V-J Day couldn’t come soon enough! Tens of thousands of men were being readied for “redeployment to the Pacific theater” at Camps San Luis Obispo, Roberts and Cooke (now Vandenberg AFB) in early August 1945.
More than 6,000 troops, advance units of General Terry Allen’s 104th Infantry Division, had arrived in San Luis Obispo. Commonly called the “Timberwolves Division,” these Oregon-trained Army troops were veterans of some of the worst fighting in the European theater.
The “Timberwolves” had liberated Antwerp and fought The Battle of the Dikes in the Netherlands after British Field Marshal Bernard Montgomery’s failed crossing of the Rhine at Arnhem. After taking heavy losses in the Battle of the Bulge, they captured Cologne. They liberated Nordhausen Concentration Camp.
They were returned stateside and told that they would be retrained for the invasion of Japan itself. A high percentage of the “Timberwolves” had earned Purple Hearts, many of them for life-threatening injuries in combat.
Aug. 15, 1945 was a day of wild rejoicing for the “Timberwolves.” Plans for celebrating Japan's surrender started five days before the actual event. On Aug. 10, the Telegram-Tribune announced “Victory Blasts of Ferdinand to Clarion V-J Declaration.”
“Ferdinand” was the horn on top of the old City Hall and one time fire station where Charles Shoes is now located in the 800 block of Higuera Street. There were to be “three short blasts and a long one.”
Mayor Ralph Kennedy announced that “as an urgency measure, the city wishes to request bars and taverns to close immediately.”
Fears over what the celebrating “Timberwolves” might do to the town were widespread and in some instances justified. Like the earlier experiment of Prohibition, Mayor Kennedy’s request was out of synch with human nature. The bars remained open.
Ironically, the only fatality in San Luis Obispo's celebration was 15-year-old Beverly Bundy, who had her legs crushed and suffered a fatal blow to her skull after slipping from the hood of a car of celebrating teenagers.
The celebration was short-lived in other ways too. San Luis had the worst housing crisis in its history. Meat and coffee remained scarce for weeks to come.
The full complement of the “Timberwolves Division” arrived at the end of August. The men wanted to go home to their families and sweethearts. They were angered by the scuttlebutt that they might be sent to Japan with the army of occupation. Happily, most of the “Timberwolves” were spared that duty and returned to their families.
“Ferdinand,” the clarion of victory got a promotion. The horn was moved to the top of a 102-foot tower at the city firehouse at Pismo and Garden. That triumph was short-lived.
The war had brought too many changes to San Luis Obispo. Our metropolis grew too big and sophisticated for a town fire horn. During the mid-1960s, “Ferdinand the horn” was dismantled and sold to the city of Earlimart in the San Joaquin Valley.
“Ferdinand” still sounds the noon hour daily in Earlimart along Highway 99.
Another “Ferdinand,” the bell, that had summoned the horse-drawn volunteer fire companies prior to the air horn, was moved to the Pismo and Garden fire station where it was displayed outside on a large concrete block. Eventually, the city outgrew that firehouse.
“Ferdinand” the bell now resides as part of the historic firefighting collection at the main San Luis Obispo Fire Station at Broad and Santa Barbara Streets.