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Camp Wilson, 29 Palms
A Marine Corporal Remembers Camp Wilson
Submitted Aug. 10, 2019
By Cpl. Mike Kunkel, USMC Veteran
About the Photograph: Cpl. Mike Kunkel describes being pictured with "a buddy named Max Lesko outside the old tin and wooden huts at Camp Wilson" in Twentynine Palms, California, in June 1982 "before leaving for Med Cruise and, eventually, Beirut." Camp Wilson at that time was officially called Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center, and still is the world's largest Marine Corps training base.
One day, just after arriving in June 1982 at Camp Wilson, but before going on the actual training exercise before ultimately heading to Beirut, a few of us decided to hump on over to the base of a nearby mountain range. Needless to say, we never got there.
Camp Wilson is the name given to the training base established in the California desert in 1952 for desert training exercises.
By 1982, it had been officially named Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center. In 2000, the base became the Marine Air Ground Task Force Training Command. However, veterans and local residents informally still use the words Camp Wilson.
We kept turning around and looking back at Camp Wilson and it kept getting smaller, but the base of the mountain never got closer and we just turned around and headed back. That Monday, we were trucked out to the area where the live-fire operations were taking place, but I never did pay attention to how far the base of the mountain range was from the camp.
Does any jarhead or doc who was ever at Camp Wilson know how far it actually is from Camp Wilson to the base of the mountain depicted in the photograph? Contact SGT GRIT to share what you know with other Marines who submit stories and news to the SGT GRIT website at Grunt.com.
Incidentally, it was during this time at Camp Wilson in 1982 that I was involved in a minor helicopter crash. The Lima Company, 3rd Battalion, 8th Marine Regiment (Lima 3/8) was a helicopter assault unit. One evening during a night training operation several of us who made up part of the Lima 3/8 0331 M60 infantry machine gunners were cross-training with a 50-caliber machine gun team. and we were loaded onto a CH-53 helicopter.
This next part I am unclear about, since my memory is a bit cloudy, but we were fully combat loaded down both sides of the benches of the CH-53, and I think we had a jeep in there with us as part of the cargo that belonged to the 50-caliber gun crew.
The helicopter lifted and moved up and forward as they typically did on takeoff, but the bird started shuttering and then dove forward and crashed.
It was pitch black outside in the desert, so we had no idea how high we were, but I later was told that we were only about 20 feet off the ground when the 53 pitched forward and crashed.
We were seat-belted into the bench seats, but the crew chief was thrown forward and bounced forward to the cockpit because he was just supported by a lanyard, I believe. We were not injured and the crew chief was only slightly hurt, but I never heard any more about the incident. Is there any jarhead or doc reading this who recalls that incident?
USMC Cpl. 0331
Lima 3/8 Weapons Platoon
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