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As we approach Veterans Day, we're going to explore some of the impact that our serving men & women had on Riverside. Our challenge this week takes us back before World War I, after which Veterans Day was first celebrated as Armistice Day in recognition of the end of the "war to end all wars". This day celebrated not only the service of our heroic military members, but served as a call to strive continuously towards world peace.
In November 1919, President Wilson proclaimed November 11 as the first commemoration of Armistice Day with the following words: "To us in America, the reflections of Armistice Day will be filled with solemn pride in the heroism of those who died in the country’s service and with gratitude for the victory, both because of the thing from which it has freed us and because of the opportunity it has given America to show her sympathy with peace and justice in the councils of the nations…"
Today, we celebrate Veterans Day to honor those men & women who serve and recognize their willingness to sacrifice themselves for our country and for the common good.
To complete this challenge: Run, walk, bike or otherwise move 1K, anywhere you like, representing one historic site in the challenge, for a total of 5K per challenge per week. Take a selfie or another picture of you and your friends at each historic site and share it on www.missioninnrun.org and your own social media with the hashtag #MissionInnRun. Not in Riverside? You can still meet the challenge by completing the distance component.
How to submit your results: Visit www.missioninnrun.org and click on the Results page. Click Submit Results and log in. In the drop-down button, select the Riverside Historic Landmark Weekly Challenge, select which historic site you visited, fill in your distance/time information and submit!
Frank Miller, owner of the Mission Inn in Riverside, and other California dignitaries travelled to Washington, D.C. in February of 1918. Their mission? to convince the War Department to construct a military base at Alessandro Field, a stubble-covered airstrip located near Riverside.
Within a record 60 days after their idea was approved, enough hangars, barracks and flight-related buildings had been erected on the grounds of Alessandro Field to support the arrival of its first contingent of troops as well as the commander appointed to lead the squadron, Captain William Carruthers who for a time operated out of an office in the Mission Inn.
As March Field began to take on the appearance of a permanent military installation in the 1920s, the base's basic mission changed from a training site to an operational base. The arrival of the 1st Bombardment Wing initiated a period where March Field became associated with the Air Corps' heaviest aircraft as well as an assortment of fighters.
Sixty-plus years later, in 1979, the March Field Air Museum was formed which today chronicles the history of this famed air force facility and the various roles it has played over the last century, from a Tactical Air Command Base to the Strategic Air Command. With over 80 aircraft and more than 30,000 individual artifacts, the museum strives to promote an understanding of humanity's reach for the skies and of March Field's pivotal role in the development of flight. For nearly 100 years, March Field has been home to aviation pioneers, some famous and some anonymous. They left a treasure trove of precious artifacts from aircraft to flight gear, from simulators to uniforms, from photos to personal letters.
Come and walk in the footsteps of these heroes. Step through a World War I trench line under the shadow of the world's fastest manned aircraft, the SR-71 Blackbird. Share in the experience of bombardment groups who performed their final training at March before embarking for duty in the Pacific. (During this period, the base doubled in area and supported as many as 75,000 troops.) Walk through a Vietnam era Fire Base surrounded by a brace of. Stand beneath the wings of a massive B-52 Stratofortress or World War II combat icons including the B-29A "Three Feathers" helicopters and B-17G "Starduster."
Whatever your age or background, the sleek fighters, bombers and cargo aircraft of the March Field Air Museum have something to fascinate everyone. With such a rich variety of artifacts, the museum's exhibits are constantly evolving to bring you new experiences however many times you visit historic aircraft from the earliest days of aviation to the latest tactical aircraft operating today.
Camp Anza was a United States Army installation in Riverside during World War II, constructed on a 1240-acres barley and wheat farm purchased from the Willits J. Hole ranch in 1942. Construction of the facility began in July of that year and was completed mid-February in 1943. This large Army base with 512 buildings housed 20,000 troops at a time, processing a total of over 600,000 soldiers during the three years it was in operation. Before departing, troops had immunizations; and trained in the use of gas masks, climbing a rope ladder, and abandoning ship. They also recorded their personal property and completed a will before shipping out to the Pacific theater from the Los Angeles Port of Debarkation. The average time soldiers spent at the Camp was eight to ten days.
As a military camp, Camp Anza also provided recreation for soldiers waiting to be processed. A 2,000-seat outdoor theater constructed in 1943 opened to such headliners as band leader Tommy Dorsey, Bob Hope, Jack Benny, and Eddie Cantor.
Returning troops began arriving at Camp Anza in August of 1945; 72,000 were processed in November of 1945 alone. In February of 1946 it was announced that Camp Anza would be closed. Deactivation was completed by the end of April that year, and the area reverted to residential housing.
Sixty years later area would be repurposed once again. As Press-Enterprise writer Alicia Robinson wrote “A 2011 news story about an injured veteran who had to choose between living at home with his family and getting the care he needed started Riverside officials brainstorming for what they could to help the city’s veterans. The solution they dreamed up is a development of 30 apartments for disabled veterans and their families centered on a renovated World War II-era officers’ club where veterans will be able to get physical therapy or job training, meet with a case manager or relax and socialize.”
Home Front at Camp Anza, as the $12.75 million project is called, was open for occupancy in 2016.
Riverside National Cemetery is the largest and busiest cemetery managed by the National Cemetery Administration. It was established in 1976 through the transfer of 740 acres from March Air Force Base, which during World War II was called the U.S. Army's Camp William G. Hahn. The cemetery was dedicated and opened for burials Nov. 11, 1978. Additional acreage was transferred by the Air Force in 2003, making it the largest cemetery managed by the NCA, as well as the most active since 2000 based on number of internments.
The dramatic, meandering landscape features a central boulevard with memorial circles, lakes, indigenous-styled committal shelters, and a memorial amphitheater.
Burial in a national cemetery is open to all members of the armed forces who have met a minimum active duty service requirement and were discharged under conditions other than dishonorable. A Veteran's spouse, widow or widower, minor dependent children, and under certain conditions, unmarried adult children with disabilities may also be eligible for burial, even if they predecease the veteran. Members of the reserve components of the armed forces who die while on active duty or who die while on training duty, or were eligible for retired pay, may also be eligible for burial.
Monuments and Memorials
Riverside National cemetery is home of the Medal of Honor Memorial and one of four sites recognized as a National Medal of Honor Memorial Site. The Medal of Honor Memorial, whose walls feature the names of all medal recipients, is located at the third traffic circle in the cemetery. It was dedicated in 1999. The first recipient of the Medal of Honor to be buried here is Ysmael “Smiley” Villegas.
Ten Tuskegee Airmen are buried at Riverside National Cemetery.
The Fallen Soldier/Veterans' Memorial, erected in 2000, is dedicated to all service members who gave the ultimate sacrifice for their country. The dramatic bronze structure topped by a lifeless soldier is located near the lake at the entrance to the cemetery.
A carillon was donated by the American Veterans (AMVETS) in 2000.
The Prisoner of War/Missing in Action National Memorial was designated as a national memorial by the U.S. Congress in 2004 through Public Law 108-454. The memorial was dedicated on September 16, 2005. Vietnam veteran Lewis Lee Millett, Jr., sculpted the bronze statue which depicts an American serviceman on his knees with hands bound by his captors. The statue is surrounded by black marble pillars that evoke imprisonment.
Riverside’s first recipient of the Medal of Honor was born in 1924 and grew up in the Casa Blanca area of Riverside, the oldest of 13 children. As Press-Enterprise reporter Stephen Wall described him in 2014, just days before what would have been Villegas 90th birthday, he noted that Smiley…
“Enjoyed reading “Mutt and Jeff” comic strips and dancing the jitterbug.
Posters of Big Band musicians Glenn Miller and Harry James adorned his bedroom wall.
He drove a lime-green 1937 Buick he called “The Green Hornet” that was his pride and joy…."
About 250 people gathered at the Medal of Honor Memorial at Riverside National Cemetery, where Villegas is buried, to pay tribute to the hometown hero....
Villegas, who grew up in the mostly Latino neighborhood of Riverside known as Casa Blanca, was killed March 20, 1945, one day before his 21st birthday. A staff sergeant in the U.S. Army, Villegas posthumously received the Medal of Honor, the nation’s highest military decoration, on Oct. 19, 1945. He charged five enemy foxholes, helping his unit take a hill from the Japanese, during the Battle of Luzon in the Philippines. Villegas was the first Medal of Honor recipient from Riverside County and the first veteran buried at Riverside National Cemetery.”
His legacy? In and around Riverside there are a park and community center, a middle school and a Veterans of Foreign Wars chapter named for Villegas, as well as a statue standing on the Tenth Street side of Riverside City Hall. What do these accolades represent? If you read the detail in Villegas’ Medal of Honor citation below, you will understand:
“He was a squad leader when his unit, in a forward position, clashed with an enemy strongly entrenched in connected caves and foxholes on commanding ground. He moved boldly from man to man, in the face of bursting grenades and demolition charges, through heavy machinegun and rifle fire, to bolster the spirit of his comrades. Inspired by his gallantry, his men pressed forward to the crest of the hill. Numerous enemy riflemen, refusing to flee, continued firing from their foxholes. S/Sgt. Villegas, with complete disregard for his own safety and the bullets which kicked up the dirt at his feet, charged an enemy position, and, firing at point-blank range killed the Japanese in a foxhole. He rushed a second foxhole while bullets missed him by inches, and killed 1 more of the enemy. In rapid succession he charged a third, a fourth, a fifth foxhole, each time destroying the enemy within. The fire against him increased in intensity, but he pressed onward to attack a sixth position. As he neared his goal, he was hit and killed by enemy fire. Through his heroism and indomitable fighting spirit, S/Sgt. Villegas, at the cost of his life, inspired his men to a determined attack in which they swept the enemy from the field.”
This structure was built in 1928 as a memorial to Riverside County’s 87 service members who lost their lives in World War I.
The reinforced concrete building was designed in classic mission revival style by Arthur Benton, one of the primary architects of the Mission Inn, and continued by G. Stanley Wilson, another Mission Inn architect after Benton's death. Surrounded by gardens, fountains and a waterfall, it was built on land donated by Mission Inn proprietor Frank Miller.
This reinforced concrete Mission Revival style building was also added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1978. Events at the 1,400-seat auditorium owned by the City of Riverside range from art shows to a variety of solo performances and benefit events.
The historic facility was renovated in 2011-- a $9.5 million construction project that included a complete seismic retrofit; new electrical, plumbing, heating and air conditioning systems; an improved sound system, new wooden floor in the main theater, and restored historic auditorium seats.