As a young college student traveling from Cal Poly, in San Luis Obispo, north to San Jose, California, I was always curious about the seemingly abandoned buildings I drove passed a little north of Paso Robles. These buildings were part of the ghostly remains of the once largest Army training base in our country – Camp Roberts.
The camp occupies both Monterey and San Luis Obispo counties, along the Salinas River. Highway 101 runs through the camp and its entrance can be seen from the road. Mission San Miguel, a favorite historic site, is in this same area.
In 1902, the United States Congress began looking for areas that were suitable for the establishment of military posts. “Nacimiento Ranch” in northern San Luis Obispo County was surveyed and was found to be an excellent spot for training and range facilities, at only $5.76 per acre it was quite a bargain.
It was determined that establishing a training facility, at that time, would place soldiers in “inhumane conditions,” thus the official work on the base did not get underway until 1940.
Under the command of Lieutenant Colonel Oliver Martson, the camp was built by the work of up to 8,000 men. When completed, the new camp was capable of housing and training as many as 30,000 trainees at once!
Camp Roberts was named for 19-year-old Corporal Harold W. Roberts, a Medal of Honor recipient from World War I. Roberts lost his life while driving a tank, under fire, through the Montrebeau Forest in northeastern France. His tank became submerged in a rainwater filled crater. Corporal Roberts was able to push his gunner out of the tank but was unable to save himself. He was awarded the Medal of Honor for his bravery and selflessness. Camp Roberts is one of a very few military facilities named for an enlisted soldier.
The official opening of Camp Roberts was in 1941 as a replacement training facility. The main garrison was built to house 23,000 troops and officers. There was also a smaller garrison that would accommodate an additional 6,000 soldiers. In total, 436,000 field and artillery troops went through training cycles at Camp Roberts. At its peak in 1945, the camp housed 45,000 soldiers.
Camp Roberts was also a home to a 750-bed hospital and was used as a prisoner of war housing facility for captured German and Italian soldiers.
At the end of World War II, Camp Roberts played an active role in processing soldiers returning home. From that time until the beginning of the Korean War, the camp was occupied by only a small group of caretakers.
Camp Roberts was reactivated during the Korean War but was once again deserted at the end of that conflict.
Today the facility is used by the California National Guard as a training facility. The relatively small area that is still used is dwarfed by the vacant, deteriorating facilities that still exist from the camp’s glory days. The Camp Roberts Museum is open for anyone interested in learning about this historic facility.
My interest in writing about Camp Roberts was sparked by a gift of several dozen postcards given to me by a friend. The cards were sent by Mike H. to his father. Mike H. was a soldier during World War II, and it was my honor to know him.
So many brave and devoted young soldiers from all over the country received their training in places like Camp Roberts. Some of the old facilities are still very active but many of the old camps are a mere shadow of what they were.
Shav La Vigne is the president of the San Jose (California) postcard club. He has been a loyal reader since Postcard History Online Magazine first appeared in the Spring of 2019. Shav has collaborated on several past articles and there are two more in our current publication queue.
Questions about airbrush postcards: “Who invented them?,” “Are they difficult to make?,” “ When were they popular?” are often answered with blank stares. Hours of searching for information have produced very little. No matter! They sure are pretty.