The role of Bouse in World War II and the legacy of that conflict was remembered with the 25th annual Camp Bouse Memorial Dedication on Feb. 13.
Camp Bouse was a training center for American armored units in 1943 and 1944. It was part of the Desert Training Center. The site was selected by Gen. George S. Patton because it was remote and because it was accessible by railroad. He also knew the harsh desert environment was ideal for training the troops for what they could expect in combat. More than 10,000 soldiers trained here.
The Master of Ceremonies for the event was David Bull of the Bouse Chamber of Commerce. He thanked everyone for attending, and thanked everyone who had a part in making this year’s ceremony. He said it was particularly difficult this year due to the coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic.
Bull noted it’s been 77 years since Camp Bouse was decommissioned. He thanked the veterans and active service members in the audience for their service. He said America would not be where it is today with the service of our military veterans.
One of the guest speakers for the occasion was Col. Ben “Patrick” McFall, the commander of the Yuma Proving Grounds. A veteran of Iraq and Afghanistan, he said he appreciated the support the people of Bouse have for the U.S. Armed Forces.
McFall said the Yuma Proving Grounds is involved in testing and developing new weapons, as well as training troops. The YPG is continuing the legacy that was started at Camp Bouse.
He said America’s people are the nation’s greatest asset, and he was proud of all the people he served with in the Armed Forces.
“At the Yuma Proving Grounds, you have many great people supporting our mission,” he said. “They’re working to make sure the greatest military force the world has ever known, the United States military, remains that way for years to come.”
Another guest speaker was La Paz County Sheriff William Ponce. A veteran of the U.S. Navy and the Army Reserves, he said he was proud to have served his nation as others in his family had before him. He said he was proud to continue to serve, and proud of everyone who had served or is now serving in the Armed Forces.
Students from Bouse Elementary School were on hand to bring in the flags of each of the branches of the U.S. Armed Forces.
An honor guard from the Veterans of Foreign Wars and the American Legion raised the colors and played “Taps” at the close of the ceremony.
Camp Bouse trained armored units for combat. From Camp Bouse, they went out to fight the Axis forces of Nazi Germany, Fascist Italy and Imperial Japan.
The site was also used to test and train personnel on a top secret device known as the Canal Defense Light. Dubbed the “Gizmo” by the troops, it was a powerful strobing searchlight that was mounted on a specially equipped tank. The idea was that it could be used to temporarily blind German troops during tank assaults and infantry charges.
One of the reasons for the Gizmo was American tanks like the M4 Sherman were outmatched by the German tanks, especially later tanks like the Panther, Tiger, and King Tiger. These were better armored than their American counterparts, and their 88mm guns could shoot further and hit harder.
Some 5,500 specially trained and screened volunteers were brought to Camp Bouse to test and train on the Gizmo. They arrived in troop trains from Fort Knox on Oct. 14, 1943.
It turned out the Gizmo never saw combat. It was rendered obsolete when the Germans began equipping their tank and gun crews with sun-filter goggles that could negate its effects.
As for the German tanks, sheer numbers weighed in favor of the Allies. The Germans also had to use most of their tanks against the Russians, who had tanks that were as good as what the Germans had. The Sherman tank was also mechanically reliable and could be repaired in the field. The German tanks often broke down, and were too complex to fix in the field.
The idea of monuments to the units that trained at Camp Bouse originated with the late George Wendt of the 526th Armored Infantry Battalion. The first dedication in 1997 honored the 526th AIB. Since then, monuments have been erected to honor the armored units that trained here. Monuments have also been erected to honor the ordinance and quartermaster units that served here, the base hospital and its nurses, and even the camp’s mascot and “morale officer,” a mule named “8-Ball.”
The A&C Mercantile in Bouse was also honored for serving as the post office and Post Exchange (PX) for the base.
The Camp Bouse Monument is located at the intersection of Plomosa Road and State Route 72 in Bouse. It’s open to the public. Look for the tanks.