The year was 1954.
Dwight Eisenhower was president, "Rear Window" was a box office smash and Marilyn Monroe was a popular idol. The population of Yuma, Ariz. numbered 15,000.
The memories came flooding back to the now 91-year old Herbert Rosenberg when he approached U.S. Army Yuma Proving Ground (YPG)'s main gate for the first time in decades.
“There was a curve on the highway coming in we called ‘the Coca Cola’ curve,” he recalled. “A Coca-Cola truck had overturned on it not long before I arrived.”
Many of the buildings of the era still stand, albeit remodeled and with different uses. The barracks Rosenberg once slept in still exists as an office building on YPG’s Howard Cantonment Area. The dining hall, now- long gone, was a short walk away.
“Some guys wouldn’t walk to the dining hall, they had to drive,” Rosenberg said with a smile. “These were Californians who didn’t know how to walk.”
The regular Army of that era was quite different before becoming an all-volunteer force in the early 1970s. Young men who weren’t in college were eligible to be drafted, a position in which Rosenberg found himself after earning his Bachelor’s Degree in Business Administration in 1952. With the Korean War still in progress, he was sent to basic training at Fort Sill, Okla. in December of that year.
At that time, the Undersecretary of the Army was Anna Rosenberg, the first woman to hold the post. Undersecretary Rosenberg, not related to Pvt. Rosenberg, was a human resources expert whose World War II-era manpower recommendations had earned her the Presidential Medal of Freedom. She had, however, been branded a communist sympathizer by Sen. Joseph McCarthy in an effort to derail her nomination to the position in 1950. The attempt failed, but McCarthy’s smear campaign had tarnished her.
“At Fort Sill, Rosenberg wasn’t as common a name as in other parts of the country,” said Rosenberg. “They were convinced we had to be related, and they despised her. I had a rough time.”
His degree in business administration resulted in his being classified among scientific and professional personnel, a category where orders were sent directly from Washington, DC. When he graduated from basic training, Rosenberg was the only individual from his group assigned to Yuma Test Station.
“It was because I was classified scientific and professional, but to half the people in the battalion it was proof that I was related to Anna Rosenberg,” he said.
Arriving at Yuma Test Station was another culture shock, though in a different way.
“The test station was an informal place,” he said. “You did things you never would have done at Fort Sill or elsewhere in the Army. Everyone was on a first-name basis.”
Rosenberg’s primary job at Yuma Test Station was to reimburse incoming test teams for their travel mileage and per diems. The typical rate was 6 cents per mile and the per diem was calculated in quarter days.
“The finance office job had nothing to do with accounting or auditing, the things I had been trained to perform,” he said. “The test teams traveled all kinds of ways, but the mileage and rate of pay was calculated by using railroad mileage tables. The only time I ever saw them was when they came to collect their money.”
Yet Rosenberg didn’t lack for things to do. During his stay, he acted in a lavish production of Moss Hart’s Broadway play "Light Up the Sky" at the post’s outdoor theater and hitchhiked to Los Angeles as often as possible on weekends. Like many of his fellow Soldiers, he also spent time at the post recreation center, located in the main post building that later served as commissary. During Rosenberg’s tenure, a contest was held to name the building, with a suitcase, sports shirt and pair of pants as prizes.
“I submitted several names and thought the winning entry, ‘The Test Rest,’ was the worst of them,” Rosenberg said with a laugh.
Nonetheless, he won, and a reference to him in an issue of the post newspaper, then called "The Sidewinder," included ‘Test Rest’ as his nickname. The prizes for his winning entry were donated and presented by noted Yuma department store owner and Arizona state senator Harold G. Giss, who later became majority leader.
“I was aware that Giss was a merchant and significant figure in Yuma, but I didn't know the details of his impressive political career,” said Rosenberg.
A number of his buddies went on to distinguished careers in the civilian world. One, Paul Caponigro, became a noted landscape photographer.
“This guy was a magnificent photographer who won an Army award while we were at Yuma Test Station,” Rosenberg said. “He gave me a photo and I wish I could find it. His work sells for big bucks now.”
Though Rosenberg enjoyed his time at Yuma Test Station, he wanted to return to civilian life.
“When the Korean War ended, the Army allowed draftees to leave a two year term up to three months early,” Rosenberg recalled. “I took them up on it. I would have been promoted to sergeant in another week, but it was okay.”
His final week at the test station was a whirlwind, though.
“My most eventful day occurred in my last week,” Rosenberg said. “In the morning, I was a witness in a divorce case in town, at noon I had to talk myself out of a court-martial for being away without leave, and at 1700 hours I was best man at a wedding at the post chapel.”
The groom was Rosenberg’s buddy Bill Kimball, who was marrying Jean Veith, the stepdaughter of the finance officer, after a whirlwind courtship. The marriage was not only a major event on a post that experienced few weddings, but had great longevity: Rosenberg and his wife were surprise guests at the Kimballs’ 50th wedding anniversary celebration in 2004.
Back in the civilian world, Rosenberg graduated from Columbia Law School and practiced law until retiring in 1999. He married his wife, Janet, in 1962, and they had two children.
Though he has led an eventful life, Rosenberg said the experience of serving with a diverse group of Soldiers at Yuma Test Station was valuable to his personal development.