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Guardians of the Yosemite (1961) by John W. Bingaman


Chapter XIII

WORLD WAR II CONDITIONS IN YOSEMITE

After December 7, 1941, when the World War II started, protection of water systems and dams in the U.S.A. was of the utmost importance. He[t]ch Hetchy Dam and the entire system, became our number one problem. It was necessary to cooperate with the California National Guard to assist in the placing of guards around the dams and power houses. The Hetch Hetchy Dam, Resorvoir, Lake Eleanor Dam became “Closed Military Areas,” and were so posted. A Military Guard was quartered at Mather Camp and Hetch Hetchy.

The Superintendent ordered me back to Mather Ranger Station where I could act as a coordinator with the guards and city officials in reference to all protection in that area. Twenty-four hour protection was set with full military orders to be ready for any event. Sabotage was expected and no unauthorized travel in the military zone was permitted. The guards were armed with rifles and prepared to use them. It was my duty to keep in touch with the officers, the city officials and park headquarters. Only rangers, fire guards, park employees and city employees were permitted to enter the closed area. It was strictly an emergency operation that summer. Forest fire protection was stepped up. Fire lookouts were instructed to be on twenty-four hour alerts. The ranger force was alerted to be prepared for any emergency.

A number of our rangers were called up for military service. Travel was almost at a standstill. On December 1, 1942, gas rationing went into effect and only essential trips were made. The older rangers who remained in the Park during the war years had many additional jobs to perform. Maintenance was at a minimum. Added to the rangers’ regular duties were sanitation jobs, cleaning comfort stations, cutting winter wood for our quarters, clearing the trails of down timber, and doing many other jobs that ordinarily would have been done by maintenance crews. Telephone communication had to be maintained and it was up to the rangers to keep lines open to the outpost stations.

Twenty-four hour protection was given to all facilities, including the utility area where a ranger was assigned to the night watch. This assignment was divided among the rangers, each taking his turn.

The summer period brought additional problems with forest fire hazards and where to find enough men to fight the fires if they started. We recruited high school boys and four F men who were not able to enter the Armed Services.

The rangers who remained to guard our National Parks and Resources throughout the war years also served their country. These rangers received no special benefits for their services such as G.I. benefits, etc. The old rangers were ready and willing to take over the extra work as their patriotic duty. The Navy took over the Ahwahnee Hotel and made a Hospital out of it from June 23, 1943, to December 15, 1945. Many service men were brought to the hotel for treatment and rest.

During the critical years of the war there was a question at one time whether or not the Park should be closed to all vacation travel. It was decided not to close except in restricted areas. I think this was a good decision for it gave many people a chance to relax and rest away from the war tensions.

February 23, 1944, Oscar Sedergren was transferred to the Park as Chief Ranger. He was previously stationed in Mt. Rainier National Park. John Wegner was also transferred to Sequoia National Park as Chief Ranger.

April 20, 1944, I was assigned to take charge of Wawona and of Chinquapin Districts with headquarters at Wawona. There wasn’t must help to take charge of in those days and I was both boss and a one man crew.

During the early part of the World War II a tungsten mine was discovered near Bonds Pass within the boundaries of the Park. After some controversy regarding park regulations restrictions were lifted because of the need for this particular metal for war purposes, and the War Department and Park Service arranged to allow the ore to be mined and packed out by mule to Kennedy Meadows, about twenty miles by mountain trail. Fifty pack mules were used as there were some seventy-five tons of high grade ore packed out. This was all done in two summer’s work. It appeared that only the one out cropping was discovered in this location. Later, other tungsten mines were located on the east side of the Sierras.

June 27, 1943, a B24 Bomber with seven army men aboard crashed on Koip Peak Glacier near the Park Boundary and all aboard the plane were killed. Rangers Danner and Caster of the Tuolumne Meadow Station, with the help of forest service rangers, removed the bodies. By the end of the year 1945, the rangers who had served in the armed services started to return to their respective jobs. They had been promised their same jobs and places when they returned. I was in charge of Wawona District, the place Ranger Mernin held when he entered the Armed Service, so it was my move to vacate for him. On May 22, 1946, we transferred back to Mather Ranger District.


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