SHEBOYGAN COUNTY — Beautiful fairways and greens are today's draw on the land now home to Whistling Straits golf course. But in the 1950s, folks came from around Sheboygan County to watch feats of military might.
"The noise must have been amazing. And I'm sure it was like a big party," said Beth Dippel, director of operations at Sheboygan County Historical Research Center.
According to the center's book, Camp Haven: Sheboygan County’s Anti-aircraft Training Facility, a single training session in August 1949 drew a crowd of around 3,000 people to watch heavy artillery spew rounds out across Lake Michigan.
"You could bring your kids and you could buy concessions, and you could watch something fun going on," said Dippel.
Camp Haven opened in 1949. Every summer, hundreds to thousands of men from the Army Reserve, National Guard and ROTC would train on artillery at the site on the Lake Michigan coast.
It was early Cold War days. And the troops were there to practice shooting down mock enemy targets.
"People were afraid we were going to be attacked and they didn't know how we were going to be attacked. The Russians were a big deal," said Dippel.
The former farmland, right on the coast, provided the perfect space to run artillery drills.
"It's nothing but Lake Michigan, so they can shoot to the east off the bluffs. And it was pretty safe because it's, you know what, 40 miles across," said Dippel.
Using various artillery, including 40mm and 120mm guns, the soldiers shot at what were called sleeve -- a large target towed behind a place, often B-52s.
The men also shot at radio-controlled drones.
One of those very drones is now hanging from the ceiling in the Aviation Heritage Center of Wisconsin in Sheboygan.
According to Mike Jones, a volunteer at the center and aviation enthusiast, the drone was discovered on the lake bed by a scuba diver.
These days, it may be only golf balls now splashing down in the water. According to Dippel, the artillery training became largely obsolete after the development of more advanced missile defense systems.
*Image credits for broadcast report: Images preserved by Sheboygan Country Historical Center