77th Pearl Harbor Anniversary: How the Coachella Valley Helped the War Effort

77th Pearl Harbor Anniversary: How the Coachella Valley Helped the War Effort

Max Rodriguez

Nearly one million soldiers trained in the Coachella Valley for World War II efforts, the desert was also a test site for a lethal weapon that would change the course of the war.

On December 7, 1941, the Japanese Imperial Navy struck the Pearl Harbor Naval Base in a surprise attack, killing more than 2,000 Americans from the bombings.

The librarian at the Palm Springs Air Museum, Frank Castener, said the Pearl Harbor attack was a turning point for the United States.

Castener said, “Eliminated any of the doubts if whether or not we should be a part of that European war.”

The European War we now know as World War II, it involved 30 countries but widely remembered by the defeat of Adolf Hitler who led the Nazis.

The war had begin two years before the attack on Pearl Harbor, but after, the U.S. joined the war with many of the military training tracing back to the desert.

“There were hundreds of thousands of people who came through the Coachella Valley for the war to train,” Castener said. “That’s one of the reason why there are more retired military in the Coachella Valley now that any place else in the United States.”

The former, El Mirado Hotel in Palm Springs turned into a 1,600 bed hospital for wounded troops who were overseas, the desert was also a test site for the atomic bomb.

Castener said, “The Salton Sea has a tremendous history it was used as a float plane base, it was used to perfect our torpedoes, it was used to test the atomic bomb.”

The locals and visitors of the Coachella Valley can explore some of the World War II history at the Palm Springs Air Museum, where actual WWII planes sit with veteran docents who have first hand experience with the exhibits.

Castener said, “When you hear the stories of what it was like to fly these airplanes you can tour a bomber and these people really have the experience so that makes it alive.”

On the 60th anniversary of Pearl Harbor, NBC Palm Springs, reached out to the Palm Springs Air Museum asked to speak with survivors or Pearl Harbor, the staff responded with, “How many did we need?”, but 17 years later, survivors are tougher to come by.