Military in the Mojave: A Commanding Presence in the Victor Valley

About the Exhibition

“The military and those serving and those employed by the military have had a huge impact on our region both economically and culturally,” said Jennifer Dickerson, a history curator for the County Museum. “The fact that this exhibit won a NACo award really indicates how special this region is and how this region’s history is really rich and diverse and NACo recognized that.”

George Air Force Base in Victorville, Fort Irwin in the Calico Mountains and the Marine Corps Logistics Base in Barstow made a mark on the history and values of the region and created a legacy of patriotism and service, Dickerson said.

On display are photographs and stories about Captain Joseph McConnell, a national war hero who flew 60 missions during World War II who was so beloved and revered that the community of Apple Valley built a home for him and his wife and children. During the Korean War, in only four months, he downed 16 enemy aircraft and was the first triple jet ace, a title awarded to military aviators who have shot down at least 15 enemy aircraft. Tragically In 1954, he died during a routine test flight when his plane malfunctioned.

The Purple Heart, left abandoned near the Oro Grande cemetery, is on display and was donated to the Museum by Felix Diaz, a community leader and author who recently passed away. Diaz, who was also an Army veteran, wrote about the military contributions and sacrifices made by Latinos in the High Desert. The medal belonged to Army Lt. Manuel Rodriguez, who was the first casualty in World War II from San Bernardino County.

The neatly pressed dress uniform with a shiny silver cummerbund of Lt. Genevieve Casey is also on display. Casey was the chief nurse at George Air Force Base who traveled all over the world and overcame gender inequality in the military to advance in her career.

“History is not one dimensional,” Dickerson said. “It’s important to highlight that diversity because it tells a complete story. It tells us who they were, how they shaped our county. Focusing on different groups like the Latino community and women in the military, it not only showcases where we came from but it makes the museum more interesting and more accessible to everybody.”

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