CREATION OF TWO GREAT NATIONAL PARKS - A LEGACY OF THOSE WHO PERISHED IN WORLD WAR II
The decade of 1935 to 1945 has been called the most violent decade in history. While living in Oakland at age fourteen I was aware that the dark clouds of war were gathering over Hitler’s Germany and the expanding empire of Japan. That same year in 1934, on a Boy Scout hike to west Marin with Oakland Troop 51, I loved what is now the Point Reyes National Seashore. Nearby was a large colony of egrets nesting in the tops of redwoods and feeding in Bolinas Lagoon. On that hike I vowed to return to west Marin someday.
On starting high school in 1934 I enlisted along with thousands of other high school boys in the Army ROTC (Reserve Officer’s Training Corp) – a civilian army training. At age twelve, I had joined Boy Scouts of America, created in 1916 by Lord Baden Powell of England after the slaughter of young men in World War I. It was a powerful international organization, especially in Oakland, where boys trained in semi-military fashion in the magnificent wild Scout Camp Dimond in the Oakland foothills, and the high Sierra Camp of Dimond-O, near Hetch-Hetchy dam in Yosemite National Park.
Yosemite Park was created at the urging of John Muir by President Lincoln in 1864 to honor the 700,000 young men who perished in the American Civil War.
As a young man before the war, there was a sense of patriotism and appreciation for the incredible beauty and promise of the United States of America. My teacher, Miss Olin in grammar school in Oakland had her class stand up each morning and pledge allegiance to the flag with our hands over our hearts. Then she led us in singing,
O beautiful for spacious skies
for amber waves of grain
for purple mountain majesties
above the fruited plain…
Then she taught us the new popular song, I Love You California, now the state song.
Piedmont Avenue Grammar School and Oakland Technical High School (where I was editor of The Scribe, the school newspaper in 1937) had boys and girls from every nation. It was the American Dream come true. Once each year as children, we thrilled to the drums and bugles of the aged veterans of the American Civil War as they marched nearby our school. My dad, a veteran of WWI in France, marched for his grandfather, Corporal Loyal Martin Griffin, who was shot in one of the last battles of the Civil War in 1864, an survived.
I enrolled at UC Berkeley in zoology in 1938, where my famous physics professors were building the atom bomb in a desperate race with Nazi Germany. I continued both my Army ROTC and assisted our Stanford trained-entomologist, Boy Scout Naturalist, Brighton C. (Bugs) Cain. He presided over Camp Dimond high in the Sausal Creek watershed of Oakland, where boys rapidly became men. He was a charismatic teacher, whistler, bird caller, and my mentor for eight years.
Times were tough before the war and I worked summers in a north coast redwood logging camp, as a busboy in Yosemite Valley, and attended ROTC training camp at Fort Ord. In summers of 1937-38 my classmate Wilbur Twining and I hiked the new 150-mile John Muir Trail along the top of the snowbound Sierra watersheds.
By December 7, 1941 when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor, and war was declared by President Franklin D. Roosevelt, my high school and college classmates and scores of Oakland Boy Scouts had been trained for war in the Army/Navy, ROTC and Air Force. The Pacific island wars took a terrible toll of young men fighting against entrenched Japanese. In 1942 the UC Berkeley campus was tragically stripped of all Japanese-American students. As precaution they and their families were interned in fenced camps throughout the west.
The entire Bay Area was mobilized, as well as the whole United States, to fight the Pacific and Atlantic wars. Facilities needed for the war effort included the Bay Bridge, 1935, the Golden Gate Bridge, in 1937, the Tiburon anti-submarine net-depot guarding the Golden Gate, the huge Hamilton Air Force Training Base near Novato with bomb ranges for training at Drakes Beach, massive concrete coastal bunkers for 16″ cannons and machine guns, and the Moffet field hangars and anti-plane balloons on cables that darkened the sky. There were huge ammunition depots along the river ports of the delta. Several big shipyards turned out destroyers, submarines, and Liberty (cargo) ships by the hundreds. There were tank and jeep factories designed by Ford.
Some 40,000 southern US women and men were recruited to man the shipyards, factories, and to load ammunition ships, where 300 men were killed in one explosion. Many stayed after the war in Marin City and Richmond. All this war effort is recorded and preserved in the splendid Rosie the Riveter National Historic Park on the Richmond bayshore, where I worked cold night shifts at the Kaiser shipyards for four months in 1942 awaiting the start of the accelerated Stanford Medical School. Some surgical professors were operating in field hospitals on foreign battlefields.
While in medical school I was on active duty in uniform assigned to the Presidio of San Francisco. There was nearly a total blackout during the war. Vast numbers of service men and women passed through the Presidio and out the Golden Gate, or left from the Oakland Train Terminal on their way to the killing fields of Normandy and the bloody Pacific islands.
In the first weeks of the war my cousin, Seaman George Stoddard, was on the 1500-man cruiser USS Houston sunk in early 1942 along with the entire ill-equipped Asiatic fleet in the flaming Java Sea battle. He survived by floating with the tides for six hours, and spent four years in Japanese prison camps. Only 200 men survived the Houston sinking.
My brother Bob was an infantry training officer and survived. Our childhood friend and naval pilot, Jess Jessup was shot down in the Pacific, was injured and survived. My UC Berkeley class of ’42 (1938-1942) was the War Class. Our class provided many officers for the military. We had smart uniforms, joined Scabbard and Blade, and trained at Fort Ord, where our weapons were collected and sent to Russia under lend-lease when Germany invaded Poland in 1939.
In 1942, our student body president, Ralph Fisher also in ROTC, was assigned to learn Chinese quickly at the Monterey Language Academy. He then became the U.S. attaché to the Chinese Army under General Chiang Kai-shek in his battle against the Japanese in China. Thousands of American young men were drafted and many never returned. Before the atom bombs ended WWII in 1945, a million men, including my brother, were prepared to invade Japan from encircling islands. It took nearly a year for them to return home. By then I was stationed as a Captain in the US Army Medical Corp at the SF Presidio. My job was to sort out psychotic men for treatment, who arrived daily by plane in camisoles from the Pacific to Moffet Field. In the hospital they were treated by psychologist Ken Kesey who wrote the book, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest which became a popular film, featuring Jack Nicholson, and Louise Fletcher as nurse Ratched.
As the war ended millions of soldiers passed through the bay area and, entranced by its beauty, wanted to stay, work and live in sunny California. Many did, causing a surge in population that has never ended. They had seen so much destruction of nature that some became vigorous advocates for wilderness and sensible growth and joined in to create America’s Best Idea, the National Parks.
In 1962, President John Kennedy, whose PT-109 boat was sunk in a battle in the Solomon Islands in 1943, authorized the Point Reyes National Seashore. Underfunded, the battle to acquire the bulk of the Seashore took ten years.
In 1972 Senator Peter Behr, an astute Marin politician and attorney, collected 500,000 signatures in two weeks requesting President Richard Nixon to release the money to purchase the remainder of the Point Reyes National Seashore. Impressed, Nixon also authorized the Golden Gate National Recreation Area, GGNRA, completing the coastal defense area for future conflicts such as the cold war when San Francisco was circled by Intercontinental Missile Defense.
Peter Behr had survived the Pacific war as a deck officer of a fighting aircraft carrier. He told me he wept when young men spiraled high into the sky but never returned. Many other men and women who helped to create the two great national parks were veterans of WWII. Nature icon David Brower survived the war in the US Mountain Corp.
So, these great parks protecting 60 miles of rugged coast including the Golden Gate are dedicated to the patriotic women and men who helped win the Pacific and European wars, and to the soldiers who perished.