“Accept the challenges so that you can feel the exhilaration of victory.”
-George S. Patton
Heading east on 1-10 about 30 minutes outside of Indio there’s the Chiriaco Summit exit which in itself is a microcosm of all things quirky about desert living. Here you can find a gas station, mini mart, fast food franchise, a diner, a travel center, a small campground and trailer park plus The General Patton Memorial Museum. It’s like a small town all congregated around one particular freeway off ramp and since it literally is in the middle of nowhere it is very crowded.
I had a burger and fries at the food counter inside the mini mart and walked about the offerings of this very small community but realized it was the museum that was the essence of this region. For a mere $5 I could walk the same hallowed ground as George Patton once did back in the 40’s when he created The Desert Training Center here at this location.
After walking by the West Coast Vietnam War Memorial and the oversized statue of the legendary general and his dog, I gladly paid and entered a somewhat dark room filled with glass cases, shelves, photographs and what looked to be like a load of memorabilia. It smelled musty and sort of like an attic in a very old house. I was prepared to find all sorts of little treasures and maybe some kind of kitschy campy t-shirt. I was disappointed later that this wasn’t going to be true.
I opted not to sit through the 26 minute video outlining Patton’s life and introduction to the desert and started combing through the aisles of stuff that lay before me. In every direction there were old uniforms, guns, bomb shells, flags, a jeep, some old typewriters, posters and more. To be honest it felt more like an Army/Navy surplus store than it did a museum. I walked through the exhibits twice but was unsure if any of the display items actually ever belonged Patton.
I was cordial and nice to the docents who worked or volunteered there as I made my way outside to the larger exhibits. By larger exhibits I mean tanks as there were army tanks all over the place in various states of repair and restoration. Don’t get me wrong, the tanks are really cool but after I had seen about five or ten or fifty of them I got a little bored. They also have some other vehicles on display there from the same time period including a transport, a fire truck and an amphibious vehicle.
The real story to this museum is what happened there in 1942. General Patton created The Desert Training Center on the same land and for the next couple of years soldiers were trained for potential combat in Northern Africa. Recruits from all over the country were brought into this unforgiving desert to live for weeks at a time, forced to run a mile in ten minutes carrying a rifle and backpack. Troops were trained without shelter in the desert heat while food and water was severely rationed. Patton was there for only four months after the center opened but during the two years of operation, over 1 million soldiers were trained at this location.
So in 1988 a museum was constructed to pay respect to a general that was there for four months and to a training camp that operated for two years. And lots of tanks were apparantly left behind.