Note: This post was corrected on December 4, 2013. The previous post erroneously listed Ft. Huachuca’s acreage. In actuality, during WWII the base was more than 71,000 acres and today is some 73,000 acres. Thanks to Major General (retired) John M. Custer for the correction.
Two-thirds of my work of fiction, Long Way Home: A World War II Novel is set on a 73,000-acre, army base in southeast Arizona that still operates today as an army installation.
Fort Huachuca has been significant in the training of black soldiers since the late 19th century and during World War II served the largest concentration of African-American (Negro) soldiers.
I chose Huachuca as the primary locale of my WWII love story because of the oral history I conducted with a member of the Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps (WAACs) who served at the Fort in 1944/1945. The details of her stay at Huachuca were riveting and mostly positive. Although segregation was the rule men and women, black and white, worked together at the fort in support of America’s “greatest war effort.” In many ways, Huachuca was a grand experiment testing the policies, values and tolerance of the U.S. Army in the 1940s and the eyes of the nation were focused on the desert outpost.
The Fort was commanded by Colonel Edwin N. Hardy, a career soldier who had trained cavalry, infantry and artillery units during WWI. Hardy had a reputation as a fair man on racial issues and commanded the fort until his retirement on July 17, 1945. When he died in 1963, Hardy was buried at Ft. Huachuca.
[Col. Edwin Hardy]
However, like many posts during World War II, the fort had racial tensions that were widely reported to the War Department, the Black press, and the NAACP. Yet Huachuca avoided full out racial violence–which was not the case at other Army installations, most notably at Fort Lawton (WA) where there was a well reported race riot.
Fort Huachuca plays an important role in the telling of Long Way Home as the novel’s key characters navigate both the social and geographic landscape of their WWII army experience.
Fort Huachuca WWII Facts
- peak population of 42,500 in 1944
- 71,000+ acres;1200 Buildings for housing
- 58 facilities (clubs, post office, churches, guard houses, recreation centers, two segregated hospitals)
- African-American hospital was the largest in the U.S. with 946 beds.
Fort Huachuca Timeline
- 1882-Huachuca designated a fort
- 1886-Headquarters for the advance campaign to capture Apache leader, Geronimo
- 1913-Base for the 10th Calvary regiment (Buffalo Soldiers)
- 1916-Base commanded by Charles Young, first African American promoted to army Colonel
- 1942-1945 the all-Negro, 92 and 93rd Infantry Divisions trained
- 1943-The first WAACs arrive; 180 members of the 32nd and 33rd auxliliary
- 1947- 1953 Post closed; transferred to the Air Force; transferred back to the army as installation to support the Korean War; returned to inactive status
- 1954-Reactivated for electronics, communications, intelligence and strategic warfare training
- 1995-U.S Army Intelligence Museum opens
Huachuca History Proram www.huachuca.army.mil
Smith Jr., Cornelius C.. Fort Huachuca, The Story of a Frontier Fort, 1976
Finley, James P., Huachuca Illustrated, 1993
Blacks and the Military: Studies in Defense Policy. Washington: The Brookings Institution, 1982.
Institute on World War II and the Human Experience, Florida State University, Tallahassee
Smith, Steven D. The African American Soldier at Fort Huachuca, AZ 1892-1946, South Carolina Institute of Archaeology and Anthropology, University of South Carolina