cheney ( the camp’s commanding officer) called the guards and told them to let me in. After that, they gave me a picture and a plastic holder for identification.”49
Throughout the war, Wyly ferried soldiers by rail to a guard post at tunnel four. One end of the tunnel was in Mexico, and the other was in the United States. Mexican troops guarded their side, and American soldiers protected their territory. “Every day at 3:20 P.M., I brought six men down and six men back from tunnel four.”50
Because of the dramatic increase in the number of trains during the war, Wyly was given permission to employ soldiers as track laborers. But according to Wyly, the soldiers were more trouble than they were worth.
The men worked mostly weekends when they were off duty. They got paid straight time on Saturdays and time and a half on Sundays. I had to pay every one who showed up. On Saturdays there might be two or three men, but on Sundays there were more than fifty. They weren’t any good at laying track, so I’d try to hide from them by reporting the wrong place for them to meet me at. If they could find me though, I’d have to pay them.51
As it became apparent in the days following Pearl Harbor that a Japanese invasion was not imminent, security on the west coast relaxed. By the third week in December, as the strength and location of Japanese forces became known, fears of an attack subsided.52 Although troops continued to regularly patrol the border and guard the dams, bridges, and power transformers, life at Lockett quickly became more routine, less intense than those first few days of war.
Training exercises and special events—for example, riding and shooting competitions between troops—were common. Soldiers received day and weekend passes for bus trips to San Diego and Los Angeles. And, as at any large army post, prostitution flourished.
The army had a negative view of prostitution, stemming not from moral grounds but rather from medical concerns. The spread of venereal disease in the military was a national problem. So much so, that in March of 1941, the Committee on Military Affairs in the House of Representatives opened hearings on proposed legislation to prohibit prostitution within a reasonable distance of military establishments.53
At a Washington D.C. press conference in October, the Public Health Service admitted that “some localities were not able to cope with the problem,” and that if the government had its way concerning prostitution around military posts, it would: “examine all prostitutes; place them in a big institution with a big wall around it; exam all customers, and give them prophylactics.”54
From the onset of Lockett’s construction, prostitution was evident. There was at least one house approximately half a mile east of the camp servicing the soldiers and, perhaps, some of the local residents. There were also several small one-room shacks or cribs in the vicinity. Day and night, an almost steady stream of soldiers could be seen walking along the railroad tracks enroute to the well-known establishments.55
After only seven months at Camp Lockett, the 11th Cavalry was transferred to Fort Benning, Georgia, a decision that reflected the army’s need for more motorized and armored units. According to instructions received from headquarters, Southern California Section, Western Defense Command at Pasadena, California, on 24 June 1942, the 11th Cavalry would be relieved of its duties at Lockett by the 4th Cavalry Brigade.56
Just prior to the 11th Cavalry’s departure, Brig. Gen. Thoburn K. Brown and an advance party of the 4th Cavalry Brigade arrived at Camp Lockett.57 In effect, the 4th Cavalry Brigade was to act as the new base unit for the Headquarters Southern Land Frontier Sector (SLFS),58 which moved into Lockett by convoy from Phoenix, Arizona, on 30 June 1942. Sometime in early July, the SLFS was followed by its 4th Cavalry Brigade with the 10th Cavalry Regiment. Moved incrementally aboard trains, they were transferred to Lockett from Camp Funston, Fort Riley, Kansas.59
The 10th Cavalry Regiment was organized as an all-black unit in 1866. In 1861, at the beginning of the American Civil War, free “Negroes” and escaped slaves flocked to enlist in the Union army. They were summarily rejected; in many ways, northern white people were as prejudiced as their southern counterparts. By 1863, however, black soldiers were serving in the Union army, not because of any change of attitude toward blacks but rather from the government’s realization that since many more men were going to die in battle, they might as well be “Negro.” Consequently, black soldiers were organized in segregated units. By the war’s end, 180,000 black men had served in the Union army 33,380 were killed.60 As part of an army experiment, two regiments of black soldiers, the 9th and 10th cavalries, were organized in 1866.61 Because black soldiers were prohibited from rising beyond the rank of sergeant, the regiments were led by white officers. For more than two decades, the 10th was employed to fight the Indians in Texas, Arizona, and New Mexico. They were known as Buffalo Soldiers, a name bestowed on them by their Indian adversaries who found similarities between the troopers’ hair and buffalo fur. The 10th would later play a role in several other campaigns. In 1898, during the Spanish-American War, the 10th fought alongside the First United States Volunteer Cavalry as it charged up Kettle Hill under the leadership of Lt. Col. Theodore Roosevelt. In 1916, the Buffalo Soldiers crossed the border into Mexico as part of the Mexican Punitive Expedition under Gen. John J. Pershing. During World War I the 10th Cavalry, in response to gunfire, again crossed the border and seized territory around Nogales.62
Following World War I, the 10th Cavalry spent the next twelve years performing routine training and garrison duty along the Arizona border. From 1931 to 1941, the regiment was detailed to various posts in Kansas, Virginia, and New York. In 1941, the unit reassembled at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas. The following year, under the command of Col. Waldemar A. Flack, the 10th Cavalry was dispatched to Camp Lockett.63
Finding suitable camps for the stationing of black troops was a problem for the War Department. In stationing black soldiers, the army had to consider the number of white troops at the facility, the proximity of civilian centers capable of providing “separate” facilities for troopers with passes, and the attitude of the nearby civilian community to the presence of black soldiers.
Many communities strongly objected to the stationing of black troops. In 1942, the War Department received numerous complaints from across the country. The people of Mississippi requested that “Negro officers” be stationed outside the state. Rapid City, South Dakota, was concerned that the “town could not offer the proper entertainment facilities for negro troops.” Upon learning that an all-white unit of a coastal artillery station at nearby Fort Mason was being shipped overseas and replaced with an allblack unit, the citizens of Morehead City, North Carolina, asked their congressional representative to intercede. In the spring of 1942, a meeting of southern governors convened at Hot Springs, Arkansas. They offered the army two recommendations:
That no negro military police be used around Southern airports or any where else that might make it necessary for them to direct or control white soldiers and that Southern Negros be kept South and Northern Negros be kept North.64
When the 2nd Cavalry Division—of which the 9th and 10th cavalries (4th Cavalry Brigade) were a part of—became all black, the army decided to break up the brigade by sending the 9th Cavalry to Fort Clark, Texas and the 10th Cavalry to Lockett. As a result both camps had to be significantly expanded to accommodate the troops and horses.65
Since San Diego was the closest urban center to Campo, Lockett offered obvious advantages. With the arrival of both the Southern Land Frontier Sector and the 4th Cavalry Brigade, expansion of Lockett’s facilities was essential. Beginning in 1941 with the camp’s construction, the army continued to acquire more property beyond the 702 acres initially procured. Utilized primarily for staging and maneuvering activities, the army acquired 2,358 acres of public land from the Department of the Interior and 4,047 acres from private landowners. In total, the military controlled over 7,107 acres of land in Campo Valley. The facility extended five miles from east to west and nearly three miles north and south.66
At Lockett, the 10th Cavalry performed the same duties as their predecessors—patrolling the border, guarding the dams, and providing security for the trains. In addition, in late December of 1942, the 10th participated in war games against the 140th Infantry.67 Headquartered during the war in San Diego, the infantry soldiers maneuvered against the cavalry in the mountains at Cuyamaca Rancho State Park.68 According to J. Hal Gambrell, who was a white officer with the 10th, the infantry was no match for the horse soldiers.
The cavalry worked around the hills keeping out , of sight and spotted some infantrymen in an open field. The cavalry worked its way down through the forest, spread out in a line, drew pistols and charged. Needless to say a rout ensued with several hundred horses baring down on the infantry and all pandemonium broke loose. The cavalry camped for the night and the following morning made a forced march of 44 miles back to Camp Lockett.69
Back in the fall of 1942, the army decided to bring the 4th Brigade to full wartime strength by locating a second black regiment, the 28th Cavalry, at Lockett.70 In response, construction crews were called on again to build new roads and install utilities west of the original camp on leased property owned by the Leach and Ortega families.71 The lease agreement between the army and local residents, initially signed on 15 October 1942, permitted the government to renew the contract every year until six months following the end of the war.72
To accommodate the increase of personnel stationed at Lockett, the army had new barracks, warehouses, mess halls, and stables quickly erected. Many of the same contractors involved in the initial phases of construction performed the work. They also built a new stockade in anticipation of the expected increase in disciplinary problems, a direct correlation to the greater number of troops.73
To further consolidate its control over Camp Lockett, the army persuaded the San Diego County Board of Supervisors to relinquish control of County Road 767, which connected Highway 94 with the Mexican border. According to a newspaper, the county agreed to vacate the road because “the surrounding property has been purchased by the government.” Of particular interest, the army made public its long-range intention “that Camp Lockett will be maintained as a permanent post after victory.”74
Even though the army acquired control of the road, William H. Woolman, deputy collector of customs, announced that the customs house in Campo would continue to operate. Woolman declared that “it is possible that a new vehicular traffic route will have to be opened from the customs station to Jacumba, but this necessarily will be a post-war project.” For the time being, the road connecting Campo to Mexico was permanently closed. Approximately twelve miles west of Campo, Tecate was now the closest border crossing.75
In order to bring the 4th Brigade to full strength, the 28th Cavalry was activated at Camp Lockett on 25 February 1943.76 Under the command of Col. Edwin M. Burnett, the 28th Cavalry
secured its manpower primarily from eastern and midwestern reception centers. 300 men [came] from the 2nd Service Command: New Jersey, Delaware, and New York. 170 men were received from the 3rd Service Command: Pennsylvania, Maryland, and Virginia. 600 men were received from the 5th Service Command: Ohio, West Virginia, Indiana, and Kentucky. 327 men were received from the 6th Service Command: Illinois, Michigan, and Wisconsin. The colonel greeted his new troops on 26 March 1943, and their basic training started on the 29th of March.77
To provide the troops with mounts, Colonel Burnett personally picked 369 horses from Fort Bliss, Texas. An additional 1,080 horses came from the Remount Station at Fort Robinson, Texas.78
The cadre79 for the new regiment came from the 10th Cavalry.80 Presumably, the more experienced and better trained men who came over from the 10th would be able to help the new recruits coming in from the induction centers.
But cadres for new African-American units often created problems because there were not enough well-trained black soldiers to meet the army’s needs. Before the country began mobilizing for war, only four regular all black regiments—two cavalry and two infantry—existed. Despite the fact that the regular units were supposed to be comprised of older well-disciplined troops, these regiments were in need of training themselves. Although the 10th Cavalry was classed as a combat regiment, the soldiers in the unit were actually used as service troops at various posts throughout the country. Consequently, the regiment was not well trained and ill-equipped to give up its best men.81
In turn the newly formed units often complained that the cadres could not meet their needs because there were too few, and they were not as well trained as could be expected. As a result, the “life-blood” of the old regiments was being drained, and both the new and the old units received inadequate training.82
This situation was exacerbated at Lockett because there was a break down in the chain of command, and racism appears to be at the root of the problem. According to Charles Barrett, who was a white officer with the 28th Cavalry, there were significant problems with training the new regiment at Lockett. ‘There were some black agitators, and they were turning the privates against the (10th’s black) noncommissioned officers.” Barrett said that the agitators were telling the new recruits not to listen to the black sergeants, “Col. Burnett83 wasn’t doing anything about it; he wasn’t standing behind the cadre.” Barrett said the Colonel undermined the cadre from the 10th because “Burnett didn’t care if the new recruits listened to the the (black) cadre as long as they were following orders from the (white) officers.”84
The problems between the cadre and the enlisted men in the 28th may have stemmed—in part—from the fact that most of the new recruits who had made it through high school were better educated than many of the old-timers who had little formal education.85 According to David Allen who served with the 10th Cavalry and—until recently—was the historian for the Ninth and Tenth Cavalry Association, problems in command also occurred because some white officers resented the fact that they were attached to black units. “They felt that being in a black regiment might hamper their careers,” said Allen.86
Although there were only about 300 white soldiers87 stationed at Lockett compared to approximately 3,500 black troops, segregation was strictly enforced, particularly when it came to leisure activities. Although blacks and whites went to the same movie house on the base, there was separate seating. At the post hospital, white soldiers—regardless of their rank—were assigned to private rooms separated from the black troops. There was a hospitality house on the base for visiting girlfriends or wives, but it was for whites only.88
Some of the black women who visited the troops stayed on the nearby Campo Indian Reservation while others stayed in an improvised house just off the base. According to Fred Jones, who was a corporal with the 28th Cavalry, “the house was built by black soldiers and made of discarded bulldozer crates. We tied them together, and the wives wall-papered the inside and put up curtains.”89
Off the base, the same rules of behavior applied. “We always hung out in the negro section of San Diego. We never thought about going anywhere else in the city. The U.S.O. was off limits to us,” said Jones who also remembered how difficult transportation was to come by. “We tried to hitch a ride at the gate, and sometimes an army truck would take us to town,” But coming back to the base was a bigger problem for the black soldiers because “We weren’t allowed in the same [train] cars as the whites, so we’d congregate at the depot in San Diego until there were enough of us, and they’d [railroad officials] put a separate car on the end of the train for us.”90
Jones said that the men seldom, if ever, attempted to frequent bars or restaurants in the Campo area. “You just knew not to go into places you weren’t welcome.”91 Consequently, the whites living in the small towns that dot the back country had very little contact with the black soldiers. In one rare documented case, a group of black soldiers were refused service at a restaurant in Jacumba approximately thirty miles east of Lockett. According to Liz Svensson, an Alpine resident who witnessed the event:
I was driving on Old Highway 80 from El Centro to San Diego. I stopped in Jacumba at a small restaurant for a cup of coffee. While I was there a group of men [black soldiers] came in for coffee, and they were refused service because of their color. Their sergeant told the man behind the counter who these men were, and where they were stationed [Camp Lockett]. He asked him to serve them. The answer was that the coffee would be a $1.50 each, and he [counter man] would break the cups when they had finished.92
The 28th Cavalry had its first dismounted regimental retreat parade on 21 May 1943. With the Drum and Bugle Corps providing the field music, Col. Edward J. Drinkert, executive officer of the 28th, reviewed the troops. During basic training, a regimental field day was organized on 11 June 1943. The program consisted of ten events, including baseball, volleyball, track events, platoon drills, and obstacle races. The victor was Weapons Troop, which scored forty-three points out of a possible hundred. Second was Troop C with thirty-five.93
The 28th Cavalry finished basic training at Lockett on 26 June 1943. After passing an inspection by a team from the 4th Cavalry Brigade, the regiment was allowed to proceed with the 10th Cavalry. On Saturday, 24 July 1943, Brigadier General Brown called for a full mounted review of the troops.94 This was the first mounted review for the 28th Cavalry. It was also the first time that the brigade had acted as single unit. Reportedly, the review was a success.95
Although the troops received extensive training in the art of soldiering, they were not prepared for fighting fires, a job they were often called upon to perform. According to Col. William L. Hastie, who was stationed with the 10th Cavalry at Lockett as a second lieutenant, “God knows most of us didn’t love fighting fires, [but] we often found ourselves doing it on weekends when we had other things we would rather do.”96
In September and October of 1943, four major fires ravaged 25,100 acres of the back country. On 9 September, the Indian Creek Fire destroyed 4,100 acres. On 22 September, two fires erupted; the Potrero fire burned 4,000 acres, the Viejas fire 1,000 acres. The biggest and most devastating fire began on 2 October. Known as the Barrett-Cottonwood-Morena Fire, it destroyed 16,000 acres over a five-day period.97
Troops from Lockett were called on to fight the fire. In addition, marines from a small training facility in Pine Valley were trucked in. While fighting the blaze in Hauser Canyon several miles northwest of Campo, five of the marines burned to death when they were overtaken by the fast-moving fire.98 The following day on October 3, Cpl. Lawrence Carter was also killed by the fire in Hauser Canyon. According to Hastie, Carter became separated from the main body of soldiers fighting the fire. When the corporal found himself surrounded by the fire, he attempted to escape by running up a hill. He was unable to outrun the blaze.99
In January of 1944, the 10th Cavalry’s commanding officer, Colonel Falck, was replaced by Col. Henry C. Hine, Jr.100 Before he left Lockett, Colonel Falck issued a memorandum to: “All Units, 10th Cavalry.” The one page letter, “published for the information of all ranks,” was an attempt by the colonel to reassure his men. In his remarks, the colonel expressed disappointment that the regiment would probably never be called on to fight as a single unit. He told the troops that he hoped that the regiment would be given an opportunity to “play an effective part before the war is over.” But added that ‘The object and destiny of this unit is still doubtful.” Nevertheless he exhorted the troops to continue to take pride in their work. “This is your Regiment and it’s a good one.”101
In 1943 the deployment of African-American troops to overseas posts became an acute problem for the army. Most theater commanders refused to take black troops, although in some areas there were clear shortages of combat troops. As a result, the percentage of black soldiers overseas was “considerably less than proportionate to their over-all strength in the army.”102
The differences in the rate of deployment of black and white troops in overseas operations produced outrage in the “negro” press. The Crisis, a black journal, argued that “There has been considerable talk that our men were not being trained to fight.” It believed that the army was only going through the motions, and that when the time came, black units would never be used in combat.103
Regarding the two black regiments at Lockett, the press was right because the army decided to convert the 2nd Cavalry Division, of which the 4th Cavalry Brigade was a part, into service units. This decision came in spite of the fact that the army considered the division “disciplined and enthusiastic”—combat ready.104 Jones remembered the disappointment many of the men experienced. “When we left Lockett, we thought that we were being shipped overseas to fight. None of the men—maybe with the exception of the older troopers—thought we would be put into service units.”105
With the war confined to the European and the Pacific theaters, the Southern Land Frontier Sector had already been deactivated at Lockett. On 10 February 1944, the 28th Cavalry departed Lockett aboard three trains headed east for Camp Patrick Henry, Virginia.106
The following day, the 10th Cavalry left Lockett. By March, both units were in Algeria.107
When they broke up the regiment some of the men “cried,” said Jones.108 According to Barrett, “The army was not being honest with these men, and the decision was just poor judgment on their (army’s) part. They should have found a way to integrate them from the very beginning.”109
Officially, the army denied that its decision to break up the regiments was racially motivated. But according to Judge William H. Hastie,110 appointed by the Secretary of War as a liaison between black civilians and the military. ‘The truth of the matter is that these original combat units have been the problem children of the army for more then two years, not because they were incompetent, but because no one wanted them.”111
Reflecting on his final days at Lockett, Lt. James H. Willis expressed what many of the cavalrymen must have felt, regardless of their race or rank: “In preparation for the move, the horses were turned over to caretakers and we lost our identities as cavalrymen.”112 Perhaps more important was the fact that the era of the horse soldier had come to an end.
With the cavalry gone, the army placed Lockett into caretaker status, and a small complement of soldiers maintained the facility. Sometime in April 1944, the army decided to redesign Lockett into a Class I facility for eventual use as an army convalescent hospital, the first such Army Services Forces facility in the United States.113 The army announced the establishment of the hospital on 1 August 1944. On 5 August, the facility was named Mitchell Convalescent Hospital in honor of Silas Weir Mitchell, an army surgeon during the Civil War.114 The hospital operated until 1946 when the army closed the facility and returned the property to civilian use.
Camp Lockett is undoubtedly an important and interesting chapter of San Diego’s history for several reasons. Most obvious is the fact that—throughout the war—the cavalry performed its important missions, patrolling the Southern California border and protecting resources vital to San Diego’s war effort. During the months before the United States entered the war, the soldiers scouted the mountains and made defensive plans in the event of a full-scale enemy invasion coming through Mexico. And in those first few tense days after Pearl Harbor, the cavalry made sure that the trains and trucks kept moving, the electric relay stations remained operable, and the city’s fresh water supplies continued flowing.
The history of Camp Lockett is also an important addition to San Diego’s African-American heritage. Like their white counterparts, the black horse soldiers did what was asked of them. But unlike the white soldiers, they were forced to endure numerous obstacles to serving their country. Even so, they performed with distinction. Ironically, coming at a time when Americans were fighting on two fronts to combat racist ideologies, the events at Lockett clearly demonstrate the inherent bigotry within our own military during World War II—no doubt a microcosm of civilian life.
Yet perhaps Lockett’s most enduring legacy is the fact that it was the last horse cavalry base built in the United States, and that the events played out there between 1941 and 1944 represent the end of a long and distinguished era in American history. Machines had taken over. It was time for the horse soldier to dismount, and the final chapter was played out in San Diego’s own backyard.
1. Commissioned Lt. General in December 1939, DeWitt had discretionary authority over military and civilian affairs throughout the western part of the United States.
2. James W. Hinds, “The Camp Lockett Military Reservation: Campo, California” (1985), unpublished manuscript, Mountain Empire Historical Society Collection, Campo, California, 14.
3. War Department Office of the Chief Engineer, “Construction Completed Report,” Cantonment Housing for the 11th United States Cavalry, 11 March 1942, Records Group 77, National Archives, Washington, 4. Also see Camp Lockett Construction Folder, Mountain Empire Historical Society Collection, Campo, California.
4. Hinds, “Camp Lockett,” 4.
5. War Department, “Construction Completed Report,” 6.
6. “Water Allotted to Cavalry Camp,” unidentified newspaper clipping, 6 October 1940, Campo Vertical Folder, San Diego History Center, San Diego, California.
8. The facility was named in honor of Col. James T. Lockett who command thellth Cavalry from 1913-1919 and was twice decorated for gallantry in action during the war in the Philippines. (see) Annual Report, Association of Graduates, Obituary Notice Colonel James T. Lockett, United States Military Academy, 1934, 11th Cavalry Box, Mountain Empire Historical Society, Campo, California.
9. “11th Cavalry On Way To S.D., Valley Camps,” unidentified newspaper clipping, 11th Cavalry Box 3, Mountain Empire Historical Society Collection, Campo, California.
10. Presidio of Monterey: 1938, A Pictorial Record, Park-Harper Company, Little Rock, Arkansas, 38-41. 11th Cavalry Box, Mountain Empire Historical Society Collection, Campo, California.
11. “11th Cavalry On Way To S.D., Valley Camps.” unidentified newspaper clipping.
12. “Rain Greets U.S. Army Regiment 1st Day in I.V.” Imperial Valley Press, El Centro, CA. 1.
13. James W. Hinds, Camp Lockett News, vol. 1, no. 3, September-October 1987, 9, Mountain Empire Historical Society Collection, Campo, California.
14. “Mechanized Army Still Relies On Horses,” Los Angeles Times, 26 November 1940, Part II, no page numbers. 11th Cavalry Folder, 1940-1941, Camp Morena, 11th Cavalry Box, Mountain Empire Historical Society Collection, Campo, California.
15. “Day of Horse Not Past as llth Cavalry Guards Mountainous S.D. Area; Regiment of 250 Concentrated at Morena Lake in Rugged Terrain,” The Tribune-Sun, 26 November 1940, 6:1.
17. “Border Duty for Cavalry,” Los Angeles Times, 26 November 1940, 11th Cavalry Box, Mountain Empire Historical Society Collection, Campo, California.
18. When the terrain was suitable, the regiment used armored jeeps, equipped with twoway radios, one fifty caliber and two thirty caliber machine guns, for reconnaissance missions.
19. Headquarters and Service Troop, 11th Cavalry, “Reconnaissance Report of Otay Lake, California.” 11th Cavalry Special Missions Folder, 11th Cavalry, Box 3, Mountain Empire Historical Society Collection, Campo, California.
22. Col. Harold M. Rayner, Camp Seeley, Imperial, California, To Friends of the 11th Cavalry, S-2 File, History of the 11th Cavalry, Sgt. Harry E. Smith Box, Mountain Empire Historical Society Collection, Campo, California.
23. When asked, local residents say they cannot recall ever seeing war games being played between United States and Mexican troops. Although there are numerous documents detailing such war games, most probably they were played out on paper only.
24. G-2 Estimate of the Enemy Situation, Sgt. Harry E. Smith Box, Mountain Empire Historical Society Collection, Campo, California.
25. Capt. H. J. Rosenberg, “A Rather Rugged Ride,” The Cavalry Journal, September-October 1941, 89.
27. Ibid., 91.
28. War Department, “Construction Completed Report,” 10.
29. Ibid., 8
30. Ibid. 31. “800 Strike, Halt Work on Campo Cavalry Project,” San Diego Union, 18 August 1941, no page number, Camp Lockett Box, Mountain Empire Historical Society Collection, Campo, CA.
32. “Workers Return to U.S. Army job at Campo,” San Diego Union, 20 August 1941, no page number, Camp Lockett Box, Mountain Empire Historical Society Collection, Campo, CA.
34. Lt. Col. James D. Green, Retired, Leesburg, VA, to James W. Hinds, Alpine, California, 8 February 1987, 11th Cavalry Box, Mountain Empire Historical Society Collection, Campo, California.
35. Col. H. M. Rayner, 11th Cavalry, “The 11th’s New Home,” The Cavalry Journal, September-October 1941,94.
36. War Department, “Construction Completed Report,” 7.
37. “The 11th Goes Home: A Diary of Events,” The Cavalry Journal, January-February 1942,99.
41. According to the anonymous author of “The 11th Goes Home: A Diary of Events,” “Col. H.M. Rayner was phoned at 1 P.M. by the 4th Army who ordered that a certain defense plan, one of many previously created for such an emergency, be put into effect. Let’s call it Defense Plan Number 0, since its name can’t be mentioned here.”
42. Ibid., 99.
44. While at Seeley, Colonel Rayner became ill and was replaced by Colonel Herr.
45. “The 11th Goes Home,” 101.
47. Meredith Vezina, “Ben Wyly,” San Diego Union, 21 March 1993, 131.
52. Stetson Conn, Rose C. Engelmen, Byron Fairchild, United States Army in World War II: Western Hemisphere, Guarding the United States and Its Outpost (Washington D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1964), p 84
53. Congress, House, Committee on Military Affairs, To Prohibit Prostitution Within Reasonable Distance of Military and Naval Establishments: Hearing Before the Committee on Military Affairs, 77th Congress, H. R. 2475, 11, 12, 18 March 1941 (Washington, D.C.: GPO, 1941), 3-11.
54. “Vice Segregation at Army: Camp Wins Official Nod,” Imperial Valley Press, El Centro, CA. 24 October 1941, 6:5-7.
55. Wyly Interview, 26 March 1986, Mountain Empire Historical Society Collection, Campo, California.
56. Col. Charles E. Fife AUS (Ret.), Fountain Valley, California, To James W. Hinds, Alpine, California, 4, Mountain Empire Historical Society Collection, l1th Cavalry Box, Col. Fife serves as the 11th Cavalry’s S-3-Air Officer.
57. Col. Charles E. Fife, AUS (Ret.), Fountain Valley, California to James Hinds, Alpine, California, 8 November 1987, 5, Mountain Empire Historical Society Collection, 10th Cavalry Box,Campo, California.
58. On 17 March 1941, the War Department directed that the continental United States be divided into four strategic areas (northeast, central, southern, and western) to be called defense commands. These commands were composed primarily of administrative personnel responsible for planning the defense of their areas. The SLFS was charged with administering southern Arizona and southern California.
59. Fife to Hinds, 8 November 1987, 5.
60. William H. Leckie, The Buffalo Soldiers: A Narrative of the Negro Cavalry in the West (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1967), 3-5.
61. Ibid., 6-7.
62. Col. H. B. Wharfield, USAF, (Ret.), Tenth Cavalry and Border Fights (El Cajon, CA: n.p., 1965), 85-97.
63. Ibid., 98-101.
64. Ulysses Lee, The Employment of Negro Troops: The United States Army in World War II, Special Studies (Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1966), 100-106
65. Ibid., 106
66. Lands Division, Office of the Judge Advocate General, Final Projects Map, Real Estate, Camp Lockett Cantonment Area, Record Group 153, National Archives Washington,
D.C., 27 April 1944.
67. It is unclear whether or not the entire infantry regiment participated in the exercise.
68. J. Hal Gambrell to James Hinds, 3 November 1989, Box titled Military Research, General Correspondence, Mountain Empire Historical Society Collection, 10th Cavalry Box, Campo, CA.
70. James Hinds, “Me 28th Cavalry,” Camp Lockett News 2, no 1 (January-February 1988): 1.
71. War Assets Administration, Supplemental Agreement No. 2, Lease No. W-3460-Eng-565 Camp Lockett Box, Leases and Quit Claim Deed, Mountain Empire Historical Society Collection, Campo, California.
72 James Hinds, “Camp Lockett,” Camp Lockett News 2, no.5 (January-February 1988): 1.
74, “Vacating of 2-Mile Highway,” unidentified newspaper clipping, June 1943, Campo Vertical File, San Diego History Center, San Diego, California.
76 This word signifies that the 28th Cavalry was a new regiment first formed at Camp Lockett, as opposed to the 10th Cavalry which came to Campo as a unit.
77. Hinds, “The 28th Cavalry,” 2.
78. Col. Sidney L. Loveless, USAR (Ret.), “History of the Twenty-Eighth Cavalry Regiment,” from his World War II diary, 28th Cavalry Box, Mountain Empire Historical Society Collection, Campo, California.
79. A cadre is a “parent group” of more experienced soldiers taken from another unit to form the core of a new unit.
80. Phone conversation between author and David Allen, Wichita, Kansas, 21 February 1993. Allen was a master sergeant with the 28th Cavalry.
81. Lee, Employment of Negro Troops, 107-108
82. Ibid., 107.
83. Col. Edward M. Burnett was 47 years old when he assumed command of the 28th Cavalry Regiment at Lockett in 1943.
84. Phone conversation between the author and Charles Barett, Los Angeles, CA, 21 February 1993.
85. Phone conversation between the author and Fred Jones, Los Angeles, CA 1 March 1993. Fred Jones was a corporal with the 28th Cavalry.
86. Phone conversation between author and David Allen, 21 February 1993
87. This numerical figure of the white personnel at Lockett was arrived at by calculating the number of troops with the Southern Land Frontier Sector, 70 enlisted and 11 staff officers; 63 officers with the 28th Cavalry and 63 officers with the 10th Cavalry; and 72 service command units.
88. Phone conversation between the author and Leroy Higdon, New Florence, Missouri, 21 February 1993.
89. Phone conversation between author and Fred Jones, 1 March 1993
92. Liz Svensson, Alpine California to The Mountain Empire Historical Society, Campo CA, 20 August 1990, 10th Cavalry Box, Mountain Empire Historical Society, Campo, CA.
93. Loveless, “History of the Twenty-Eighth Cavalry Regiment.”
94. Full mounted reviews were conducted in a large open field located between Highway 94 and the track of the San Diego-Arizona Railway.
95. Loveless, “History of the Twenty-Eighth Cavalry Regiment.”
96. Col. William L. Hastie, USAR, Pismo Beach, California to James Hinds, Alpine, California, 13 June 1987, 5, Mountain Empire Historical Society Collection, 10th Cavalry Box, Campo, California.
97. San Diego Union, 7 October 1943, sec. B, p. 1.
98. San Diego Union, 5 October 1943, 1-2.
99. Col. William L. Hastie to Jim Hinds, 13 June 1987, 10 Cavalry Box, Mountain Empire Historical Society Collection, Campo, CA.
100. Hinds, “10th Cavalry,” 6.
101. Col. Falck to All Units 10th Cavalry, 18 December 1943, 10th Cavalry Box, Mountain Empire Historical Society, Campo, CA.
102. Lee, The Employment of Negro Troops 492-494.
103. “Maneuvers Nail Life,” The Crisis (June 1943) 167.
104. Lee, The Employment of Negro Troops, 494.
105. Phone conversation, Fred Jones with the author, 1 March 1993.
106. Hinds, “28th Cavalry,” 4.
108. Phone conversation, Fred Jones with the author, 1 March 1993.
109. Phone conversation, Charles Barrett with the author, 22 February 1993.
110. Judge William H. Hastie, Dean of Howard University Law School, was appointed “Civilian Aide on Negro Affairs” to Secretary Stimson. Hastie was the first African-American to be appointed a federal judge.
111. Lee, Employment of Negro Troops.
112. James H. Willis, Greensboro, North Carolina, to James Hinds, Alpine, California, 27 May 1987, Mountain Empire Historical Society Collection, 10th Cavalry Box, Campo, California.
113. James Hinds, “Mitchell Convalescent Hospital,” Camp Lockett News 2, no. 2 (March-April 1988): 1.
114. Army Service Forces, Ninth Service Command, Office of the Command Officer, “Annual Report of Hospital—1945, ” Mitchell Convalescent Hospital Box, Mountain Empire Historical Collection, Campo, California, 1.
Meredith Vezina is an instructor at San Diego State University in Calexico. She received B.A. and M.A. degrees in history at San Diego State. Ms. Vezina is also a free-lance writer with numerous articles published in the Los Angeles Times Magazine, the San Diego Business Journal, and the San Diego Union-Tribune. She is the founder of the Gaskill Brothers Museum in Campo, California and from 1986-1992 was the museum’s executive director.