It’s said that the past is prologue, and nearly eight decades of history have made U.S. Army Yuma Proving Ground (YPG) the Army’s busiest test center.
For many who served at YPG in uniform, the distant past doesn’t seem all that distant. Memories of life here are preserved more surely than the detritus of camp life scattered by General Patton’s men during World War II, rusty but still plainly recognizable on YPG’s vast ranges.
When Larry Edens left YPG in 1965, “The Sound of Music” was a popular movie, Lyndon Johnson was president, and the United States’ troop strength in Vietnam was escalating dramatically. After wanting to return for many years, Edens and his wife took a detour from a southwestern vacation to see what had become of the place he had served at so many years before.
A graduate of the Georgia Institute of Technology, Edens served in the Reserve Officers Training Corps during his college years while earning his chemical engineering degree and received a commission as a second lieutenant upon graduation. He underwent basic officer training at Fort McLellan in Alabama, and then awaited his permanent duty station.
“I asked to come out West because I had grown up in the Southeast and really wanted to see this part of the country. I asked for places like Fort Ord: I hadn’t heard of Yuma before I got my orders.”
Many of the buildings of the era still stand today, albeit remodeled and with different uses. The house he lived in with his then-wife and infant son is still here, as is the building his office was in. The atrium in the Range Operations Center features studio portraits of all of YPG’s past commanders: during Edens’ time it was Col. James D. Taylor, and he recalls him as a figure held in high esteem by uniformed personnel.
“He had been to Vietnam: That’s what impressed us, because in the early ‘60s, almost no one in the military had been to Vietnam. People who wanted to make a career in the Army were very interested in what Taylor had to say.”
While here, Edens was a test officer dealing primarily with wheeled vehicles. YPG’s demographics were considerably different at that time, with uniformed and civilian personnel represented in roughly equal numbers.
“In the mobility group there might have been slightly more military than civilian, but not a whole lot,” he said. “There were a number of recent ROTC graduates coming out here.”
Likewise, there were drafted privates with engineering degrees who were serving as test officers.
“They were the hardest people a young officer had to supervise. Up until being commissioned, they had the same background you had. It took a little more diplomacy.”
Edens recalls durability tests of M151 Jeeps and other wheeled vehicles, as well as the occasional tracked armored personnel carrier in the blazing summer heat. Like modern day testers, Edens wrote copious reports and sometimes worked extremely long days if a given vehicle was falling behind schedule during mileage tests. In his second year at YPG he led 15 men to what was then called Artic Test Center at Fort Greely, Alaska, for a nearly five month test that saw temperatures that dipped below -70 degrees Fahrenheit. He was promoted to first lieutenant upon his return.
Back in Yuma, post life was languid. Edens recalls playing center in intramural flag football on Cox Field in the evenings. Hail and farewells were held on a monthly basis at the officer’s club. There were few television stations, and reception on post was poor despite a receiver on a hill near main post.
“The station that came in best was from Mexicali. I remember watching bull fights.”
Like the rest of the country, YPG was stunned by the assassination of President Kennedy. Edens recalls driving down Barranca Road on November 22, 1963.
“I was on that road when I heard President Kennedy had been shot. For some reason, that day I was running home during lunch in my ’62 Corvair and heard the announcement on the radio.”
YPG was Edens’ only permanent duty station during his time in uniform. After two years of active duty and three years in the reserves, Edens spent three years in the Tennessee National Guard and was promoted to captain on his last day. He returned to his job at DuPont in Tennessee, and later worked for his alma matter, Georgia Tech, for a number of years before retiring. Through it all, he considered his time at YPG as a formative experience, personally and professionally.