You are here
Remember When Whistling Straits was Camp Heaven?
City of Sheboygan Historian,
Oct. 10, 2004
The long anticipated PGA Championship Tournament is here at last. Where today thousands of golf fans congregate and scores of the world’s best golfers vie with one another for the first place trophy, cows once peacefully grazed, farmers grew crops, and tanks and half tracks rumbled across the land. Tanks and half-tracks? Not only tanks and half tracks but heavy anti-aircraft guns shook the ground accompanied by the rattle of heavy machine guns and the steady cadence of hundreds of soldiers marching in step. For you see much of the land that the magnificent Whistling Straights golf course is now built on was once an Army Camp, known as Camp Haven, named after the nearby village of Haven. (The photo is of troops arriving on Oct. 16, 1954.)
In 1949 the United States Army decided to set up an anti-aircraft training range on the site that is today Whistling Straights. The Army leased 160 acres of farm land from a local owner on which to construct their new training facility. In its prime the camp had a floating population of 500 to 700 men. Over 120 tents and permanent buildings were set up on the site. Regular army, army reserve and National Guard troops were trained at the new camp. Units from through the Midwest practiced anti-aircraft gunnery at Camp Haven, most of them Fifth Army troops.
The weapons the trainees fired ranged from the heavy 120MM antiaircraft guns to 50 caliber machine guns. Also tanks and halftracks fired their weapons at air borne targets. The sound of the heavy guns could easily be heard in Sheboygan as they fired out over the lake.
The targets they fired at were either towed or flew over Lake Michigan. One type of target was known as a target sleeve, consisted of an elongated bag towed on the end of a cable approximately 200 to 300 yards long behind, a A-26 twin engine bomber. As the plane flew over the lake guns of all sizes would take turns trying to hit the target sleeve. It must have been quit a thrill for pilots to tow a target and have rookie gunners firing lives shells in their direction. It was not real uncommon for a plane to return to base with a few extra holes in it. To render the target more stable while under tow the sleeve had a heavy weight fastened to the cable just in front of the target. Occasionally the cable would be shot away and the heavy weight would fall to earth, at least one of the weights made an unexpected entry into a framers barn, through the roof. The second type of target they shot at was a radio controlled target drone. The small robot aircraft was powered by a 4 cylinder engine and was flown by a controller on the ground. When the pilot of the drone wanted to land the plane he sent a signal that deployed a parachute, which lowered the plane to the ground. Also when a target drone was hit by gunfire the parachute deployed which kept the machine from being destroyed in a crash. Some of the drones landed on dry land and others crashed into the lake where they lay on the bottom the lake until some were recovered by local scuba divers.
A no fly zone was created out over the lake as well as a no sail zone to protect civilians from wandering into the firing range during times of artillery practice.
On week ends the young soldiers would be given a pass to come into either Sheboygan or Manitowoc, and come they did…by the hundreds. Older retired Police Officers well remember the exuberant young men bent on having a weekend of fun in Sheboygan. After several weekends of trying to keep the young fun seekers in line the Army sent Military Police (MP’S) into town to assist local law enforcement. In most cases wrong doers were handled by the military.
Due to the advent of guided missiles antiaircraft guns were no longer needed and the camp lowered its flag for the last time on Nov. 16th 1959, after 10 years of service to the Nation.
The land was then sold to the Wisconsin Power and Light on which they planned to build a nuclear power plant, which never took place.
The crack of a golf club striking a ball and the roaring of fans has replaced the thunder of guns and tanks on what is truly a historic site.
Reprinted with permission of the author.
This material originally appeared in The Sheboygan Press