Californians and the Military
Major General Walter Perry Story
The Man Behind the Founding of Camp San Luis Obispo
By Mark J. Denger
California Center for Military History
The need for a state-owned training site became a reality when General Richard E. Mittestaedt, State Adjutant General, and Major General Walter P. Story, Commanding the 40th Infantry Division, with the help of State Senator Chris N. Jepersen persuaded the Legislature to acquire a training site for the California National Guard. This became Camp San Luis Obispo, the original home of the California National Guard.
Major General Walter Perry Story is the man directly responsible for the establishment of Camp San Luis Obispo as the California National Guard's first training camp. Although not actually a native of California, General Story nevertheless passed the greater part of his life in this state. General Story brought to the military service a lifetime of experience as a businessman and an executive. Having risen from the ranks as a private to Commanding General, he possessed an unusually deep understanding of the military and its relationship to the citizen soldier.
The Story family is an old and prominent one and dates back to 1640 in Massachusetts. Walter Perry Story was born at Bozeman, Montana, on December 18, 1882, the son of Nelson and Ellen (Trent) Story, his father being a native of Ohio, born in 1838. They were pioneer settlers of Montana, migrating from there from their eastern home in the 1860s, where his father, Nelson Story there engaged in mining, banking, milling and the cattle business. His father was credited with one of the largest individual fortunes in that state. Nelson grew up on a farm, but had a partial college education, and in early manhood identified himself with the western frontier. He was a participant in the early freight business between the Missouri River and the Rocky Mountains, and as a miner, rancher and business man of varied interests, his career belongs as much to the history of California, as Montana, and a number of territories. For many years he was president of the Gallatin Valley National Bank at Bozeman, Montana, and was one of the most helpful factors in building up that city. The family came to Los Angeles in 1894 to establish a winter home, and Nelson, seeing the future possibilities of the city, invested heavily in real estate, thus forming the nucleus of the family's large interests in Southern California. His father died on February 9, 1924.

Walter was the youngest of their family of three sons and one daughter; the others being Mrs. Hogan, the wife of Dr. Garrett L. Hogan of Los Angeles; Nelson, Jr., who became lieutenant governor of Montana; and Thomas, who was a rancher and banker.

Walter was to receive his early education in the public schools of Bozeman, later attending both public and private schools in Los Angeles. At the age of sixteen he entered Shattuck Military Academy at Faribault, Minnesota. He was there until 1902, and graduated from the Eastman Business College at Poughkeepsie, New York in 1903. Walter returned to Bozeman where he became identified with the Commercial National Bank, an outgrowth of the Gallatin Valley National Bank of which his father was now president. Beginning as a bookkeeper and teller he continued his services for two years and then returned to Los Angeles in 1905 where he managed and pioneered the first motor transit lines in the West. In 1907 he engaged in the real estate business with Arthur E. Tandy under the name of Tandy & Story. He dissolved that firm about the time he began the erection of the Story Building.

To the initiative and resources commanded by Walter, Los Angeles is indebted for one of its first sky scraper office structures in the business district, the Walter P. Story Building, at Sixth and Broadway. This office structure stands on a lot which his father Nelson Story had bought in 1895, for a purchase price of fifty thousand dollars. The transaction was concluded with a cablegram from Colonel James Lankershim, who was then in Paris. When Walter was fourteen years old his father presented him with the lot. Walter began the erection of the million dollar building in April 1908, borrowing half the amount from his father and negotiated the rest by loans from local bankers. The building was completed on April 1, 1910, and at that time was regarded as the most beautiful office buildings in the city. Standing twelve stories high, and with a frontage of 120 feet on Broadway and 150 feet on Sixth Street, it was one of the most modern for its day. The building proved to be a profitable investment, and the obligations against it were quickly cleared away. One of the unique features of this structure was the adaptation of its roof penthouse as a luxurious place of residence, a surrounding wall and growing shrubbery making it a beautiful home for Mr. and Mrs. Story during part of the year.

Owning other valuable realty in Los Angeles, he soon became one of the best known of the younger financiers of Southern California, who by his ability and judgment was brought in close association with the general up-building and development of the Southland. Another of his multi-million dollar undertakings was the building of the Los Angeles Stock Exchange Building, on South Spring Street, a thirteen-story structure, in the finest part of the city, which was completed in 1921. Mr. Story also owned a beautiful country estate and ranch house, sixteen acres situated four miles from Hollywood, where he lived part of the year.

His military career, like his business career is equally as impressive and spans nearly three decades. His patriotism and love of country spired him to enlist as a private in the Infantry. During this period General Story fathered what was then Battery A of the California Field Artillery (later Battery A, 143rd Field Artillery), recruited the battery, raised funds to build an armory and stables in Los Angeles.

After being discharged from World War I service, in December 1920, Walter was commissioned a Captain, Infantry, California National Guard and began devoting his energies toward reorganizing the National Guard in Southern California. In 1921 he was promoted to the rank of Major and organized a separate infantry company, which would later evolve into the Third Separate Battalion. From this nucleus he began to form the 160th Infantry.

In 1922, under appointment by President Harding, Colonel Story organized and then took command of the 160th Infantry, California National Guard. He then inaugurated training schools, fully accredited and directed by Army instructors, and candidate classes through which enlisted men showing ability and initiative could become junior officers. During this period he founded the 160th Infantry Guardsman, a publication which made possible the statewide organ, The California Guardsman.

Upon formation of the 40th Division, he took the Fort Leavenworth examinations before a Regular Army Board at the Presidio of San Francisco, passed with a high average and was subsequently promoted to Brig. General of the line in July 1926. He was now assigned command of the 80th Brigade, a command which he would hold for 11 years until commissioned a Major General.

In 1928, General Story, was instrumental in persuading the Legislature in acquiring and establishing Camp Merriam as a training site for the California National Guard. Camp Merriam was then comprised of an area of 5,800 acres, which lies east and north of State Highway 1 –present day Camp San Luis Obispo.

Only a few days after his arrival at home station from the Army War College in 1933, disaster struck the Long Beach area. General Story was immediately placed in complete charge of the situation. Under his direction, the California National Guard responded quickly to the area, rendering aid and protection to property during this period of state emergency. The efficiency with which this was accomplished clearly indicated his leadership and ability to organize and command. Various types of special mobile equipment was developed by the General through his experiences during this period have since proved their utility and necessity.

The same year he graduated from the U.S. Army War College and would be promoted to the rank of Major General in July 1937. After completion of the General Officers Course, Ft. Benning, Georgia, in 1940 he assumed command of the 9th Army Corps, Ft. Lewis, and entered Federal Service in March 1941, where he assumed command of the 40th Infantry Division, now composed of the National Guard elements from California, Arizona and Utah, as well as the many infantry divisions which were to follow, then in training at Camp Merriam, San Luis Obispo, California. It was during this period that the name of Camp Merriam was changed to Camp San Luis Obispo.

The spirit of General Story was reflected down through the ranks of the 40th Division. Having served through the ranks from private to Major General, his understanding of the men under him clearly influenced the high morale of the 40th Division. He was relieved from command due to protracted illness in September 1941, and retired from active list in July 1942. Among his citations and decorations include Victory Medal (World War I), Service Medal (25 Years), Medal of Merit, American Defense Service Ribbon, and the Order Crown of Italy.

In addition to his distinguished military career, Mr. Story also served as Commissioner of Agriculture for the Sixth District, appointed by Governor Hiram Johnson and was successively reappointed by Governors William D. Stephens and F. W. Richardson. He also served as Commissioner of the Los Angeles Fire and Police Pension Board. He took great pride in the fact that he was made an honorary member of the Los Angeles Stock Exchange, the only individual to whom such a membership was ever extended. He served as Director, Standard Finance Company; Chairman of the Board, Mullen & Bluett Clothing Company; Managing Director, Ribbonwood Tungsten Ore Company; Director, Manganese Ore Company of Nevada; and President, Story Building Corporation. He was a member of both the Los Angeles Realty Board and Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce, serving on the military and naval affairs commission of the latter. He served as the Commander of the American Legion, was a honorary member of the Spanish-American War Veterans.

Both Mr. and Mrs. Story were very popular socially and Mr. Story was a member of a number of exclusive social clubs, including the California Club, Los Angeles Country Club, Los Angeles Athletic Club, Midwick and Overland Country Clubs (Pasadena), Bel Air Bay Club (San Francisco), Bohemian Club (San Francisco), Rancho Visitasdores (Santa Barbara), and the Sons of the Revolution in the State of California.

As a member of the Association of Army Officers of the United States, Major General Walter Perry Story's attributed his success to his family's long line of military service. His great-great grandfather, John Story, served as a Sergeant in Captain Jonahan Cogswell's Company, which marched on the alarm of April 19, 1775, and also in Captain David Low's 3rd Company, Colonel Cogswell (3rd Essex County) Regiment who served throughout the American Revolution. Joining the Sons of the Revolution in 1922 as a life member, while still only a colonel, he later served that society as its Marshall, where he enjoyed the fellowship of such other notable National Guard members as Brigadier General Seth Edwin Preston Howard (Adjutant General 1931-35) and Major General Hervey Harcourt.

Until his death, he maintained his office in the Walter P. Story Building and resided at 3405 Laurel Canyon Blvd., North Hollywood. Major General Walter Perry Story's civic record is as outstanding as his military record. As a true citizen soldier, much of his life was spent in the service to his fellow man. Much of what the California National Guard has become today is based upon his foresight.


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Updated 8 February 2016