This article was published in the Ojai Valley News on May 25, 2007. It is reprinted here with their permission.
Ojai readies for war with homefront efforts —
Nearby submarine sighting prompts World War II vigilance
by David Mason
On Feb. 24, 1942, the appearance of a Japanese submarine near Santa Barbara, and its shelling of the coast, emphasized the possible danger to California. As the submarine slipped into the Santa Barbara Channel and fired 20 rounds from its 5-inch guns into the Ellwood Oil Refinery at Goleta, it became evident that there was a real need for a well-trained organization to take over the responsibility for the defense of California.
The incident unnerved locals when told that it was the first attack of the war on the U.S. mainland. In the Ojai valley, blackouts became a nightly occurrence for several weeks.
Residents of Ojai, as in all American communities, threw themselves behind the war effort by raising money for the Red Cross, purchasing war bonds, rationing rubber tires, collecting scrap metal, nylon and silk and sewing bandages.
The civilian aircraft spotters set up an observation post on the old Raymond Ranch at the end of Ladera Road.
Patrols covered the waterfront: Malibu, Point Mugu, Oxnard, Carpenteria, Santa Barbara and Gaviota. Those were the days of bulky journals filled with notes of alleged submarines, which frequently turned out to be just sea lions, and of mysterious lights which were observed along the blacked-out coast. Those were the nights of two-man patrols tramping up and down the beaches in a darkness broken only by the signals of blue-covered flashlights which they carried so that their officers could find them.
Meanwhile, Col. Frank Dunkley’s 2nd Battalion of the 134th Infantry Regiment was ordered to take his battalion inland as a reserve force. Finding a location for the training base, he discovered the Ojai Valley Country Club. The club had been built in 1923 by Edward Drummond Libbey, owner of the Libbey Glass Company, and it was designed by the famous architect Wallace Neff. Ojai’s weekly newspaper, known as The Ojai, reported that Army officers had visited the valley during the first week in May to scout locations for a small unit of soldiers.
After getting permission from the Libbey estate to occupy the private property, a battalion of 1,000 men took over the former club. Enlisted men set up 125 tents on the golf course. Officers were housed in the clubhouse.
At the Ojai camp, fondly named Camp Lah Wee Lah His, meaning “the strong, the brave” in the language of the Nebraska Pawnee, which was the 134th regimental motto. Country Club Road was renamed Nebraska Road in honor of the regiment’s home estate.
There were a few problems with the rifle and machine gun field firing, which frequently amounted to a few minutes of firing the weapons either in Rancho Matilija or up in the Sespe and then spending the rest of the day fighting the brush and grass fires that they started.
Ojai was the scene of the inevitable formal guard mounts, and battalion and regimental parades. The band members in their white leggings and cross belts and shiny helmets, always put on a good show for those dress occasions.
The spic-and-span members of the guard would execute their movements in precision, the commander of the guard would inspect the men and always aroused the admiration of numerous spectators with his skillful spinning of the rifle as he stepped from one man to another while the band carried on with the “Missouri Waltz”.
The regimental parades on Sunday afternoon were an attraction for the hundreds of Ojai Friends, wives and sweethearts.
There was training in scouting and patrolling, first aid, military courtesy and discipline, there were Saturday morning inspections, and the review of weapons training.
In town, a hospitality center established by the Red Cross was set up in the Ojai Electric Shop on North Signal Street.
The USO opened in the Jack Boyd Club which was located on the main street just east of the Pergola. The men could find some relief from the exertions of training by attending the USO for ice cream and soda pop while listening to “Pistol Packin’ Mamma” on the radio.
As the battalions began to move out of Ojai, to begin processing for special expeditions, their records checking, inoculations and supplying were all accomplished here.
By the end of January 1944, units from Port Hueneme moved in. Like the Army before them, the sailors became an important part of valley life, even spending their liberty time helping local ranchers with the harvest during the summer and fall.
Local firefighters could always depend on the Navy personnel to help in an emergency. When a commercial airstrip was approved in Mira Monte, which came to be known as Henderson Field, the Navy loaned its heavy equipment to grade the landing strip.
The base hosted a golf match between Bing Crosby and Bob Hope on the nine-hole course. It was an extravaganza of stars and military brass that focused enormous media attention on the small town an its former country club. In a letter to the editor of The Ojai, the Presbyterian minister wrote, “The superb setting which suggested something of the grandeur and beauty of the far-flung expanse of our fair America – the green stretch of the beautiful golf links mounted to the noble range of the Matilija, and the mountains touched with the glory of the setting sun.”
Nine days later, on May 8, 1945, V.E. Day was celebrated by all Americans, and three months after that, V.J. Day brought an end to five years of combat fought on every continent of the world.
On June 7, 1947 the former country club was officially re-opened as the Ojai Valley Inn, leaving behind forever its place in the history of World War II.
6 Replies to “Mason Chronicles (5)”
Warms the cockles of me heart to know our boys were safely ensconced in the beautiful Ojai where they lifted the public’s spirits by parading around in fancy uniforms . Thank goodness “Pistol Packin’ MOmma” lifted the soldiers’ spirits.
Bravo and hats off to all who participated.
Fascinating history of both a heroic and a stressful time for our country and our valley. Many thanks to David Mason for bringing this to life!
You make history come alive, David Mason. Thank you for sharing your memories and giving me a better understanding of how Ojai participated in the war.
Was Henderson Airfield named after the one in Guadalcanal?
No, Henderson Airfield was not named after the one in Guadalcanal. It was named after the man (Don Henderson) that built the airfield.