Historic heat at Camp Roberts

Special to The TribuneAugust 30, 2012 

It’s been hot this summer here in Paso Robles. Temperatures between 100 and 105 are starting to seem ordinary. But I bet Camp Roberts is hotter.

I don’t actually know that. I guess I just assume it’s hotter because the first time I felt this kind of heat was at Camp Roberts during the Korean War. I was there 18 months, including two summers.

How hot was it? It was so hot that during summertime we weren’t allowed to take the troops out onto the camp’s huge, main parade field. We couldn’t march, train or exercise them on it. That parade field covered about 190 acres and was paved with asphalt.

If the temperature was 105 degrees in the shade elsewhere, it must have been 145 degrees on that parade field. The hot asphalt made it a combination tar pit and Death Valley.

But at other times of the year, the parade field was usable. In fact, in the winter or spring of 1953, a twin- engine C-47 landed on it. The C-47 was the military version of the DC-3 airliner.

That C-47 carried the man who turned out to be the next president of the Philippines, Ramon Magsaysay. He was the Philippines’ secretary of defense when he visited us, but at the end of the year he became president. His visit was a big deal.

At that time, I was assistant club officer at the Camp Roberts officers club. There was an anxious, high-level discussion about what wine to serve at the banquet. I believe the final choice was champagne.

But let’s get back to the question “How hot was it?” at Camp Roberts.

Well, before working at the officers club, I went out in the field with the trainees almost every day. On mornings, just before we marched the troops out of the company area for training, we had them open their canteens, which hung from their cartridge belts. We then walked behind them and dropped a salt tablet into each canteen.

I also dropped one into mine. The salt taste was barely noticeable. We also had 36-gallon canvas Lister bags of water from which they could refill their canteens.

The fighting in Korea ended July 27, 1953. Operations at Camp Roberts were being phased out. The officers club had been profitable. Its treasury had a sizable balance. So, we immediately spent most of it on buying big, free-standing air-conditioning units to make the club more comfortable for that summer.

Reach Phil Dirkx at phild2008@sbcglobal.net or 238-2372.

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