Army installations commemorate 100 years of operation

| June 16, 2017 | 0 Comments
A scene from Camp Jackson, S.C. on Company St. during World War I. Each of those barracks housed 150 Soldiers and 10 of those barracks constituted a regiment. (Photo by National Archives)

A scene from Camp Jackson, S.C. on Company St. during World War I. Each of those barracks housed 150 Soldiers and 10 of those barracks constituted a regiment. (Photo by National Archives)

David Vergun
Army News Service

WASHINGTON — Many installations across the Army this year are marking the centennial of the construction of their posts, which occurred in the weeks and months following the U.S. declaration of war on Germany, April 6, 1917.

Prior to World War I, the Regular Army numbered just 133,000 Soldiers. At the time, an additional 400,000 served in the Army National Guard.

By the end of World War I, the combined total of active and Guard had grown to over four million, said Eric Setzekorn, a historian at the Center of Military History.

Camps sprouted up across the U.S. after war was declared April 6, 1917. (Photo courtesy Center of Military History)

Camps sprouted up across the U.S. after war was declared April 6, 1917. (Photo courtesy Center of Military History)

“Never before or since has the Army experienced a comparable period of massive expansion, coupled with unprecedented organizational transformation, in such a brief period as during 1917 to 1918,” he said.

To house and train all of the new Soldiers, hastily constructed or expanded camps sprouted up across the country, 16 of which were Guard installations, he said. Swamps were drained, forests were cleared to build parade fields and roads, and the wood was used to erect barracks and chow halls. Small cities of 30,000 to 40,000 Soldiers seemed to materialize overnight.

Many of the installations took on names of Civil War generals such as Camp Meade, Camp Gordon, Camp Lee and Camp Jackson, he said. Fort Belvoir was originally called Camp Humphreys, also a Civil War general. The name changed after the war.

Soldiers train at newly constructed Camp Gordon, Georgia during World War I. (Photo courtesy of the National Archives)

Soldiers train at newly constructed Camp Gordon, Georgia during World War I. (Photo courtesy of the National Archives)

The Civil War wasn’t the only source of names for new camps. Camp Travis, for instance, was named for a hero of the Battle of the Alamo. It later became Fort Sam Houston and is now Joint Base San Antonio. And Camp Dix was named for a veteran of the War of 1812 and the Civil War. After the war, it was renamed Fort Dix and today is part of Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst.

Camp Funston, named for Spanish-American War leader Maj. Gen. Frederick Funston, eventually became Fort Riley. Camp Lewis, in Washington State, was named for early American explorer Meriwether Lewis. That installation became Fort Lewis, and is now known as Joint Base Lewis-McChord.

A few camps, like Camp Cody near Deming, New Mexico, and Camp Wadsworth, near Spartanburg, South Carolina, were inactivated following the end of the war.

The bakery at Camp Jackson, S.C. baked 7,200 loaves of bread a day for Soldiers training to go to war in Europe during World War I. (Photo courtesy of the National Archives)

The bakery at Camp Jackson, S.C. baked 7,200 loaves of bread a day for Soldiers training to go to war in Europe during World War I. (Photo courtesy of the National Archives)

Community effort

Community involvement in setting up the camps was essential, Setzekorn said. Not only did people from the surrounding communities help build the new camps and then work there, they were also instrumental in getting the camps there in the first place.

Take Fort Jackson, South Carolina. When word came down that a location was needed to house and train Soldiers, the people in the nearby city of Columbia saw the new Army post as being potentially good for business, public relations and patriotism, Setzekorn said.

“So they acquired the land, cleared the trees, drained the swamps and basically started building from scratch.”

Other camps across America had similar stories of communities eager to pitch in and do their part for the war effort, he said.

This Mark VIII Liberty Tank was produced just after World War I, but Soldiers in Europe during the war were involved in tank warfare with similar looking behemoths. Photo taken at the Fort George G. Meade Museum. Fort Meade was known as Camp Meade during World War I (Photo by David Vergun)

This Mark VIII Liberty Tank was produced just after World War I, but Soldiers in Europe during the war were involved in tank warfare with similar looking behemoths. Photo taken at the Fort George G. Meade Museum. Fort Meade was known as Camp Meade during World War I (Photo by David Vergun)

In the Army now

Many of the arriving recruits had never ventured far from home, Setzekorn said. The vast majority had also never experienced military life. Army chow replaced their mom’s cooking. Recruits learned close-order drill, marksmanship and how to use their bayonets. And every Soldier was issued brown doughboy uniforms.

It was a culture shock for some, he said. And for the many recruits who had recently immigrated to the U.S. and hadn’t yet learned English, it was a double challenge for them.

Once their training was complete, they were ready to ship out to France.

Soldiers boarded troop trains for the journey to the East Coast where they would await transport across the Atlantic. The largest embarkation facility was Camp Merritt near Tenafly, New Jersey, about 10 miles from New York City. The location had good access to rail, he said, noting that the Interstate Highway System was decades away from being built and rail was the preferred mode of travel.

Rucksack marching and horse transportation were primary means of training and wartime mobility during World War I, not that different from the Civil War. Photo taken at the Fort George G. Meade Museum. Fort Meade was known as Camp Meade during World War I (Photo by David Vergun)

Rucksack marching and horse transportation were primary means of training and wartime mobility during World War I, not that different from the Civil War. Photo taken at the Fort George G. Meade Museum. Fort Meade was known as Camp Meade during World War I (Photo by David Vergun)

In the two-year period from the summer of 1917 through 1919, roughly 1.6 million Soldiers passed through the ports that surrounded New York City. More than one million of those Soldiers passed through Camp Merritt. That installation was later closed, never to reopen, Setzekorn said.

Newport News, Virginia, functioned as the secondary embarkation port for Soldiers. Nearly 300,000 were processed over the course of the war from that location. Another 140,000 Soldiers departed from ports ranging from Baltimore to Québec, Canada.

For the tens of thousands of Soldiers who died in combat while in Europe, these embarkation ports would be the last American soil they’d ever see, he said.

Demobilization

After the war, which ended Nov. 11, 1918, the new camps became demobilization centers for the returning doughboys. And, at least one place, Camp Funston, Kansas, housed Soldiers who had contracted the deadly Spanish flu.

Setzekorn said the establishment of the camps, along with advancements in military tactics, technology and organizational structure, “laid the foundation for not only the American Expeditionary Force’s contribution to Germany’s eventual defeat, but also to the creation of the modern U.S. Army and the emergence of America as a world power.”

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Category: Army News Service, News

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