In November 1940, development began for a Coast Artillery Antiaircraft Replacement Training Center that as next to March Army Air Field now called Marsh Air Reserve Base. Known as Camp Haan, the base opened in 1941 at the height of World War II for the United States. At the time, it seemed necessary to build a coastal Army base near Riverside, California. The Army camp became incredibly large and at one time housed 80,000 soldiers. As a training camp, it was one of the most basic and yet expansive. However, the entire base always felt temporary. Robert F. Gallagher, who was stationed at Camp Haan said that one fellow private commented about the camp, “I’ve been in a lot of outhosues but this is the first I’m gonna sleep in one.” Although there wasn’t a piece of trash to be found in the camp, the temporary huts, tent-style and desolate atmosphere made Camp Haan one of the dullest places for training.
Camp Haan was home to soldiers who were an important part of the World War II antiaircraft strategy. The base was large and spanned across approximately 8,000 acres. However, it seemed almost impolite to build the base across from March Air Field for soldiers who had hoped to become pilots in the war. The camp was bare of any bushes or trees according to Gallagher, but it was superbly clean for a military base. While Camp Haan may have started out as a collection of tents, it eventually had 353 wooden buildings in addition to the 2,549 floor tents, hospital, chapels, exchanges, sewers, mess halls and streets. The camp was home to the boys who would be the first line of defense if attacks on Pearl Harbor had moved to California.
The living quarters and buildings of Camp Haan were rudimentary according to Gallagher. They were made from plywood and typically were 14-by-14 feet. They had no insulation, finishing or paint. While the upper part of the buildings often had a screen and awnings, rain storms were particularly dreadful as the only means to protect the barracks was with a plywood sheet. Most of the barracks contained a wooden floor, potbelly stove and canvas cots with 3-inch thick mattresses. There were six men to each wooden hut. In such small spaces, duffel bags became bureaus. There were no luxuries in Camp Haan.
Men who came to Camp Haan were assigned to the 815th Anti-Aircraft Artillery (AAA), Automatic Weapons (AW) Battalion. The main weapons for the soldiers were 40mm guns that fired two rounds per second with automatic but could also be set to fire solitary shots. Most soldiers spent hours learning how to operate and maintain their guns. Soldiers also learned how to operate 90mm and 120mm guns.
As the war progressed, the base became less useful as a training center. Space was needed prisoners were taken from the battlefield. The base closed and reopened as a prisoner of war camp in 1942 housing Italian and eventually German POWs. The prisoners worked at Camp Haan and also in the citrus orchards located outside of the camp. Originally, there were 1,200 Italian POWs, but in 1945, German POWs replaced the Italians. A hospital with 800 beds was also built to handle the wounded that came in from the Pacific operations, and the Southwest Branch was opened as a U.S. Disciplinary Barracks at Camp Haan later that year. After the war ended, there seemed to be little use for the camp as a training center or POW camp. It was transformed into a separation center, which were used to house soldiers before they were discharged from the Army. Camp Haan would eventually close on August 31, 1946.
Once the base officially closed, the buildings were sold, the land was divided and sold off as parcels. Some of the land went to March Field while another went to create the Riverside National Cemetery on Van Buren Boulevard. Other parts of the camp went to establishing Arnold Heights, which was named after “Hap” Arnold, who was the General of the Army. Now much of the land is comprised of the General Olds Golf Course.
The Riverside National Cemetery Office now resides where the Camp Haan Headquarters used to be. Small parts of the land continue to be unused, which can be seen from State Route 215.
Riverside’s local paper. The Press-Enterprise, ran a story in 2012 about Bill McGaugh, a 90-year-old former officer in the Army who served at Camp Haan. He was an assistant to the commanding general of the training command at Camp Haan and quickly rose from private to warrant officer during World War II. He knew much about the base and recalled that one of the biggest problems was the waste of food at the camp. Cooks often cooked more than enough food because they had the wrong numbers of soldiers who were actually present. He also suggested that the officers ate better than the privates, who regularly received hominy grits, a dish that was not well liked by soldiers from the North.
In addition, San Berardino was considered a “city of vice,” and therefore soldiers were not permitted to go to certain parts of the city during their stay at Camp Haan. Military police often patrolled the streets where brothels were known to reside just in case any soldier stepped out of line.
McGaugh also recalled that there were about 100 women working at Camp Haan who were secretaries, clerical workers and nurses. He said that the women were very popular with the soldiers who came to train at the base.
While many believed that Camp Haan sent soldiers to Pacific operations, they were often sent to European Theater of Operations as the artillery was more useful in land campaigns going on in Europe rather than the islands of the Pacific.
The vacant space of Camp Haan and the Riverside National Cemetery serve as a reminder of the US involvement for World War II.