Fort/Camp Pickett, Virginia
Sometimes on our day trips, my traveling companion and I will agree to head just in a certain direction rather than designating a specific location as our objective. Such was the case several weeks ago when we decided we would go to what is referred to in Virginia as "Southside". The region is much like the eastern part of North Carolina in that the landscape, crops, talk, churches, food and tastes in music are all similar. That doesn't leave much, does it?
We were entering the small town of Blackstone when we saw the entrance to Fort Pickett, a site we had passed many times in our travels. On a whim, I said, "Let's see what's left of the base", and we entered without being stopped by anyone at the entrance since the guard post was unmanned. We traveled for several miles and it would have been impossible to distinguish the landscape from Camp Lejuene or Fort Bragg. Trees, thousands if not millions of trees with an occasional break to expose some training facility like a tower used for jumping or an area marked "For hand to hand training". Eventually we came upon a convenience store/service station and shortly thereafter a bowling alley, a theatre and a PX. Pretty much standard fare for a military base. Then we came upon some administrative buildings and it was then that I remembered that Governor Allen, Virginia's previous governor and now a U.S. Senator, moved the headquarters for the Virginia National Guard from Richmond to Fort Pickett amongst severe gnashing of teeth and plaintiff wails of those affected by such a change.
As we drove around the base, we encountered little traffic but did notice that a large jet transport plane seemed to be constantly overhead. I was unaware that Fort Pickett even had an airfield but I soon found out they did have one and the transport was practicing "touch and go" landings as a part of the summer training carried out at Fort Pickett each year.
We saw lots of troop carriers and tanks sitting idly in vehicle pools and each had a rubber pipe of some sort inserted in the end of the cannon which sits atop the body of each tank. I could only assume the pipe was for humidity or temperature control.
We encountered a training school for tractor trailer drivers and an extension office from a local university. We even found some housing identified with a sign which caused me to believe that parts of the base are being used to house civilians not connected with the military. Seems like a good idea to me rather than spending millions to construct new housing when the base facilities are already there. Barracks were all over the place and my friend ( I think I will start to refer to him as Dave from now on ) said he thought during World War 11 there were as many as 150,000 troops stationed at what was then Camp Pickett. The Camp designation is used when a facility is temporary and Fort is used when that designation changes to permanent.
We were thoroughly enjoying our self guided tour when we spotted a sign that said "Stadium" with directional arrows and I couldn't resist the temptation to check it out. We drove through some trees and all of a sudden here was this concrete stadium, still in tact, presumably from World War 11. The turf was in splendid shape even though there were no markings on the field. I would estimate that the stadium would seat approximately 10,000.
Some weeds have grown up between the rows but the seats were not overgrown by any stretch of imagination. The configuration of the stands were baffling since they surrounded 3 sides of a football playing field. One sideline had no stands at all. I thought at first maybe it was used for baseball rather than football but if you could have seen the stadium you would know it was meant for football. Baseball could have been played on the field but I am at a loss to understand why the open space existed on one side of the field.
I took out my disposable camera as an afterthought and tried to capture the beauty of the moment. I took several pictures and as we were leaving the area we saw a sign that read "No civilian vehicles beyond this point". It was a little late for that and I eased back out onto the road with much trepidation. Dave jokingly ( I think) said "The M.P.'s are going to stop you". I quickly retorted with dead pan seriousness, "If they do, I'm going to tell them I didn't want to go to the stadium to begin with but that you kept on pestering me until I relented". We both chuckled but I kept my eye on the rear view mirror until we exited the base,
The Fort Pickett experience caused me to think back to the World War 11 period when many colleges played service teams in all sports. Carolina played the Cherry Point Marines , NATTIC ( I believe this is the Norfolk Naval Air Station but I'm not sure ) and in 1945 UNC played Camp Lee (Petersburg) in Chapel Hill but surprisingly, no date is given for the game which is the only game I could find in the record book without a date. Makes me wonder if it wasn't a scrimmage that Carolina decided later to count.
I have checked with the Richmond Times Dispatch and they have agreed to let me explore their archives to see if Pickett played any college teams during World War 11. I plan to do that right after I finish serving my sentence in Leavenworth for entering and photographing a restricted military area. I wonder if they let you have internet access in federal prison. Maybe I will find out soon.