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Camp Stoneman
(Pittsburg Replacement Depot; Pittsburg Replacement and Reclassification Depot)
 
Camp Stoneman, June 1942 (National Archives)
 
History
by
LTC (Ret) Danny Johnson
 
"Through these Portals Pass the Best Damn Soldiers in the World." This proud inscription met the eye of each soldier as he passed through the entrance to the wharves at Camp Stoneman to embark for shipment overseas. The major Pacific coast World War II staging area under the control of the San Francisco Port of Embarkation was Camp Stoneman located in Pittsburg, CA. Camp Stoneman was the largest troop staging area on the west coast of the United States for units deploying to the Pacific Theater of Operations. Camp Stoneman was once the principal "jumping off point" for more than one million soldiers destined for operations in WW II's Pacific Theater, and again several years later during the Korean War.

The idea for Camp Stoneman was born soon after Pearl Harbor in response for the urgent need for a large cantonment area at which port processing of troops in transit could be housed, fed and transported. The plans for such a camp were, of course, in the works of War Plans before the Japanese attack. The main requirement was that such areas have available three types of transportation--water, rail and highway. There were two rail lines in the Pittsburg area, Southern Pacific and Santa Fe. A mile from the camp was the San Joaquin River, offering a broad water channel into San Francisco Bay. There also were suitable paved highway routes in the area.

Construction of Camp Stoneman was authorized by the War Department on 3 January 1942 and completed by September 1942. The selected site was formally a tract of land called Los Medanos (The Dunes), a Mexican patent owned by the Garcia Brothers in 1800 and later purchased by Colonel Johnathon Drake Stevenson, a celebrated Civil War leader. By 1901, the tract of land which was to become Camp Stoneman had been purchased by C. A. Hooper, a developer with vast interests in ranching and industry. The military had been negotiating to purchase the C.A. Hooper ranch south of Pittsburg proper to become Camp Stoneman. The formality of receiving construction bids was begun on January 24th, and on February 7, the San Francisco firm of McDonald & Kahn, General Contractors, won the bid for construction of the camp on a "Rush Order Basis" and had completed work by September, 1942. It was estimated that the cost of building Camp Stoneman was $18,410,936.
 
In 1942, the War Department acquired a total of 2,841.54 acres consisting of fee acres, easement acres, license acres, permit acres, and leased acres. The fee acres were acquired from the City of Pittsburg and from private owners. The easement acres were acquired from private owners. The license acres were acquired from Contra Costa County, and the Division of Highways. The lease acres were obtained from private owners and the remaining was acquired from the City of Pittsburg.

Construction was began on February 11, and completed on September 20. The first troops arrived at the camp on May 25, 1942. The camp was formally activated on 28 May 1942. About 700 carpenters and other workers from as far as Oklahoma responded to the task. Some boarded with local residents. Others lived in trailers and tents on the waterfront. The first commanding officer was Colonel Murray H. Ellis, a graduate of Allegheny College in Pennsylvania, and a cavalry officer. The camp was a permanent base for 125 officers and 2,000 troops. Camp Stoneman could house and mess over 20,000 troops at a time on its 2,800 acres. Stoneman also housed German and Italian prisoners of war.

General Frederick Gilbreath, commanding general of the San Francisco Port of Embarkation requested that the camp be named after George Stoneman. The camp was named for General George Stoneman on April 5, 1942. George Stoneman (1822-1894) became the 15th governor of California in 1883. Born in New York, he had graduated from West Point and had come west under General Stephen Kearny. During the Civil War he commanded Union troops and won high honors. He returned to California, and in 1871 began to grow oranges near Los Angeles. He opposed the railroad interests and was elected to the first California Railroad Commission, created by the Constitution of 1879. Three years later he ran as a Democrat for governor and won.
 
In 1887 he returned to southern California. He played an active role in founding the marketing cooperative that became the California Fruit Growers Exchange (Sunkist). After his house was destroyed by fire, an event rumored to be the work of his political enemies, Stoneman was broken financially and in poor health. He returned to New York State for medical treatment. He died following a stroke in Buffalo, New York, and is buried in the Bentley Cemetery in Lakewood, New York. Stoneman has been memorialized by songwriter Robbie Robertson of The Band, whose 1969 rock and roll song, "The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down", referred to one of Stoneman's 1865 raids: "Virgil Caine is the name, and I served on the Danville train, Till Stoneman's cavalry came and tore up the tracks again ..."

The first troops to go through Camp Stoneman on their way to the Pacific battlefields arrived on May 25, 1942. A little more than three years later, on August 11, 1945, the millionth man to go through the Stoneman staging area was plucked from a line of men filing up to the gangplank, to take part in a brief ceremony. Three days later Japan surrendered. Over a twelve year existence covering both WWII and the Korean Conflict, over 1,500,000 troops were processed and shipped through Camp Stoneman. At the conclusions of each war, the camp was converted into a separation center, the function of which was to ensure that returning soldiers could be sent home as quickly as possible.

In transporting troops to and from the Army docks in San Francisco, Army harbor boats were employed. The Catalina and Cabrillo, sister ships, were converted from former excursion boats. A later addition to the fleet, the Ernie Pyle, was known as the million dollar ferry, Yerba Buena, when it operated between San Francisco and Oakland. The usual means of leaving Camp Stoneman was to board one of the ferries at the Pittsburg waterfront which would carry the troops to Piers 15 and 45 on the Embarcadero in San Francisco. It was a three to four-hour boat ride from San Francisco to Camp Stoneman. Most troops departed the camp by marching down Harbor Street to the waterfront, where the Army operated a small ferry fleet. The ferries took the troops to Fort Mason, where they boarded ships headed for war.
 
The first unit to be embarked at Stoneman was a (colored) field artillery regiment from Harlem, New York. Among the Army division's that staged at Camp Stoneman were the 1st Cavalry Division, 11th Airborne Division, 40th Infantry Division, and the 33d, 81st, 93d and 96th Infantry Division's. The 31st, 43d, 40th and 93d Infantry Division's were inactivated at Stoneman after World War II while the 2d and 86th Infantry Divisions redeployed at Camp Stoneman for the invasion of Japan that never happened.
 
In addition to almost 346 barracks (63-man), 86 company administrative and storehouses, 8 infirmaries, and dozens of administrative buildings, the 2,500-acre camp held nine post exchanges, 14 recreation halls, 13 mess halls, a 24-hour shoe repair and tailoring business, one post office, a chapel and one stockade. Overall, the camp was a city onto itself. It had a fire department and observation tower, water reservoir, bakery, Red Cross station, meat-cutting plant, library, parking lots and 31 miles of roads. For recreation, Stoneman boasted two gymnasiums, a baseball diamond, eight basketball courts, eight boxing rings, and indoor pool and a bowling alley. Officer and enlisted clubs provided everything from reading rooms to spaghetti dinners. The camp also contained the largest telephone center of its day, with 75 phone booths and a bank of operators who could handle 2,000 long-distance calls a day. Stoneman even had USO shows featuring stars such as Groucho Marx, Gary Moore, and Red Skelton. Lucille Ball once donned a swimming suit to dedicate an enlisted men's club.
 
Business boomed in Pittsburg, as did in all "Army towns." During Camp Stoneman's heyday taverns, theaters, night clubs, taxi stands, clothing stores, local bus lines, jewelry and novelty shops, photo studios and similar establishments mushroomed. Most of them flourished-at least for the duration. Some revived, briefly, during the Korean conflict-then disappeared.

Camp Stoneman was the last stop for most soldiers heading overseas and they were usually processed through the base in three days, but the usual time frame was four to five days. A unit was known only by shipment code number. Soon after the men arrived at Camp Stoneman, they were again given medical examinations to determine the fitness of each soldier for overseas combat duty. Last minute dental and medical care, including the updating of immunizations, was given to those who needed attention. Stoneman had approximately 45 dental chairs that were used sometimes 18 hours a day for the various types of dental work. Anyone needing eye corrections were issued two pairs of glasses. Last wills were made and allotments arranged, and updating personnel files were done.
 
Clothing and equipment were inspected, from shoelaces to helmet liners, in order to correct any defects, shortages, or signs of excessive wear. Shoes were given special attention, as they were perhaps the most important item, next to a soldier's weapons. Weapons were checked out by experts. Each one had to be able to operate without a trace of malfunction. The troops were lectured on security regulations, mail censorship, chemical warfare, conduct aboard a troopship and drills were given on how to abandon a ship. Every soldier was required to attend a daily first-aid class and to go on at least one 10-mile hike. Documents indicate that pistols, rifles, hand grenades, rifle grenades, and rocket launcher grenades (bazooka) were all fired at the camp as troops did their last minute training before being, shipped out to the Pacific. A list of Camp Stoneman training facilities is below.
Camp Stoneman Training Facilities:
 

a. Abandon Ship Training Decks.
b. Bayonet Course.
c. Bivouac and Road March Areas.
d. Dry Land Ship.
e. Dry Range (rifle marksmanship).
f. Gas Chamber
g. Grenade (hand) Throwing Range.
h. Infiltration Course.
i. Known Distant Ranges:
(1) 1,000 inch range (machine gun, carbine, sub-machine gun and pistol)--50 firing points.
(2) 100-200 yd. rifle range-- 100 firing points.
(3) 100-300 yd. rifle range-- 75 firing points.
j. Miniature Aerial. Target 22 Cal. Antiaircraft Range.
k. Mock Village.
l. Obstacle Courses.
m. Rifle Grenade Range.
n. Rocket Launcher Range.
o, Sanitation Display Area.
p. Training Film Library


At the conclusions of the Second World War and the Korean War, Camp Stoneman was converted into a separation center, the function of which was to ensure that returning soldiers could be sent home as quickly as possible. After World War II, activity at Camp Stoneman declined. The Korean War rekindled the base for awhile, but in 1954 it was scheduled to be closed for good. It took a large part of the town with it.
 
After the Korean War interlude, however, rumors of the impending deactivation of the Army post increased daily. Dismayed residents rallied in a "Save Stoneman" campaign. Delegations were sent to Washington, D.C., in 1954 in an effort to get legislators and the Army to keep the post in operation as a permanent installation. The Army had already made its mind up to close the base. Camp Stoneman was officially deactivated on 31 August 1954. The transfer and reassignment station of Camp Stoneman would be moved to Fort Ord in July 1954. The overseas replacement section also left Stoneman in August 1954 moving to new quarters at the Oakland Army Base.
 
In 1960, the biggest auction in Pittsburg's history took place. The GSA sold 750 buildings for pennies on the pound for removal from the camp. Included in the sale to some 200 successful bidders were 342 two-story barracks buildings, 79 one-story administration buildings, offices, mess halls, officers clubs and infirmaries. All were gone by the end of 1960. Warehouses, chapels, and other more solidly constructed buildings were sold with the main garrison land, which included 1,000 acres.
 
During the height of its activities, Camp Stoneman employed 1,475 civilians and additional military support personnel. It had been estimated the camp's operation represented a $14,000,000 annual business to Bay Area firms through the troop processing activities. After the facility was declared surplus to the needs of the Department of Defense, all property was disposed of. The final parcels of land were not disposed of until 1962. Camp Stoneman was officially deactivated on 31 August 1954. A "corporal's guard" of 10 officers and 25 soldiers rendered the final salute to the colors at Camp Stoneman on August 30, 1954, to complete transfer of the base to inactive status.
 
The leased acres were terminated prior to 29 May 1958 with no indication of restoration. On 29 October 1954, fee acres were reported excess to General Services Administration (GSA) and were conveyed to the Pittsburg Unified School District by quitclaim deed on 20 January 1955. Land used for a reserve center were conveyed to GSA on 15 May 1964 and later turned over to private individuals by quitclaim deed. The remaining fee acres were sold to various individuals and city and state agencies between 1959 and 1962

The main cantonment area of Camp Stoneman has been developed extensively since its use by the Department of Defense. The area now consists mainly of residential homes, light industry, office buildings and Los Medanos College. The southern section of the former Camp Stoneman Rifle Range has been converted into an 18-hole public golf course. Other areas of the former rifle range have been developed into Stoneman Park. The Camp Stoneman Wharf Facility continues to function as a privately-owned warehouse facility on the waterfront.

This article was uploaded 13 February 2012
 
 
Corps of Engineers History
 
The Camp Stoneman site is located in Northern California, in Contra Costa County, in the City of Pittsburg, 40 miles northeast of the city of San Francisco. The site was used as a staging area and rifle range for troop training by the United States Army, and was established as a Class I installation (later used as a personnel replacement and reclassification depot). The site was also used as a facility of the San Francisco Port of Embarkation, known as the West Garrison Area of Camp Stoneman.
 
The site was also known as Camp Stoneman Military Reservation; Camp Stoneman Military Reservation, Contra Costa; Pittsburg Staging Area; Central Valley Project; Camp Stoneman, Pittsburg; Rancho Los Medanos; Pittsburg Replacement Depot; Pittsburg Replacement and Reclassification Depot; Camp Stoneman Replacement & Reclassification Depot & Rifle Range; Camp Stoneman West Garrison Rifle Range; Camp Stoneman Rifle Range; Camp Stoneman U.S. Army Reserve Center; Camp Stoneman Military Reservation Pittsburg; and West Garrison Rifle Range, Camp Stoneman, CA.
 
In 1942, the War Department acquired 1831.41 fee acres, 5.61 easement acres, 0.33 license acre, 0.03 permit acre, and 1004.16 leased acres. The total acreage acquired was 2841.54. Of the fee acres, 17.07 were acquired from the City of Pittsburg and 1814.34 were acquired from the private owners. The easement acres were acquired from private owners. Of the license acres, 0.28 was acquired from Contra Costa County, and the remaining 0.05 was acquired from private owners. The 0.03 permit acre was acquired from the State of California, Division of Highways. Of the lease acres, 897.01 were obtained from private owners and the remaining 107.15 were acquired from the City of Pittsburg.
 
The 1004.16 leased acres were terminated prior to 29 May 1958 (no indication of restoration). On 29 October 1954, a total of 1.46 fee acres were reported excess to General Services Administration (GSA), and were conveyed to the Pittsburg Unified School District by quit claim deed on 20 January 1955. A total of 8.94 fee acres (used for a reserve center) were conveyed to GSA on 15 May 1964 and later turned over to private individuals by quit claim deed. The remaining 1821.01 fee acres were sold to various individuals and city and state agencies between 1959 and 1962. There is no information regarding restoration for the fee acres.
 
 
Camp Stoneman Barracks, June 1942 (National Archives)
 
History
by
Chuck Wullenjohn

Though the sound of thousands of marching feet is but a memory today, not so very long ago Camp Stoneman was the principal "jumping off point" for more than one million American soldiers destined for military operations in the Second World War's Pacific Theater, and again several years later during the Korean War. Consisting of more than 2,500 sprawling acres, Camp Stoneman sprang to life near the town of Pittsburg in 1942 to act as the San Francisco Port of Embarkation's primary troop staging center. The function of the post was to receive and rapidly process troops for overseas service by completing paperwork and -updating records, arranging for last minute training, providing medical and dental care, and issuing and servicing equipment.
 
Camp Stoneman, named after George Stoneman, a Civil War cavalry commander and early Governor of California, had a lifespan of only 12 years, being activated on May 28, 1942, and decommissioned on August 30,1954. Most troops staging at the post before transportation overseas arrived aboard trains which steamed directly into the installation on spurs from both the Santa Fe and Southern Pacific mainlines. Although soldiers sometimes traveled to pier side at Fort Mason by truck convoy, most often they traveled by water via the Army's small ferry fleet. This fleet consisted of the former excursion boats Catalina and Cabrillo and the one million-dollar ferry Yerba Buena, which changed its name late in the war to the "Ernie Pyle."
 
The day-to-day operation of Camp Stoneman was a tremendous task. In addition to receiving, processing and embarking thousands of troops each week, waiting soldiers were housed and fed, medical and dental examinations and corrective work conducted, clothing, equipment and records put in proper order, final training provided, and numerous other odds and ends taken care of. Delays and mistakes resulted in problems at embarkation piers and overseas areas, so maximum attention was directed toward ensuring everything was done right At Camp Stoneman, there was no time for a second try.
 
Camp Stoneman consisted of more than 800 cream and khaki-colored buildings, capable of accommodating 20,000 troops at peak capacity. The average length of a stay for troops bound overseas was one to two weeks. When soldiers returned at the conclusion of World War 11 and the Korean Conflict, the average person was cleared out in less than 48 hours. A number of conveniences were maintained at the installation for use by the soldiers who were often restricted to post during their entire stay. The camp boasted three motion picture theaters, a ten-thousand seat outdoor theater, weekly USO shows throughout much of World War II, eight well-stocked branches of the Post Exchange, a huge service dub, and much more. USO show entertainers included Hollywood stars such as Groucho Marx, Garry Moore and Red Skelton. As specified by Army Regulations, profits from Post Exchange sales (which were considerable due so mammoth purchases by soldiers seeking to "stock up before going overseas) were used to finance projects for the enjoyment of the soldiers.
 
Troops disembarking the Army Transport Ernie Pyle
 
In an effort to ensure that only physically fit troops were sent for overseas duty everyone underwent complete medical examinations upon arrival at Camp Stoneman. This included a battery of inoculations to prevent diseases peculiar to Pacific destinations. An array of 45 dentists chairs were kept busy on an 18-hour schedule that saw many examinations conducted and teeth filled.
 
When the Second World War and the Korean Conflict each drew to a close, Camp Stoneman switched gears to become a separation center. Returning troopships were discharged at Fort Mason where soldiers were greeted by entertainers, an Army band, Red Cross volunteers passing out donuts, and coffee, and relatives and friends. The soldiers were then loaded aboard a ferry for the three-hour ride to Camp Stoneman.
 
Various "welcome home" signs greeted them along the way. A sign proclaiming "Welcome Home - Well Done" had been erected on Angel Wand, another on the side of the C&H sugar refinery passed by ferries near Crockett and yet another gracing the Southern Pacific Railroad bridge between Martinez and Benicia. Upon reaching the decorated Pittsburg docks, a "welcome home" private cabin cruiser pulled along side ferries of returning hoops. The complement of "wavers" aboard each boat included local high school students, female GI's from Camp Stoneman, and other local civilians.
 
 
Camp Stoneman's primary mission had changed to one ensuring that returning soldiers returned to their homes as soon as possible. Although maximum use was made of the rail transportation mode, some lucky soldiers were able to travel home by air aboard C-47 transports from nearby McClellan Field. Many soldiers residing on the West Coast reboarded transports due to shortages of ground transportation. A big benefit of this innovation was that it allowed many returnees to spend the Christmas of 1945 with their families rather than awaiting transportation at a military post
 
The largest telephone center in the world was operated at Camp Stoneman in 1945, consisting of 75 phone booths capable of handling 2,000 operator-assisted long distance telephone calls each day. One of the first spots visited by soldiers returning from overseas duty, telephone service was operated on a 24-hour basis. A telegraph office was also located on base, with the must frequent message being, "Arrived safely, be home soon."
 
Female soldiers at Camp Stoneman, 1952
 
Although Camp Stoneman's lifetime was relatively brief, it touched the lives of hundreds of thousands of Americans and helped bring two wars to successful conclusion. Nearly all the old buildings which once made up the post are gone now, but the many men and women who operated it as a marvel of modern efficiency can truly state, "Mission Accomplished."
 
 
Known Units at Camp Stoneman
 
World War II
 
23rd Army Air Forces Base Unit (AAF Command Group, Non-Divisional Unit)
 

This page was updated 13 February 2012


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