Military exercises have been carried out here numerous times over the years but perhaps none have equaled those completed here during September 1952. These exercises were the first to determine just how proficient the Marines would be in carrying out a new invasion tactic utilizing aircraft for the deployment of troops in a land based invasion. The Marine “airhead”, which replaces the battle scared beach head tactics of World War II and encompassed the use of three distinctly different types of aircraft. Conventional fixed-wing transports from the El Toro Marine Corp Station, Santa Ana, California, transport helicopters from the Marine Corp Air Facility Santa Ana and the giant Seaplane patrol bombers from the U.S. Naval Air Station, San Diego, which were used in this military problem.
The beginning of the exercise started a week earlier when over 300 combat troops of the famed third Marine division from Camp Pendleton arrived here with a wide array of battle gear and “dug in” as the aggressor of force. They took up positions at the Hawthorne air field, the south beaches of Walker Lake and set up their command post and major defensive positions in the canyons of Mt. Grant, particularly Cat Creek Canyon behind the Naval Depot reservoir.
Commanding Generals of Air-FMFPac at El Toro and the FMFPac troops at Camp Pendleton were ordered to deploy and conduct an airborne assault against the aggressor forces. They did and the “war” lasted for three days with an assault of marines being deployed from nine seaplanes to take the Walker Lake beaches, the helicopters which were used to take the airfield from their base in Schurz and the ensuing landing of the big transports with a large contingent of additional troops to take and hold what they had gained. The troops and helicopters were then used to take control of mountain terrain. The exercise went very well but with one problem encountered, when one of the helicopters crashed at their base at Schurz but no one was seriously injured.
The cliff area was lined with cars full of spectators observing the seaplanes landing and then discharging the marines into huge rubber rafts to begin the assault on the beach. The on lookers were so heavy around the cliffs and along the highway that traffic control became a bit of a problem. Even tourists were pulling over to see what was going on. Being in high school while this exercise was taking place, my friends and I were curious about the thing that we were driving back and forth between the lake and airport trying to not miss anything. We knew we were contributing to the traffic problem but with all the activity going on it was just too much to pass up.
The exercise wrapped up at noon on a Sunday and the troops granted “liberty” when the “second” invasion of Hawthorne began. Naturally the bars did land office business and they were line up at the Green Front, “belly to back” for nearly two blocks. Even some of the school girls were driving by and honking at them. I can recall wishing that I had a camera because later on no one who was there was going to believe me.