2 February 1998

The Perfect Escape At Pickel Meadow

Anthony F. Milavic

Major, United States Marine Corps (Retired)

Pickel Meadow is located on California Highway 108, 21 miles northwest of Bridgeport, California and 100 miles south of Reno, Nevada in the Sierra Nevada Mountains. In the early 1960s, it was the home of The Marine Corps Cold Weather Training Center and what is now called The Mountain Warfare Training Center. One of the courses taught there was Evasion, Escape & Survival (EE&S) [This course is now called Survival, Evasion, Resistance, and Escape (SERE)]. Almost at the opening bell of this course, the students were “captured” and then placed in a POW exercise situation for a period of 30 hours--incarcerated in a makeshift POW compound and subjected to political indoctrination and interrogation. The purpose of this exercise was to give this mixed-bag of air and ground Marines from the four corners of the Corps “an idea” what a POW situation might be like and motivate them for the classroom instruction. As far as the unstated school solution was concerned, their first challenge was to get organized and then do something together. Even though it was only an exercise, it provided a unique peacetime opportunity for Marines to demonstrate leadership.  

The compound consisted of a 10-foot high barbed wire fence with a guard tower in one corner, an administrative shack and the Camp Commandant’s Office. Three makeshift corrugated metal “hooches”--about 10X6X4--were provided as shelters within the enclosure; these were not fixed in place and  could easily be moved about. This was home for the usual 30 students in each class--summer and below zero, snow covered winter.

In the winter of 1960/1, the students were milling about in the compound dressed in trousers, T-shirts, and boots; milling about kept them warm. In the midst of this activity, the guards in the Camp Commandant’s Office noticed that one of the hooches was moving toward the fence on the opposite side of the compound; apparently, some students were inside carrying it on their backs. The guards immediately demanded that the hooch be returned to the center of the compound. The students refused and crowded around the window of the Office shouting at the guards. At the same time, two students left the group and meandered over to the moved hooch. Suddenly, the student closest to the hooch bent over; the second one dropped to his hands and knees next to him; and, simultaneously, a third student took off running toward them, stepped on one, the other, the roof of the hooch, vaulted over the 10-foot barbed wire fence, and disappeared into the woods. 

The instructors considered this the perfect escape from the compound exercise of the EE&S course: It was organized; all students participated; and the escapee got away before a guard could react. In their collective memory, this was a first for the course. The escapee was a young captain from 1st Force Reconnaissance Company named Gerald H. Turley. Years later, Colonel Turley would write a book about his experiences with Republic of Vietnam Marines during the 1972 Easter offensive: The Easter Offensive: The Last American Advisors Vietnam, 1972.


Semper Leadership,

Anthony F. Milavic

Major USMC (Ret.)