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Nothing Chicken at the Patton Museum

December 02, 1990|ZAN THOMPSON

Gigi sleeps on the Steinway concert grand piano. She clucks sharply when it's time to come in at night as the neighboring coyotes are coming out. Gigi is a Rhode Island red hen who lives on Lookout Mountain off Laurel Canyon.

She lives with Patricia and Carl Earl, who are members of the U.S. Coast Guard Reserve. Patricia holds the rank of commander; Carl is a lieutenant commander.

I sat at the same table with the Earls on Nov. 10, the birthday of the U.S. Marine Corps, although this was not a Marine event. Also at our table were Lt. Col. and Lt. Francis and Ruby Cook. Ruby was in the Army Nurse Corps and flew evacuation flights during World War II.

The evening was on the first day of a two-day event to benefit the Gen. George S. Patton Memorial Museum at Chiriaco Summit, 30 miles from Indio.

Marc Schoonmaker is the vice president of the Patton Memorial, which operates in association with the U.S. Department of the Interior and the Bureau of Land Management. It is Schoonmaker, an Air Force Reserve officer, who spearheaded the effort for the museum named for the flamboyant, determined and controversial Patton.

The museum commemorates Patton and the Desert Training Command. In 1942, the command was carved out of the desert in three states--California, Nevada and Arizona. This area, designated by Patton to train men for battle in North African, was 18,000 square miles.

In 1985, the Bureau of Land Management had built a pyramid-shaped monument on the site and dedicated it on May 8, the anniversary of VE Day.

In 1986, the BLM held a reunion for veterans to build support for the memorial and a museum for the Desert Training Command. The completed museum is 5,000 square feet. "It's a memorial to the more than 1 million men who trained in what Gen. Patton called the land that God forgot," Schoonmaker said.

The celebrations on Nov. 10-11 were the second time Desert Training Center veterans had gathered to benefit the museum. The first event honored Gen. Jimmy Doolittle. At the dinner on Nov. 10, the second Gen. Patton Award, a bronze bust, was given posthumously to Gen. Curtis LeMay. Gen. Robert D. Beckel, commander of the 15th Air Force at March Air Force Base, accepted the award for the LeMay family.

While Patton was in command, he established the Ancient Flea-Bitten Honorable Order of Desert Rats, with Patton as Chief Rodent. Marc Schoonmaker is now Rodent Emeritus. Beckel was named Chief Rodent for the coming year. Schoonmaker told me, "Gen. Beckel still holds the scoring record in basketball at the Air Force Academy. He played in the all-star game with Jerry West and the rest of the all-time stars in the late '50s."

Jess Marlow, anchorman for KNBC, was master of ceremonies for events on both days. Stephen Garrett, director of the new Armand Hammer Museum and Cultural Center, spoke to dinner guests Nov. 10. He is interested in the Patton Museum because there are no large donors. It was planned and completed by volunteers, many veterans of the Desert Training Command.

Schoonmaker said, "It shows what a public entity like the BLM and private sector volunteers can do. Those guys were out there laying bricks and building walls, doing most of the construction themselves."

At the Sunday ceremony at the museum, Marine Col. John Moffett, representing the Marine Corps Air Ground Training Center at Twentynine Palms, honored the desert warriors they were remembering and those who are part of Operation Desert Shield.

Guests at the memorial museum dinner were interested civilians and reservists who believe those who served at the Desert Training Command in the middle of the Mojave Desert merit a memorial. Brig. Gen. David Henley, a board member of the memorial and museum wrote about it: ". . . a bleak, inhospitable, remote, vast expanse of cactus shrub and sand with temperatures ranging from below freezing to 120 in the shade. The elevation is from the desert floor to 7,000 feet above sea level."

It was an evening to hear about the very young men who trained there and their "Old Blood and Guts" leader, Gen. George S. Patton.

And to meet the Earls and the Cooks and to hear about Gigi, the only hen who sleeps on a Steinway.

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