Monday, September 24, 2012

...where the guns were

The abandoned buildings were a surprise. An old portal on the park trail led to an army-green ghost encampment nestled below the landscape. Known as Battery Spencer, this military fortification begun in 1893 once housed three M1888 12" guns and an assortment of ammunition. Some guns and ammo were moved during WWI to aid in that effort. Then came WWII and the rest were scrapped in support of another war. [1]

On the shaded side, a row of doorless openings revealed old-fashioned fireplaces made of concrete with a bit of unexpected ornamentation. I continued through the compound at a faster clip than I would have liked, so much to explore. The low-lying sojourn had offered welcome protection from the strong gusts of wind that had buffeted me on the trail. Down the strange boulevard and up the steps at the end to this...

Built before the construction of the Golden Gate Bridge, the old battery at the mouth of the harbor is now part of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area in the Marin headlands. In 1993, I had encountered Battery Townsley, a WWII addition approximately three miles farther along the coast. Armed only with snacks and a paperback, I walked through a tunnel, into the the rifle emplacement, and beyond to an incredible view of Pacific. That battery is part of Fort Cronkhite, which is "one of the few preserved examples of WWII 'mobilization posts' remaining in the country. The fort's barracks, mess halls, supply buildings, and other structures are preserved to tell the story of soldiers who waited here for an enemy that never came." [2]

While the perfect setting for my picnic, a scenic Sunday afternoon stroll wasn't what the builders had in mind for Battery Townsley "which mounted two 16-inch caliber guns, each capable of shooting a 2,100 pound, armor-piercing projectile 25 miles out to sea. [The battery] was a high security operation...a design that had never actually fired before.  By the summer of 1940, Battery Townsley was ready for testing with live ammunition."[2]

And test they did. Here's the rest of the story: "The army estimated that the projectile's farthest range would be 30 miles out to sea, about 5 miles beyond the Farallon Islands. Waiting for a non-foggy day in July took some patience, but finally, the fog cleared and the test shot was fired. As the whole mountain shook with the power of this incredible machine, the projectile went even farther than anticipated." [2]

The headlands are riddled with old military fortifications. The history of defending the San Francisco Bay actually goes back well before the Civil War. The oldest location still remaining in the city - La Batteria San Jose, which boasted five iron cannons - was armed in 1797. A second wave of fortifications was begun in 1853, and San Francisco's famous Fort Point, which featured mounts for 126 cannons, was armed in 1861. Indeed, a pamphlet entitled "Seacoast Fortifications of the Golden Gate" lists seven distinct eras of coastal defenses, starting with the Spanish-Mexican era and going all the way through the Cold War. Without a doubt, though, the biggest remaining collection of batteries and other positions are from the Endicott period - which began around 1895 - and the WWI and WWII periods. There unbroken line from the Civil War era facilities to the Nike Missile sites of the Cold War era. During the Cold War, radar and anti-aircraft missile sites replaced the old gun emplacements. Now open to the public, the SF-88 Nike Missile silo is a national historic site, the only preserved silo of some 280 built between 1953 and 1979. [2]

If you come the bay, this dramatic landscape is a "must see". Please exercise caution in the powerful gusts on trails that totter dangerously close to the edge in places. But while you sit on a bench (thank you, National Parks Service) and contemplate some of the most incredible scenery in the world, say thanks that an enemy never came.

All over the world, countries are ramped up for war. Bill's words from a conversation about the Middle East: "To create an equality, the weaker nation turns to weapons. The ensuing spiral is madness. Some nation, some group, needs to think though this situation from a detached viewpoint."

Who would that be? What nation? Is there a de-politicized statesman's voice to be heard? I pray that today's military sites will someday be visited as unused relics. That children will play and adults relax over picnic lunches. A sentimental hope, perhaps, in an era of sophisticated, long-range weaponry, wildly escalating fears, and chauvinistic stands. Can we, though, afford cynicism? Because the dilemma we all face is not a shot heard around the globe but a conflagration that could destroy this good earth. From that wise Anonymous: "The only problem with burning your bridges behind you is that the world is round."

I quoted a young woman in a recent post who said that the opposite of love is laziness. While true, I believe the more inclusive statement is this: the opposite of love is fear. To move beyond a climate poisoned by this toxic emotion, however, hard work is required of us all.

To my fellow hiker: thank you, Kelle Foxx...come back to see us!


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