Kearns community turns 70
Editor’s note: On Kearns’ 70th birthday, this perspective was provided to the Taylorsville/Kearns Journal by Pam Todd, chairman of the Kearns Historical Society.
It has been 70 years as of June 1, 2012 that the first trainload of men pulled into a little known place called Camp Kearns, third largest city in Utah, and yet the newest city, a place that the pioneers passed up and an area that offered the miners very little.
Well over a thousand men arrived that day; mostly upper brass and a group of 1,450 members of the Special Operations unit, from across the country. These men had been classified as non-combat ready due to physical conditions. Many of the men had had Polio when they were growing up. They had arrived before the barracks were ready and two weeks before the food trains would start pulling in, and others were to join them. Another 800 men traveled further north to the Rio Grande station and were picked up by Fort Douglas men. Since Kearns was designated only for single men, the married men at that time were all upper brass and had to locate housing off base.
The barracks had not been complete, and there were no latrines. Mess halls were not opened; there was no power or running water. A group of young Japanese-American men on their way to the interment camps with their families was asked if they would like a job, as they were getting off the train in Kearns to stretch. It was the Stockade area that was the first to open; it housed the young Japanese-American boys there working to build the new base. For the next month, the only mess opened would be the outdoor mess hall surrounded by tent city.
By July 13, 1942 the men had started to officially arrive, and on July 21, 1942, the base was officially dedicated. By the end of fall that year, nine full units had arrived and left Kearns for war. First operating as a basic training command, train loads of orphan boys came to Kearns for their training, and many left again with the different units that had only stopped off at Kearns to regroup and organize. In that same time frame, Kearns had changed commands three times, and with that change came along four different base commanders.
For the next four years, our community history was being written. First, the base operated as a basic training center, then moved on to specialized training and then for overseas replacements. But it didn’t stop there. Because of the location of the base, it became the back drop to many of the training films that were made during this time, and Kearns was a hub for a lot of the Hollywood actors and actressess.
By 1943, Camp Kearns was training war dogs, and by 1944, they had become a sub-project to the Manhattan Project, taking part in two different stages of this project. From 1943 to the first part of 1945, special training was taking place here, where by top U.S. spies were being trained, and where weather school, map reading, and radio schools were being conducted. Actor John Agar was an instructor at Kearns in radio; his wife Shirley Temple would come to Kearns regularly and visited. They would stay in the Hotel Newhouse in Salt Lake City at night, and by day, Shirley Temple was on the base entertaining folks and selling kisses for the war bonds. From 1943-1944, Kearns sold more war bonds than any other base in the country. By Feb. 1, 1943, the U.S. government reversed its decision prohibiting Japanese–Americans serving in the armed forces. It approved the formation of a Japanese–American combat unit. Known as the 442, a unit whose motto was “Go for Broke” was formed, and it was like hometown days at Fort Douglas, with all the young boys who had helped to build Camp Kearns now allowed to enlist.
Kearns was an Army Air Base, the first one of its kind to open and the last one to close. It lacked a flying strip, but then there were four flying strips close by Kearns. Pilots only took their written test at Kearns, but trained at the Salt Lake Air Base, their crew members trained at Kearns. Many would like to believe that the small airport south of Kearns (now known as Salt Lake Airport number 2) was part of the base. Even though many have written it was, it was not. At that time it was the Municipal Airport, and it was used by the military for hands-on training for repairing the airplanes, security, and other small classes.
Over the years, Kearns has a habit of repeating its history; something that we have now learned since the once lost history is now home. In 1943, those stationed at Camp Kearns were the champs in both baseball and football among the military ranks. Professional ball players were stationed at Kearns; and there have been professional ball players from Kearns making it big on the field. They also had the largest marching band in the state--in 1943, many of the band members were from famous bands before they entered the military. Kearns has also turned out a couple of musicians, and in 1973 the Kearns High marching band traveled to the White House, was in the Tournament of Roses Parade and even went to Europe. In 1942, the eyes of the country were on Kearns, and in 2002 during the Olympic Winter Games, it was the eyes of the world upon Kearns again.
In the summer of 1942, the roads in Kearns were still being built, dust blew everywhere and it was thick enough that the men wore their gas masks so they could breath. And here we are in 2012, almost 70 years to the date, having to witness the construction, and partial destruction of our community, with the widening of 5400 South.
And so it is that we as a community can softly say “Happy Birthday, Kearns. You’ve done us proud.”