By Harold E. Raugh, Jr., Arcadia Publishing
Book Review by Craig MacDonald
"We Were Soldiers," the hit movie starring Mel Gibson as Army Battalion Commander Hal Moore, earned nearly $115 million worldwide. It's based on the incredible, true story of Moore and his courageous Air Cavalry unit in Vietnam in 1965. In the early 1970s, Moore was Commanding General at Fort Ord, located on more than 28,000 acres near Monterey.
After the Cold War, Fort Ord was placed on a list to be closed by the Presidential Base Realignment and Closure Committee. In 1994, it officially "shut its doors" after many troops and equipment were transferred elsewhere. But that wasn't the final chapter as its scenic land would gain a wide variety of additional uses in the beautiful Monterey Bay area.
Fortunately, the long history of Fort Ord has been well-documented by a retired Army Lieutenant Colonel--Military Historian Harold E. Raugh, Jr., who twice served there. The book is chock-full of fascinating black and white photos--men, women, training facilities, equipment & cavalry horses--documenting over 77 years of military history.
From its start as a military training area for the Presidio of Monterey troops in 1917, until its closure in 1994, more than 1 ˝ million people went through training or served there, including World War II's famed Joseph ("Vinegar Joe") Stillwell, Clint Eastwood, Jamie Farr, Leonard Nimoy, Dean Torrance and several of my friends, including Frank Pangborn and Eric Aguirre.
Motion Pictures such as "The Bugle Sounds" (1942, starring Wallace Beery as a Cavalry Sergeant) and "Soldier in the Rain" (1963, starring Jackie Gleason and Steve McQueen) were filmed there. Jack Benny, George Burns, Gracie Allen and other celebrities, volunteered their time to entertain the troops at Fort Ord.
Dr. Raugh's book is a visual tribute to the many people--sung and unsung--who served there. He uses more than 200 pictures showing many of them.
Raugh takes you on a historical journey from its earliest days as Camp Gigling to its home for the 7th Infantry Division to its redeployment for other uses. And what a myriad of fascinating uses have taken (and are taking) place on its former property. (This book was first published in 2004 but we include additional news about "the fort area.")
Today, Fort Ord National Monument offers more than 86 miles of trails for hiking, biking and horseback riding.
More than 1,350 acres became the new California State University, Monterey Bay. Some of the fort's buildings have been converted into much-needed facilities for the school. For instance, Fort Ord's Vehicle Maintenance Headquarters on Eighth Street was remodeled into a 176-unit student housing area.
More than 980 acres is now Fort Ord Dunes State Park, which includes beach access and a 4-mile road for walking and biking. Land was given to the neighboring towns of Marina and Seaside, who have planned commercial and residential development.
In 1997, two former military golf courses were purchased by the City of Seaside and are open to the public—Bayonet (named after the Army's 7th Infantry "Light Fighter" Division) and Black Horse (named after the 11th Calvary Regiment).
There is a Veterans Transition Center as well as the Ord Military Community, which serves units in the California National Guard, the Defense Manpower Data Center and others.
Of the 28,000 acres, about 18,000 are preserved as permanent Open Space, overseen by the federal Bureau of Land Management and California Department of Parks and Recreation. Certain designated areas protect endangered species, such as Smith's Blue Butterfly and the Contra Costa goldfields (wildflower).
The remaining 10,000 acres are under the guidance of Monterey County, neighboring cities and universities.
In 2016, the California Central Coast Veterans Cemetery officially opened on 78 acres of the old Fort Ord property. For the next 20 years, the cemetery foundation hopes to provide interment needs of 100,000 veterans living within a 75 mile radius. It's also helping develop a Master Plan for the next 100 years of veteran burial needs.
If you ever served in the military at Fort Ord, enjoy reading history, are a local or tourist who drives by the old post (off California State Highway 1) you'll enjoy getting the inside scoop on Fort Ord with Raugh's well-researched book.
(The reviewer, who was in the Army at Fort Ord, still remembers running with his unit, singing cadences, along the sand dunes.)