The first stop for Wes Hammond on his way to the 10th annual reunion of the Farragut Naval Training Station Saturday was the state park visitor’s center.
While thumbing through old photos of boot camp companies, he found his young fresh face in the black and white prints without too much trouble.
“I was 17,” said Hammond, now 70. Hammond spent six months at Farragut, four of them in electrical school. “I was scared to death.”
But this weekend he was eager to find old buddies, and fashioned a sign with his 1943 company’s information on it so others from his camp could find him.
Hammond traveled from California to attend his first Farragut reunion, which is the 10th official one. The first reunion was 12 years ago, and drew only six veterans.
Organizers expected this weekend’s gathering to attract 1,200 to 1,500.
Hammond pointed out a few buddies in the class portrait.
“The four of us used to go on liberty to Wallace,” he said. “You had to hitchhike on the backs of trucks on a narrow, two-lane road. It was a wild and woolly town.”
Hammond would have to be lucky to find any old friends. After all, there were 5,000 in his camp when he was there. And in the four years that Farragut was operating as a training base, almost 300,000 sailors passed through its barracks.
The center was huge, with hundreds of buildings, 56 bowling lanes, one of the largest hospitals in the country, and six Olympic-sized swimming pools. In 1944, it was Idaho’s largest city.
Now all that remains are grown-over asphalt roads, crumbling concrete foundations, a water tower, pump houses and the old brig.
The base was decommissioned in 1946. The Navy eventually turned it over to the state, and it’s now a popular park.
Assistant Park Manager Al Leiser was up until 3:30 a.m. Friday putting the finishing touches on the Brig Museum.
The museum only opens during the annual reunion.
“The state doesn’t support it,” explained Norman Handley, the brig “host.”
One arm of the brig, including two jail cells, is filled with exhibits from Farragut’s World War II days, including the polar bear and South Pacific paintings that once graced the officers’ quarters and a hands-on display of knots.
Draped across the back of one exhibit table was a red, white and blue commission pennant from the USS Effingham, a troop transport ship that was Dale Jacobson’s home for two years.
Jacobson donated the pennant last year, and was pleased to see it on display.
He’s attended the reunion for the past six years, to relive the experience of “spending your boots here,” he said.
Jacobson visited the site of his camp, but now it’s overgrown with weeds and trees. Although he can visualize the barracks and mess hall in his mind, he can’t find their exact location, he said.
One thing remains the same, however.
“This one mountain back here,” he said. “The one with the hump. That’s the scene I always remember from Day 1.”
Jacobson has never bumped into any of his old boot camp buddies at the annual reunion, but he has made new friends who have revisited.
Muriel Parker, who used to work for the Ship’s Company during the war, never has seen her old chums at the reunion either. But she did make a new friend - a woman who served at the same time, in the same company.
“We seem to be the only two who show up” from their company, said Parker, who traveled from Albuquerque.
A rumor was circulating at the reunion that this year, the 50th anniversary of the center’s closure, could be the last.
Parker said she hopes that’s not the case.
“They should go on,” she said. “We’re not getting any younger, and there are fewer every year.”
, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Color photo