If you're planning a drive across the Mojave Desert in Southern California, prepare yourself for a serious dose of vast, hot, dry nothingness ... and tanks. That's right, along the side of the i10 freeway in the tiny community of Chiriaco Summit is a tank museum established as an homage to General George S. Patton. From a Russian riot control tank to the mighty M60A3 Patton Tank (that you can climb in), expect to be amazed.
Joe Chiriaco purchased the land that houses the museum in the late 1920s, after he'd heard that the sole gravel road through the area was going to be paved for an interstate highway. The rumors were true and in 1933, highway 60 was born. Joe had already built up a store in preparation for the highway and was open for business the same day the highway opened.
Several years later in 1942, Joe had the encounter that would lead to the creation of the museum: an unexpected visit from General George S. Patton. Patton was tasked to train upwards of a million soldiers to endure conditions similar to the Sahara Desert in North Africa. Chiriaco Summit (formerly called Shavers Summit) was the perfect place for Patton to build Camp Young, the headquarters for the Desert Training Center. The DTC was the largest military training ground in the history of the United States, and Camp Young was the world's largest Army post. It remained an active military installation for just over two years, from April 1942 until July 1944, after the North African campaign was won by the Allies.
On December 8, 1945, General Patton was leaving for a hunting trip in Heidelberg, Germany when his car had a low speed crash with a United States Army truck. Patton hit his head in the crash breaking his cervical 3rd and 4th vertebrae, leaving him paralyzed from the neck down. He died 12 days later in his sleep.
After General Patton's death in 1945, Joe Chiriaco established a memorial in Chiriaco Summit in his honor.
In 1989, the Bureau of Land Management expanded Joe's memorial and opened a museum at the site where Camp Young had existed. Today you'll find over a dozen tanks and approximately 40 military vehicles in and around the museum, many of which have been battered by war and weather, but all with interesting stories to tell. Inside there are hundreds upon hundreds of fascinating artifacts, weapons, documents, and art from World War I and II, through to conflicts as recent as Operation Desert Storm.
One could spend hours inside and not see it all. In the meantime, those with an interest in military history who don't happen to be heading out into the Mojave Desert anytime soon can head through to the gallery for a sample of what the museum has to offer.
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