Fort Ord began its evolution into what we would recognize today in June 1940. The area purchased in 1917 and known to the troops at the Presidio of Monterey as the devils own acres had been used by them as a training and maneuver area since World War I. The area sometimes known as the Gigling Reservation then consisted of 15,000 acres of manzanita scrub brush and sand. Elements of the 3rd Infantry Division participated in exercises here in early 1940 before building began in earnest.
The 7th Infantry Division was activated by order of the War Department on 1 July 1940 at Fort Ord with the soon to be famous Brigadier General Joseph Stilwell as its first commander since World War I. It began moving into a tent city at Camp Ord (later called East Garrison), while a more permanent post was hurriedly constructed in an area close to Highway 1, known as Camp Clayton. One of the units stationed at the Presidio of Monterey during the inter-war years, 2/76th Field Artillery, became the first unit of the new division. The other unit that was stationed at the Presidio of Monterey, the 11th Cavalry, was soon moved to southern California for duty on the Mexican Border. The 17th Infantry Regiment, a unit traditionally associated with the 7th Infantry Division, was pulled from various posts throughout the country and assembled at Fort Ord. Other units assembled or activated at Fort Ord for inclusion in the Division were: the 32nd Infantry, the 53rd Infantry (activated 1 August 1940), and the 31st Field Artillery (activated 1 July 1940). Non-divisional units at Fort Ord were: the 19th Engineer Regiment (Combat, Corps) -- this unit originally activated as the 39th Engineer Regiment (General Service) on 27 June 1940 was redesignated as the 19th four days later -- and the 1st Medical Regiment.
As units moved into newly built barracks at Camp Clayton, the tents at Camp Ord became available for National Guard units called to active duty during the national emergency. The 147th Artillery (South Dakota National Guard) arrived Camp Clayton at Camp Ord after a remarkable overland journey from South Dakota that began in a blizzard. The, artillery regiments were later broken up to provide the separate field artillery battalions that were married with regiments throughout the army to form the regimental combat teams that were used during World War II and after. The 76th Field Artillery, for instance, was split into the 74th, 75th, and 76th field artillery battalions in January 1941.
By December of 1940, Fort Ord had 1,098 buildings finished or in progress. Just under $15 million in contracts had been let for construction at Fort Ord by that time. A 1,500-bed hospital on the new post opened in February 1941. Additional land was acquired that expanded the post to about 30,000 acres. Facilities at the Hearst Ranch, acquired in October 1940 and later renamed Camp Hunter Liggett were also constructed by elements of the 19th Engineers. Fourth Army conducted a large command post exercise there in the summer of 1941. Another unit, the 250th Coast Artillery (National Guard), was assembled at Camp McQuaide near Watsonville. This post later became a coast artillery replacement training center and then a large military confinement facility.
These posts were all included in the Fort Ord-Presidio of Monterey area. In December of 1940, the III Corp headquarters was installed in the post headquarters buildings at the Presidio of Monterey. The corps was comprised of the 7th Infantry Division and the 40th Infantry Division (National Guard) at Camp San Luis Obispo.
In January of 1941, Stilwell became the III Corps commander. In spite of this transfer, and subsequent duty in the China-Burma--India Theater, Stilwell would be forever associated with the division he activated and built. Brigadier General White, the assistant division commander, was appointed as the new commander of the division.
Throughout this period the Presidio (and Fort Ord) was a regional reception center for draftees called to duty during the general mobilization. As most of the draftees that arrived at Fort Ord were from California and other western states, the 7th Infantry Division had an unusually large percentage of Mexicans and Indians. Records indicate that there was a training establishment of some sort as there is mention of 11th and 13th training battalions at Camp Clayton but it unclear when and how these units were used. Many of the new inductees went straight to units as they were activated or expanded without benefit of basic training, as we know it today.
Just prior to the Japanese attack at Pearl Harbor, the 53rd Infantry was transferred to the Presidio of San Francisco to replace the 30th Infantry, which had been transferred after many years of duty there. The 159th Infantry of the 40th Infantry Division from Camp San Luis Obispo replaced them at Fort Ord. Much of this information was culled from yellowing copies of the Panorama. After the attack on Pearl Harbor and throughout the war years, the Panorama, by necessity, omitted any mention of specific units or movements. Fort Ord units guarded the coast and critical facilities in central and northern California for months after the attack. The 3rd Infantry Division, which went on to fame in, the European Theater trained here before heading off to the East Coast and the landings in North Africa in November 1942. The headquarters of the 27th Infantry Division was activated at Fort Ord in January of 1942 before moving to Hawaii the following month. The precursor to XVIII Corps (Airborne), the II Armored Corps, was also born at the Presidio of Monterey in January of that year. In the fall of 1942, the 43rd Infantry Division was at Fort Ord before departing for New Zealand. XVIII Corps was born at the Presidio of Monterey on 10 October 1943 by the redesignation of the II Armored Corps headquartered there. Another unit of interest, the 1st Filipino Infantry Regiment, was activated in April and eventually included a few veterans of fighting on Bataan that had been wounded, evacuated, and returned to duty in the United States. Black troops were also at Fort Ord. Most were in smaller colored quartermaster units. Monterey had its own colored USO and (lest you think that awareness of black history was a new thing) the week beginning 8 February 1943 was designated Negro1 History Week. The first contingent of German prisoners-of- war arrived in March 1943.
As the war went on, most of the large units had already been activated and had deployed overseas or were deploying. Emphasis shifted from activating and preparing units for overseas movement to supplying individual replacements for existing units. Problems with the readiness and training of individuals already sent overseas led to the formation of two centers with specific intention of preparing replacements for ground combat forces for overseas movement. One was established on the East Coast at Fort Meade, the other was established on the West Coast at Fort Ord. As the last major units departed the continental United States for campaigns in such places as the Aleutians in the summer of 1943, room was available on the installations like Fort Ord. Army Ground Forces (similar to TRADOC) Replacement Depot 2 opened in August 1943.
World War II placed increased emphasis on amphibious warfare particularly in the Pacific Theater and Fort Ord with access to the many beaches of the Monterey Bay became the home of an amphibious training unit designated the 18th Armored Group. Pictures in the Panorama of the various types of amphibious equipment used in and around Fort Ord as the war progressed, reveals the evolution of amphibious warfare during World War II from simple over-the-side Higgins boats to sophisticated tracked vehicles and drop ramp landing craft. Fort Ord amphibs participated in the D-Day landings and in all the Army amphibious operations in the Pacific. New equipment for amphibious warfare tested and reviewed by the Landing Vehicle Board established by the Army here on 11 April 1944. The Amphibious Equipment Branch superceded this shortly after the war in Oct.1945.
Other notable events in the Monterey area during the rest of the war included the opening of the Stilwell Hall enlisted club on 24 September 1943 and the movement of the newly reactivated Fourth Army Headquarters to the Presidio of Monterey from San Jose. After the departure of Fourth Army for Texas in 1943, III Corps returned to the Presidio of Monterey from Fort McPherson in January 1944. Headquarters III Corps departed in August 1944 and was replaced be a new type of headquarters that became a model for others around the country, the 1st Headquarters and Headquarters Detachment, Special Troops, Army Ground Forces, was established at Fort Ord in August 1944. As large headquarters that had been responsible for miscellaneous units inn the United States deployed overseas, units like this were established to exercise command and control over these units. There was an unsuccessful attempt by 500 German POWs to escape by tunnel in early August and Italian Service Companies consisting of former Italian POWs who had volunteered for service with US forces (Italy had surrendered) began arriving in September.
After VE day and preparations were underway for intensified operations in the Pacific culminating in the invasion of Japan. A combined Army-Navy Civil Affairs Staging Area (CASA) was established to prepare military government personnel. Another headquarters, XXXVI Corps, was formed at the Presidio. After the first atomic bomb was dropped in August, this corps was replaced by the famous VII Corps, returning from Europe in preparation for service against Japan and had most recently been at Camp San Luis Obispo. As the war wound down the discharge center that originally been at the Presidio of Monterey was moved to Camp Beale (now Beale Air Force Base). Fort Ord continued on its training capacity after the war.
1 All descriptions of ethnicities are as indicated on the original historical documentation.