From World War I through the first Gulf War, Fort Ord was a U.S. Army base known for producing soldiers. Today, it is home to CalVet’s California Central Coast Veterans Cemetery and also to Cal State University-Monterey Bay, among other things.

For a few years in the early 1950s, however, the outpost on the Monterey Peninsula could have been called “Fort Holly-Ord.”

A group of men performing physical training PT Fort Ord Circa 1950.
PT at Fort Ord Circa 1950.

This Veterans Day, we look back upon a very unique time at one of California’s busiest – and now decommissioned – military installations. Because serving there – all at the same time – were the future “Fugitive,” a guy in a Corvette and then a police cruiser, an Old West TV lawyer, and “Dirty Harry.”

Indeed, three established actors – David Janssen, Martin Milner, and Richard Long – were stationed there together over a three-year span during the Korean War. That is where they met a young swimming instructor named Clint Eastwood, who remains among the most accomplished and influential stars in the entertainment world. In fact, Eastwood’s friendships with them drew him to Hollywood, where he used his GI Bill education benefits to study acting at Los Angeles City College.

Eastwood’s time at Fort Ord might have provided a good movie storyline on its own. Drafted early in 1951, he managed to get some leave for a trip to Seattle in September of that same year. When it ended, he hitched a ride on a two-seater Navy plane that ran out of fuel and ditched into the rough surf of the Pacific Ocean near Point Reyes.

Clint Eastwood sits on a log dressed in wester gear.
Clint Eastwood in A Fistful of Dollars, 1964.

“Very cold water,” Eastwood told one interviewer. “I found out many years later that it was a white shark breeding ground, but I’m glad I didn’t know that at the time or I’d have just died.”

Instead, he did what an Army swimming instructor would be expect to do: He and the pilot swam through the waves — being sent under water several times — before reaching the shore.

“I could see the Marin County coast from a distance,” Eastwood said. “I don’t know how far it was; it seemed like 50 miles, but it was probably a mile or two. Then it got dark. It was quite a way into nightfall before we reached it (the coast).”

When his Army hitch ended in 1953, Eastwood took a screen test with Universal. It led to a $75-a-week contract with the studio and roles in a couple of monster movies, both in 1955. He portrayed a jet fighter pilot dumping napalm as insect repellent in “Tarantula.”

Eastwood then played Rowdy Yates in the hit TV western “Rawhide,” followed by a string of director Sergio Leone’s so-called “spaghetti” westerns — “A Fistful of Dollars,” “For a Few Dollars More, and “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly.”

A photo of David Janssen as the Fugitive, 1967.
David Janssen as the Fugitive, 1967.

The “Dirty Harry” series came next. Then a progression of hit movies that included his “The Unforgiven” in 1992 and 2004 “Million-Dollar Baby” on his way to five career Academy Awards.

Janssen promoted to the rank of corporal in the Army before being honorably discharged in May 1954. He went on to film and TV roles, starring as wrongfully convicted escapee Dr. Richard Kimble in “The Fugitive.” He spent 120 episodes (four seasons) looking for the one-armed man who allegedly killed his wife in the show, catching him, and being exonerated. Janssen also starred as a detective in the series “Harry O” (1974-1976). He died in 1980. His website includes a chronology of his time at Fort Ord and mentions Eastwood, Milner, and Long. It also includes a profile on Janssen published in the base newspaper.

Milner spent two years in the Army’s special services directing training films. Upon leaving the Army, he returned to Hollywood where he had a recurring role in “Life of Riley,” (starring William Bendix) from 1953 to 1958. Milner and Eastwood later reunited when they starred together in a January 23, 1959, episode of Rawhide titled “Incident with an Executioner” and also in “Francis (the Talking Mule) In the Navy.”

Headshot of Martin Milner in police uniform.
Martin Milner as Officer Jim Reed in Adam-12.

Milner’s best-known work came in the TV drama “Route 66,” tooling around the country in a red Corvette with pal George Maharis from 1960 to 1964. He then portrayed Los Angeles police officer Pete Malloy opposite Kent McCord (Officer Jim Reed) in “Adam-12.” That series lasted from 1968 until 1975.  Milner died at 84 in 2015.

Long was the only one of the four to see duty overseas. He was stationed in Tokyo for a time. He later starred as Jarrod Barkley, a lawyer and eldest son of matriarch Victoria Barkley (Barbara Stanwyck) in Stockton-set “The Big Valley” from 1965 to 1969. He followed that by playing Professor Everett on the TV series “The Nanny and the Professor” (1970-1971). Long died of a heart ailment at age 47 in 1974.

Eastwood is the only survivor of the four and continues to work at 92. A year ago, he read a story in the Monterey Herald about Fort Old’s old swimming pool, long abandoned and tagged end-to-end with graffiti. It stirred so many memories of his days at Fort Ord that he called the reporter, Brian Phan, and later met him at the pool for a follow-up story.

He told Phan that he stayed at the pool 24 hours a day, talking the company commander into letting him move his bunk into a small room at the pool complex.

Richard Long headshot for The Big Valley TV series.
Richard Long as Jarrod Barkley in The Big Valley.

“When everybody else was getting up at five in the morning, in the cold air, I was sleeping,” Eastwood told the Herald. “I didn’t have (swimming) classes until about 10 or 11 o’clock, or whatever they were for that day. It was a good life for me.”

The swimming lessons kept him stateside.

“It saved me from going to Korea,” he told the paper. “Which was important in those days. It was a great, great gig. A lot of fun. I became an actor because (of) guys like Richard Long, Martin Milner, and David Janssen that were all drafted. These guys became my friends. (They) drew me down to LA and started off my career. It all started there at the pool.”

Right there at Fort Ord which, for a few years in the early 1950s, could have been called Fort Holly-Ord.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: