“Do not regard what you do only as ‘preparation’ for doing the same thing more fully or better at some later time. Nothing is ever done twice. There is no next time. This is of special application to war. There is but one time to win a battle or a campaign. It must be won the first time.” -General George S. Patton
By Ruth Musser-Lopez
Currently, in Needles, California, there is a “battle” going on over whether or not to preserve a small quaint cabin along Route 66 that is believed to have been the quarters of General George Smith Patton, Jr. while he was in charge of a WWII army training operation in 1942. Like Patton said, there is going to be only one battle. Either the cabin is preserved or it’s demolished—there is but one time to win or lose.
A little known fact about General George S. Patton’s World War II practice maneuvering operation within the California-Arizona Maneuver Area is the use of Needles as a division cantonment, with troops arriving beginning April 11, 1942. Yet live some elderly citizens of Needles who are able to recall the important role Needles played in World War II when a surge of troops, supplies and equipment palpitated through the desert “body” at which time Needles headquartered the “brains” of the training operation. These now aging Needles residents were in their youth at the time but can clearly remember those glory days and how Patton’s colorful First Armored Corps and Patton himself, dominated the town before departing for North Africa in the Operation Torch campaign in November 1942.
During WWII, a reporter, after hearing a speech where Patton said that it took “blood and brains” to win in combat, began calling him “blood and guts.” The nickname would follow him for the rest of his life with soldiers under his command complaining “our blood, his guts.” Nonetheless, he was known to be admired widely by the men under his charge. Now, some think it may take “blood and guts” to save the quaint cabin on Route 66 in Needles that Patton was said to have requisitioned as his living quarters.
On January 15, 1942, just a little over a month after the United States entered the war, Patton was appointed commander of I Armored Corps, making him the most prominent figure in the U.S. armored division. Within the month of his appointment to commander, Patton established the Desert Training Center at Desert Center, California and it wasn’t long before he was in charge of both the blue and red training armies he established there, according to local sources.
It is widely held that Patton’s training exercise was in the Imperial Valley and it is said that Patton chose a 10,000-acre expanse of desert area about 50 miles southeast of Palm Springs. However, what appears to be relatively unknown is that the Desert Training Center (DTC) established early in 1942 was expanded by Patton rapidly thereafter. A much wider 18,000 square mile area of operation known as California-Arizona Maneuver Area (CAMA) was actually used to train troops for mechanized desert warfare.
Part of Patton’s First Armored Corps trained in the Needles area during the period between April to August 1942 and then departed to participate in the invasion of North Africa which occurred in November 1942.
As a native Californian who knew the area well from his youth and military training during the 1930s, Patton was responsible for selecting the site and in his words, “In the whole 12,000,000 odd acres the only restrictions as to movement are those imposed by nature.”
Tent camps near Needles included Camp Ibis and Camp Essex (later named Camp Clipper), both located along Route 66 west of Needles. The camps were situated so that each unit could train individually without interfering with the other, and near the end of its training period the unit would participate in a corps (two divisions or more) exercise in a maneuvering area at Palen Pass.
Local Needles oral history suggests that Patton trained his troops by simulating warfare in the desert pitting a “Red Army” and “Blue Army,” both of which he controlled, against each other.
Patton’s advance team also selected airfields, hospitals, supply depots and sites for other support services as well. Not highly publicized is that Needles was selected as the site for support services.
Though the Needles airport outside of town is listed as one of the airfields commandeered for use by Patton’s army, the commandeering, construction and use of other facilities in the community of Needles is not well known. According to local oral history, however, the Needles railroad depot was an important army supply depot and the location of where the Vista Colorado Elementary school is today was then the site of a Mobile Army Surgical Hospital (MASH) unit which included a helicopter landing port and housing for medics, doctors and nurses. Patton is reported to have spent a good deal of time in Needles from where he dispatched orders and other communications from an office at the “El Garces” train depot. He reportedly communicated with the Mexican consulate and government from the El Garces office using a local Needles High School valedictorian then working for the railroad to assist him with the interpretation.
Using Needles as a base, he kept a B-17 bomber at the Needles Airport for his own use, which he flew between landing fields in the maneuvering areas. Patton is said to have been responsible for having enlarged the Needles airport by adding onto the length of the landing strip. The Needles airport was decommissioned after the war.
The cabin said to have been requisitioned by Patton for use as his living and sleeping quarters is located on the opposite side of Route 66 from the loading platforms along the Santa Fe railroad track. Patton would have been able to monitor supplies and equipment being loaded and unloaded from that platform. The cabin is also centrally located on a direct route to the Needles airport and close to his office at the El Garces also accessed via Route 66 going the opposite direction. Prior to the construction of Interstate 40 in the 1960s, Patton would have been able to directly access the barracks and MASH unit via jeep on a direct desert route or from the train depot via Army Road.
This privately owned cabin is now under attack by the City of Needles, which plans to demolish it and the extensive salt cedar root mass next to and under it. City officials claim the salt cedar limbs are damaging city equipment and interfering with their effort to conceal the eyesore in the city yard by constructing a chainlink “privacy” fence. At least one individual working for the Chamber of Commerce was glad to hear it would be demolished, as he views the cabin as a blemish upon entering the community from the east end. Others do not share his view and hope the cabin will be rehabilitated and used as a point of interest to attract tourism. The city demolition work on private land would be completed with taxpayer dollars using between $16,000 to $19,500, which some say could be better utilized preparing the cabin as a key road side attraction for tourism in town.
As the war was winding down, the 10th Corps directed the last maneuvers held at the CAMA. At midnight on April 30, 1944, training at the DTC ended and with it a significant phase of the epoch of World War II.
By May of 1944, CAMA was closed and mobile tent units, equipment and other materials from the operation were relocated leaving behind for the most part rock alignments, paths, tank tracks here and there, empty shells and an almost unnoticeable footprint of the historic war operation. It is a rare find to come across an actual “cabin” where Patton is said to have sequestered and lucky for Needles to have this cherish-able relic that could potentially draw more tourism income for a community that has been in recent financial hardship. Let’s hope the City of Needles council has a “heart” and saves it.