Seventy years ago, Fort Worden began its third and final build-up as an Army post. With Artillery Hill devoid of guns, and the winds over the parade ground ill-suited for balloon flight (see Leader March, 2019 article), the fort turned to the water for its final mission. By 1950, the 2nd Engineer Special Brigade had replaced the Coast Artillery regiments at the fort, changing it from a coastal fortification to a training ground for amphibious landings.
Organized in 1942, the brigade’s WWII time in service in the Pacific Theater included 87 combat landings from New Guinea to Japan. Following the war, the brigade, which was comprised of 28 officers and 759 enlisted personnel, landing craft, bulldozers, trucks and other equipment, made its way to Fort Worden. The new arrivals’ first impressions are a matter of record thanks to interviews conducted by Friends of Fort Worden Living History Program volunteers.
Gasper J. “Gus” Impiccini, who served in the brigade’s 532nd Engineer Boat & Shore Regiment (EBSR) assigned to Company D, recalls “…when I first got to Fort Worden I thought it was the end of the world because there’s a lot of rednecks up there.” John W. Singhouse, who served in the 369th EBSR, called Fort Worden “…a classic small Army post.” Although he remembers, “We didn’t even have a guard at the gate. People came and went on their own.” Benedict O. Williamson, an underage recruit when he arrived at Fort Worden said, “As soon as I saw Fort Worden I knew it was too pretty to be an Army camp.” He was later sent back to his parents in Kentucky when it was discovered he was only 16.
And Delores Crow, whose husband Wayne T. Crow, also served in the 369th, related in her interview, “I thought Fort Worden was gorgeous. You drive down into this gate and the little chapel on the left and all these nice buildings and the big parade field out in the middle. It looked very impressive, not at all like an Army fort. It was more like a group of old Southern mansions.”
The brigade, commanded by Colonel Joseph J. Twitty, was the only amphibious element in the U.S. Army, and considered one of the more critical units of Lt. Gen. A.C. Wedemeyer’s Sixth Army. The Leader’s June 22, 1950, edition published a congratulatory letter from the general to Col. Twitty regarding the training at Fort Worden, which noted, “Short of war, it is not likely that any unit will be called upon to conduct a training program that is more strenuous, more prolonged, or more realistic.”
The same article announced that on June 23rd, the brigade would be celebrating its eighth anniversary with a formal parade at Fort Worden. Colonel Twitty, brigade and fort commander, invited residents of Port Townsend to visit the post and witness the commemorative exercises. It would be the last time the public would see the troops for three years. Two days later, North Korea invaded South Korea, sending the 8-year-old brigade back to war.
Tim Caldwell was a founding board member of the Fort Worden Public Development Authority and currently works in guest services at the fort, a position that includes researching the military and civilian history of the fort where his grandfather served and is buried.