Index of Images
Canal Early Days
Photos and Picture Post Cards from the collection of George Chevalier to compliment his memoirs.
Panoramic photos from the collection of Vicente Pascual.
The following photos are from
the collection of Bob Karrer. There is a mixture of different units
and eras in Fort Clayton's early years. I have tried to be as accurate
as possible with the descriptions.
Mixture of 33rd
Infantry, 2nd Field
Artillery, 11th Combat Engineers and Coastal Artillery units.
Army Display Day
Judge Lappin Retirement
USARSO Closing. The end of Fort Clayton as a American possession. From a Canal spoil dump to the occupation of the 33rd in 1920, we now close this wonderful part of our United States Military History with the official closing of Fort Clayton's last command.
Another Chapter of U.S. Military history in the Canal Zone.
Memories of the early
years of Fort Clayton, Panama Canal Zone
Fort Clayton was created in it's main section from fill from the main Canal line which was still being dumped in 1911 and by 1919 it was finished and we see vegetation now growing where the Fort itself is to be built. In 1920 the 33rd.Inf. was moved out of Empire and into their new home at Clayton. The main road to Pedro Miguel entered the Post and ran along the back of the west barracks in the quadrangle.
A large open expanse existed north of that main section and wasnamed Miller Field and was utilized by aircraft from France Field. Slightly northwest of that were the rifle pits of the range. My first memory of that range was of my Dad complaining of the misfire rate of the old WWI ammo the Army was then using up. The western end of Miller Field was marked off for polo matches and as a wee boy Dad took me to see the games.
In adulthood I've wondered where the officers
acquired their polo ponies and speculate as follows. In 1916 the 1st Sq.
of the 12th Cavalry arrived to be stationed at Corozal and the returned to
the States in 1921. Getting horses acclimated to the tropics was I believe
a dicey thing and I suspect that when they left most of the mounts
remained on the Zone. I would then assume that the polo playing officers
were able to buy their mounts from the government. The 11th Combat Engineer
Regiment came to Corozal also in 1920 so they were competitors of the
33rd.Inf. in this fast game.
The "mule skinners" would mount up their guns and wend their way up into the hills to the north towards Pedro Miguel where they would have live fire. In modern times I believe all such firing was done in the Empire Area on the west bank of the Canal.
In the summer school vacation of 1941 while working as electrical apprentices on the new row of barracks going up to the SCN building we paused to hang out a window and smart mouth a battery or two of 2nd FA types going by on the road right outside those barracks. The 1st Sgt. leading the column was a huge fat man who was nearly as big as the mount he was riding on. So we called down to ask him to give the mule a break and let the mule ride awhile. Bad Move!! He raised his arm and halted that column and in a flash a squad was into the building after us. In panic we raced up to the attic and out on the rafters around to the other side where we hid in fear.
When we came out they had of course gone and we never did that again for we realized we were dealing with some very tough troops. I believe they ended up in the mountains of Italy during WWII and I'm sure did well. In those peace time years Pacific Side Revues were all held at Fort Clayton and were a thrill for us kids to watch particularly if they were wearing the old steel helmet. The more seldom full Department. Revues were held at Albrook since there was room for all the men and rolling stock.
I seem to still smell the fresh baked bread when I recall driving through Corozal and Fort Clayton and salivate over thoughts of those cinnamon buns only the Army could bake.
I was asked about the origin of that Porte Cochere that ran through the middle of Building 95 the old 2nd FA Barracks. Someone said it must have been for the cavalry to pass through going to formations. No the 12thCavalry had departed at least 10 years before the building and the 2nd FA.
I forgot to tell that the 2nd FA was totally housed in that building the troops, supply, mess and the HQ's with their Brass and so to keep the brass from getting wet they could arrive or depart by staff car. I believe it was the only edifice so constructed on the Zone with an internal Porte Cochere.
The NCO Qtrs. along the west side of that main drag had their walk ways decorated with burned out 30 caliber machine gun barrels and I innocently asked an old sergeant how come and was treated to a shockingly explicit and profane explanation about idiots with lead fingers and no brains.
I recall how the MP's loved it when one or the other of those two units was out in the field there for only one unit would be drinking in the Post Beer Garden.
It was a lonely tour for a young man during those prewar depression years for while the officers were able to mix in with the civilian community the enlisted man was not welcomed in the Zone civilian towns. Most feminine contact took place in Panama Cities brothels and only rarely did our young trooper get accepted into a respectable Panamanian home. It took the build up and arrival of WWII to change all this for the better.
In the days before the WWII build up, recruits went only briefly to indoctrination centers and then were passed on to their assigned units which really administered the recruits basic training as so many of the Clayton photos attest to. Formal large recruit training centers came about with massive manpower buildup during the WWII Era.
The 5th Inf. came down to the Zone in November 1914 and was stationedon the west bank in one of the old construction towns until it left in the summer of 1918. But in 1916 it gave up 514 men to form the birth of the 33rd Inf. From it's birth on July 6,1916 until it moved to Ft. Clayton in November 1920 it also was over on the west bank.
The 5th Infantry left after WWI and returned to stay in Camp Paraiso from 1939
The 33rd Infantry stayed in Clayton until December 7,1941 when virtually within hours
they shipped out to Trinidad to set up the protection for the newly
acquired Lend Lease Bases in Trinidad.
When the 33rd went to Trinidad it was Head Quartered at Fort Read and units were sent out to other locations as needed. In 1943
volunteers were sought to be part of a secret combat unit then being formed and basically the men of the 2nd.
Battalion and their Col McGee
volunteered. Shipped back to the US and shot over to the west coast and over to the South Pacific were they became part of Merrills Marauders
which I believe operated in Burma.
When Col. McGee and his 2nd Bat. of the 33rd Inf. volunteered to go to the secret combat unit that became Merrill's Marauders they did not go as 33rd Infantry men. They were then part of a new unit under a different designation. As I have heard there was a bit of bitching for after hitting the US they were shunted across the States in closed troop trains with the windows all covered over to supposedly maintain secrecy. But they were mollified with the thought that at last they were going to the combat big league. Historian Wayne Worthington saw records that said the 33rd Inf. was the only US Army Regiment to be activated overseas and never really served within the continental US.
A Brief History of the 33rd Infantry Regiment by Andrew Demes - This history brief written and submitted by Andrew J. Demes. Click here to open the .pdf document.
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I have only touched the tip of a very big iceberg here. I hope to add to this historical presentation as I get the material. If anyone reading here and is interested in providing more historical data, please contact me.