Friday, March 31, 2017

Dix Chapter VII - Between the Wars

Chapter VII


During the 1920s and early 1930s, World War I continued to have a tremendous impact on the size and structure of the United States Army.

Civilian Americans were determined to economize after the tremendous costs of World War I and try to forget warfare altogether. With almost four million men under arms in November 18, the authorized strength of the US Army slid to less than 150,000 by mid-1920. Even then the number of personnel the Army was able to retain n service fell well below that figure.

Regular Army facilities in the United States provided adequately for existing Army units; consequently there was little need for the original National Army Camps, such as Camp Dix, in the post-war military establishment.

Were it not for a decision by the assistant secretary of war in March 1919, it is doubtful if Camp Dix would had survived as a military reservation. He decided to purchase 14 leased National Army cantonments, one of which was Dix, to try to recoup a higher part of the war’s cost by selling all buildings and other assets in combination with the lands. Selling the combinations, he estimated, would result in 12 times more gain to the government. After the Camp Dix land was purchased, however, no information is available that any real attempt was made to sell the Army post.

When demobilization had ended, the caretaking responsibility for Camp Dix was placed in the hands of a quartermaster detachment, which at times consisted of as few as one officer, 10 enlisted men and five civilians. The quartermaster officer in charge of the detachment also doubled as commanding officer of the camp. For these few soldiers, Camp Dix in those years was a lonely place and well deserving of the name, “Military Ghost Town,” given to the quiet reservation by local residents.

It was the 1st Infantry Division, headquartered at Fort Hamilton, New York, that gave Camp Dix its last big moment of glory during the post-World War I period. In observance of the second anniversary of the armistice, the 1st Division assembled all of its units, which were spread widely along the east coast, at Camp Dix to put on a demonstration for a gathering of 1st Division veterans. Among the guests was General of the Armies John J. Pershing, as the division “went over the top” on the night of 10 November 1920.

Also present were 35 disabled veterans of the 1st Division who lay in ambulances to watch the show. They had been brought by special train from Walter Reed Army Hospital, Washington D.C., where for more than two years, they had been under treatment for war wounds. The demonstration consisted of a night attack from trenches employing all of the implements for such an attack. Soldiers with blackened faces made up wire-cutting parties, and the attackers were supported with star shells to heavy artillery and protected by tanks and machine guns. On the next day 11 November, a reunion of the 1st Division Society, held on the parade grounds, was attended by thousands of veterans from all parts of the United States.

As a result of this visit, the commanding general of the 1st Division, Major General Charles P. Summerall, wrote to the adjutant general. US Army, requesting an allocation of $5,000 to repair and modernize a building suitable for housing visitors to the post. In his request, he stated that the camp was located 18 miles from adequate hotel accommodations. He also noted the quarters provided for officers at the camp were so small, poorly constructed, and ill equipped that it was necessary to provide some place for guests of the officers and other visitors.

There is no evidence to indicate General Summerall ever got the money. Few appropriations were made by Congress for maintenance of buildings on the post. Consequently, the inevitable resulted. Nature, lack of repair, and insufficient guard personnel took their toll. Supplies were open to looting. Even gasoline was stolen from the fire engine, and on one occasion the vehicle had to be towed to a fire. Building after building burned to the ground. During the five-year period from 1917-1922, the camp’s fire loss was approximately $287,000. Much of the camp’s equipment, particularly motor vehicles, had long passed the point of efficient use.

Major General David C. Shanks, who had replaced General Summerall as commanding general of the 1st Infantry Division, visited Camp Dix in August 1921. He later wrote to the adjutant general, US Army, complaining of the camp’s deficiencies. He noted the buildings were “all of the cheap and flimsy type” and apparently suffering from leaky roofs, extensive rotting, and general deterioration attributable to “hasty construction.”

General Shanks observed that the camp’s water supply was poor, no family housing existed, and the general isolation of the location was contributing to a high desertion rate. He endorsed General Summerall’s views that Camp Dix should not be retained as a permanent camp and recommended no further building programs be considered.

Despite the views of the two commanding generals, the 1st Division continued to use Camp Dix for its annual summer field training and range firing. Regiments of the division’s 1st Brigade, the 16th Infantry Regiment from Fort Jay, Governor’s Island, New York City, and the 18th Infantry Regiment from Fort Wadsworth, Staten Island, New York, were the most consistent users of the camp’s training areas. Additionally, in the summer months, units of the New Jersey Guard took their two-weeks active duty training at the camp along with reserve officers of the 77th and 78th Infantry Divisions (Reserve) and officers of other Organized Reserve Corps (ORC) units whose home stations were close to Camp Dix. In the 1930s, students in training under the Citizens Military Training Corps (CMTC) in the II Army Corps Area made up a large part of the men assembled at the camp from June through August.

The small arms ranges were the most active facilities on post during these training periods. More than 3,000 men, not including CMTC and ORC groups, spent considerable time on the ranges qualifying and improving their marksmanship. In 1926, the firing range at Fort Hancock, New Jersey, was closed because of accidents, so troops from that post, principally engineers, completed their small arms firing at Camp Dix. During the summer of that year, approximately 400 marines stationed at Lakehurst, New Jersey, as part of the ground crew for the naval airship “Los Angeles,” came to Camp Dix for range practice. The marines continued to use the camp’s ranges for several more years.
Camp Dix as it existed in those days can be best understood through the reflections of soldiers returning to the “old” post after years of absence. One was Sergeant First Class John F. Nolan, who returned to Fort Dix in 1964 for an assignment with the Light Vehicle Driver Course of the 5th Common Specialist Training Regiment. Back in May 1934, then Private Nolan had reported to Camp Dix to staff a summer training camp for the Reserve Officers Training Corps, CMTC, and Civilian Conservation Corps.

Looking at the permanent, brick barracks of a basic combat training regiment, Nolan recalled that his company 30 years previously had been housed in tents during the summer period. “The only barracks on post,” he said, “housed about 18 members of the permanent party. Once we were ordered to move our tents so a road could be built.”

Reminiscing on changes that have occurred in Army life, the sergeant recalled, “Every outfit did its own recruiting. You just signed up and went straight to work. Until you were assigned overseas, you received no formal training. One day you might learn how to carry or fire a rifle, while another time they might teach you ‘right face.’”

As a private, Nolan was paid $17,65 a month. His first stop most paydays was the orderly room, where a book of 10 haircut coupons could be bought for a $1.50. In his unit in those days, a private first class was entrusted with handling payroll and personnel records. Mess halls were different, too. Service was family style, with heaping platters of food on the table. Mess sergeants did their own marketing, and they could be seen at nearby farms, haggling over the price of vegetables.

Frequently during the post-demobilization period, the governments had expressed its intention of abandoning the camp and returning all property to the original owners. However, due largely to the efforts of General Hugh L. Scott, the second commanding general of the 78th Infantry Division and Camp Dix, such a proposal was not carried out. He and many other farsighted military and government officials argued that the camp must be retained in the event of another mobilization. It was further pointed out that the reservation was the largest in the northeastern United States and well fortified by its ideal location. It was near the large eastern cities and had great potential as an aviation center or training site for pilots.

After hearing these and other strong arguments, Calvin Coolidge decided to set aside most of the tract as a national forest preserve and any idea of vacating the camp apparently was dropped – at least so far as the federal government was concerned. By executive order in 1925, most of the land area making up the reservation was renamed Dix National Forest.

Even though the government had no intention of giving up the land, rumors of plans to abandon the property were often heard. Most of the rumors were based on expressed opinions of certain ranking individuals in the federal and local governments that the properties at Dix were needlessly being held by the government. The rumors brought a flood of inquiries to congressmen from local residents. The property and land at Dix became the subject of many such congressional inquiries in 1926. Late in the year, Secretary of War Dwight F. Davis answered these inquiries by announcing plans to reopen Camp Dix as the 11 Corps training area. He also announced the proposal of a million dollar construction project at the post. Thus, Dix’ retention as a military installation by the federal government was assured, and the tide of rumors and queries subsided.

Although the post was not very active after 1922 and no regular forces, other than the small caretaker detachment, were stationed there, the Army still received a number of claims for property damage from irate citizens. For example, an Asbury Park bus struck and killed an Army mule while the bus was traveling across the reservation on the Wrightstown-Pemberton-Camden Highway. After determining the amount of damage to the bus and cost of repair, the company filed a claim against the government in the amount of $54.45. But, to the dismay of the company, the government submitted a counterclaim for $160 – the cost of the mule. It was pointed out that the driver of the bus had exceeded the posted speed limit of 12 miles per hour. A witness had stated the bus was traveling a reckless 25 miles an hour and the driver apparently ignored the waring of a soldier to slow down. The disposition of the case is not known nor is it really important. However, it was typical of many such claims submitted to the government.

There were more serious claims uring the early between-wars period. Field fires started from the narrow-gage railroad were frequent. One fire in the early 1920s resulted in more than $10,000 in claims for damage to cranberry bogs. In 1930, another fire was started from the railroad resulting in claims totaling $2,500. Finally it was discovered that the fires were caused when sparks from the train’s wheels ignited the nearby brush.

The largest fire during the period, however, was not caused by wheels of the railroad train. In 1932, soldiers of one of the reserve divisions were clearing brush from the track for a firebreak and began burning it. At noon, the soldiers took time out for lunch, leaving the burning brush unattended. In a short time, with the assist of a summer breeze, the fire spread to adjoining bogs. The result was one of the worst fires known in the vicinity, according to a letter received by the secretary of war from a civilian. The blaze could not be controlled, and a civilian fire department had to be called in.
After the fire, which caused extensive damage to the woodland area in the section that later became known as the Reception Center. This company did excellent work fighting soil erosion on the farms in the neighboring communities.

By August 1934, general supervision of CCC camps in southern New Jersey was administered by headquarters at Dix. Public opinion was divided as to whether material benefits accomplished by the CCC were worth the cost. However, it was generally accepted that improvement of workers’ personal character and knowledge was of tremendous value.

Character buildup, however, was sometimes questioned by the local populace. One incident took place on the afternoon of Friday the 13th of April 1934. On that day, 75 CCC workers on their way home from Camp Dix created a disturbance at the Bordentown, New Jersey railroad station. They removed a clock from the waiting room wall, damaged a candy vending machine and became involved in other miscellaneous malicious actions. State police were summoned and after quelling the outbreak permitted the men to go on to their homes. No arrests were made. This was not the only incident of bad conduct involving CCC workers. They were frequently involved in fights, brawls, thefts and acts of immorality. Although the majority of the conservation corps men did not display such immature behavior, the reputation of the entire CCC was quite a topic of controversy.

Meanwhile, CCC authorities at Camp Dix continued to point out advantages of the corps. They shattered all charges of pacifists that the recruits were given military training. Dix authorities denied that the young men were undergoing training for the Army in the event of a future emergency. It also was stressed that while a civilian reserve officer directed each of the CCC camps, all other executive positions were held by men promoted from the ranks of the CCC recruits.

All CCC men enlisted had the privilege of quitting any time they were needed by their families. Transportation costs to return home in such cases were furnished, considering that pay of the ordinary CCC workman was only $30 a month, $25 of which was sent to dependents or families back home. This left the CCC worker $5 in pocket money each month, hardly enough to cover both transportation costs and other necessary purchases. In addition to educational, recreational, and religious benefits and activities, the worker received clothing and medical services.

In January 1935, 300,000 young men still were employed in camps scattered throughout the United States. For the most part, they worked in forest conservation. In the spring of 1935, preparations were made by the Department of Conservation and Development for reforesting state forests. This was accomplished by planting a total of 832,700 seedling trees of several different types. The plans were carried out, and the planting done by CCC. The Green Bank State Forest Nursery of Burlington County provided 210,200 seedlings, while the Washington Crossing State Forest Nursery of Mercer County furnished an additional 125,000 for the cause.

The Bass River State Forest of Burlington County, the Lebanon State Forest in Cape May County, the Jenny Jump State Forest in Warren County and Stokes State Forest in Sussex County all received seedling trees. In all cases the planting was done by the CCC. The CCC also was employed in road building and other jobs throughout the country. These jobs aided in the construction of various projects designed to improve living and recreational conditions in assigned areas.

In spring 1935, it was directed that New Jersey’s quota for the CCC be boosted from 9,343 to 19,700. This was the result of a federal government decision to enroll 600,000 youths and war veterans beginning 15 June 1935 to build up the number of personnel, which then stood at 353,000. Factors in determining the state’s quota were population and relief needs, each weighing equally.

Of the 600,000 youths and war veterans, 545,000 were juniors and the remainder veterans. The enrollment increase was completed on 31 August 1935. It was estimated that during the enrollment period, approximately 350,000 men, including replacements for men who had dropped out prior to 1 July, were sent to camps.

From March 1933 to July 1936, 115,000 CCC enrollees arrived and were processed at Camp Dix. During the same period, the camp, which also operated as a discharge center, sent out 43,000 men, who eventually returned to Dix and were mustered out of the corps to civilian life. In all, more than 200,000 men passed through the camp in the CCC program.

Activity at Camp Dix steadily increased, and in 1937 the CCC Discharge and Replacement Center was established. The center handled approximately 10,000 enrolments and discharges every quarter. At the beginning of every period 5,000 men were received from camps on the West Coast, processed for discharge and returned home. At about the same time, approximately the same numbers was received, enrolled, processed and shipped to camps on the West Coast as replacements. In September 1940, the Discharge and Replacement Center was moved temporarily to Sea Girt, New Jersey. It remained there until early in 1941 when it was returned to Fort Dix and inactivated. Because of the military buildup, workers at the post, more of whom were involved in soil conservation, were transferred to the Schenectady, New York, area.

Meanwhile the CMTC and ORC continued to use the camp regularly each summer, and training was more efficient because of the many improvements made by the CCC with government funds.
In 1937, General Hugh L. Scott’s foresightedness of the 1920s became a reality. During that year ground was broken for the Army’s first airfield at Dix. A small landing strip was built for light planes to be used in support of the post’s activities. Although hardly as extensive as today’s McGuire Air Force Base, the tiny single dirt strip was McGuire’s forerunner. Later, the strip expanded to a major air base and for years was known as the Fort Dix Army Air Field. 

The military had its problems in keeping the lid on classified information. A breach of security, which could be used as an example in an intelligence lecture, occurred on the post in 1938. World War II was just taking form in other parts of the world, even though the United States was not involved. Washington, however, was anticipating the country might become entangled; consequently mobilization and contingency plans were being prepared. Military installations were taking stock of their properties and making recommendations for improvement in the event facilities and equipment had to be used for building of our military strength.

In May 1938 a request carefully itemizing some $150,000 in needed repairs and constructions at Camp Dix was sent from Congress to the War Department. Congress felt the repairs were considered necessary for mobilization should the need arise. The list included all areas ranging from improvements of tent floors and a hay shed to renovations of an electronic power station.

Such a request may not seem out of place to most people. There was, however, one extraordinary factor – the request came from Congress and not through channels from Camp Dix. A security leak was suspected. This disturbed the War Department, considering that requests in channels from Dix at the time amounted only to $18,000. The War Department wanted to know why civilians apparently knew more about the mobilization readiness of the post than the Army.

Camp Dix’ commander was hard pressed to explain how this restricted list of needed repairs got to Washington before it was received at II Corps headquarters. After investigation on the part of military authorities at the camp, the answer was learned. At the time there were some 2,500 Works Projects Administration (WPA) workers on the post. They were involved in all types of projects and administrative functions at the camp. It was discovered that these civilians were not fully aware of their knowledge of security information. Because most of them were political appointees, it was not difficult for congressmen to obtain any information they wanted. After this discovery, the security leak was plugged here and at other posts.

In the late 1930s, War Department officials began to recognize that Dix was becoming an important permanent station. Permanent barracks and officers’ quarters were being constructed, and the post had the potential of becoming one of the largest training centers for ground forces in the county.
In view of this, the War Department believed the installation should be given the more appropriate designation of “Fort Dix,” so on 8 March 1939, the post was officially renamed – giving it an air of permanence.

At the time several permanent structures already were in existence and others in construction, using Public Works Administration and Works Projects Administration funs. Included in the million-dollar building project were an electric power substation, a 375-man barracks, eight sets of officers’ quarters, 13 NCO quarters, a fire station, bakery, guard houses, quartermaster warehouse, quartermaster utility shops, garage and motor repair shop, gas and oil storage area, headquarters building and an administration building.

Begun in 1938 the project was not completed until 1940. Most of these facilities are being used today. The post headquarters building are probably the most familiar to those currently stationed at Dix. Among the permanent-type buildings in existence prior to 1939 were the mess halls built for the Civilian Conservation Corps and the two infantry companies in 1934. These buildings on Maryland Avenue are still in use today – but not as mess halls. One is now used by the provost marshal and the other by the Communications and Pictorial Service Division.

Little change occurred in the routine at Dix by its redesignations as a permanent installation. The CMTC and the ORC continued with their regular training activities. War clouds were beginning to form on the horizon, but it was to be some time before their existence would be recognized by any variation in Fort Dix’ schedule.

In the summer of 1939, 21,000 young men were inducted into the CMTG regiment on the parade grounds, which marked the spot where the barrack’s famed “Lighting Division” stood. The regiment’s training was conducted by officers of infantry, quartermaster, signal and medical branches, who arrived regularly during the summer for two-weeks active duty.

March 1939 found Fort Dix the center of a controversy that raised a nationwide hue and cry. It concerned nine old mules, condemned to die after having been found guilty of the charge of “senility.” The over-age age of the animals was 25 years, and one had been in service with General Pershing on the Mexican border and in France. Publication of the sentence was picked up by the national press series and resulted in an avalanche of letters directed to the post quartermaster officer, Major David R. Wolverton, under shoes supervision the sentence was to be carried out.

Suggestions for pensioning the animals streamed in from all sides. Finally, in 1940, General Hugh A. Drum, commander of the II Corps Area, issued a reprieve. One newspaperman wrote that this decision brought “great joy” to the post. The mules were given extra allotments of feed. They were brushed and curried to an extent unknown in a tough mule’s life, and private citizens brought sweets to the favored beasts.

Even a radio news bulletin was issued, and it was thought that the old campaigners would spend the rest of their days on green pastures. But the reprieve came to an end, and the Army’s regulations prevailed. It was considered inadvisable to sell the mules to farmers, and no other recourse was available but to complete the sentence of the court martial. Decrepit mules could not live on an Army post, and the animals were given a ceremonial dismissal from the service.

The portrait of Major General Hugh L. Scott, the second commander of the installation and the man who was in great part instrumental in persuading the government to retain the camp after World War I, was presented to Fort Dix at appropriate ceremonies in July 1939. The portrait, painted as a WPA project by artists from New York, was presented by a group from the 78th Division Veterans Association.

During the same month, a portrait was presented of the birthplace of General Dix. This presentation was made by Mrs. Margaret Dix Lawrence, a granddaughter of the general. In 1956 Mrs. Lawrence presented a near-century-old oil portrait of General Dix, which is presently displayed in post headquarters. The portrait, exceeding four-by-three and encased in a heavy gilt frame of the period, was painted by Peter Hansen Balling of Norway. Balling was noted for his portraits of President Lincoln, Generals Sherman and Grant, Admiral Farragut and other Civil War leaders.

Late in 1940, quite a few Americans realized the United States might become physically involved in a second world conflict. It was at this time the federal government heartily welcomed the existing facilities at Fort Dix. The War Department had a place to train and stage troops in the event of mobilization – again thanks to General Scott and his farsighted colleagues.

The between-wars period was a time when Dix almost had passed out of existence only to snap back with the initiation of President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s “New Deal” CCC program. Upon entering the 1940s, the post was to be charged with other important roles – again in defense of the country for liberation of suppressed peoples. 

Fort Dix Chapter VI - Demobilization

Chapter VI


“The collapse of the Central Powers came more quickly than even the best-informed military experts believed possible.” 1 (U.S. Secretary of War 1tr. To U.S. Senator James A. Reed, 3 April 1919.)

Thus, wrote Secretary of War Newton D. Baker in a letter to Senator James A. Reed about the suddenness of the armistice on 11 November 1918. The abrupt end of the war found the United States even less prepared for demobilization than it had been for mobilization in April 1917.

When the war ended, there was only one officer, Colonel C. H. Conrad, Jr. in the entire United States Army actively working on plans for personnel demobilization, and he had received the assignment only one month previously.

General Peyton C. March, chief of staff, US Army, in speaking of the planning for demobilization said, “…There were no precedents afforded by the experience of our former wars which were of value in determining policy.” 2 (Peyton C. March, The Nation at War, p. 312)

Except the Civil War, no war in which the United States previously participated had involved the mass of personnel comparable to the millions who served in World War I. Then, too, the opportunities of economic and territorial expansion in the nation that existed after the Civil War were not available to the men released in 1918-19.

The War Department planners considered the welfare of the nation as well as the Army and concluded that demobilizing the emergency troops could be best accomplished in one of four ways: soldiers could be separated by length of service, by industrial needs or occupation, by locality (through the use of local draft boards), or by military units.

The decision favoring the military unit method of demobilization was made on 16 November 1918 and immediately announced to the press. The secretary of war, describing the plan in his report for 1919, said, ‘…the policy adopted was to demobilize by complete organizations as their services could be spared, thus insuring the maximum efficiency of those organizations remaining, instead of demobilizing by special classes with the resulting discontent among those not given preferential treatment and retained in the service, thus lowering their morale and efficiency and disrupting all organizations with the attendant general discontent,’ 3 (U.S. Secretary of War, War Department Annual Report 1919, vol. I, pt. I, p. 14)

Demobilization Centers, such as Camp Dix became on 3 December 1918, performed the task of discharging the troops. At these centers camp personnel conducted physical examinations, made up the necessary papers to close all records, checked property, adjusted financial and other accounts, and generally completed the processing. Many units in the United States were not immediately released. They manned ports of embarkation, convalescent and demobilization centers, supply depots, base and general hospitals, garrisons along the Mexican border, and bases outside the United States.

Camp Dix personnel had a taste of the inactivation process even before it was designated a Demobilization Center. This occurred on 30 November 1918 with the official inactivation of the 102nd Infantry Division, the new division scheduled for formation at Camp Dix that never got beyond assignment of cadre. In December 1918 demobilization got underway in earnest with the inactivation of the 333rd, 334th, 338th, 339th, and 346th Light Tank Battalions; the 351st 382nd, 383rd Heavy Training and Replacement Companies; and the 319th,,320th,321st Tank Repair and Salvage Companies. These tank units were elements of the 309th and 310th Tank Centers, which only had been transferred to Camp Dix in November 1918. They were part of the final war plan to augment tank participation of the A.E.F. in France during the scheduled 1919 buildup of United States forces. Although these organizations had received cadres of some trainees, systematic training barely began before the units were inactivated. The two Tank Center Headquarters remained at Camp Dix for a time, but they, too, were inactivated in June 1919.

Demobilization really got underway at Camp Dix beginning in January 1919. In quick succession, seven entire infantry divisions or their major elements were inactivated in the next six months. They were the 87th Infantry Division, January to March; 41st Infantry Division, February to March; 28th Infantry Division, April to May; 42nd Infantry Division, May; 29th Infantry Division, May; 78th Infantry Division, the first occupants of Camp Dix, May to June; and the 79th Infantry Division, May to June.

During the same period, inactivation of the following smaller units was accomplished at Camp Dix; 10 engineer regiments, two engineer trains, 26 transportation corps companies, three pioneer infantry regiments, one infantry brigade headquarters, six machine gun battalions, 30 base hospitals, four military police companies, two butchery companies, eight sales commissary units, and 14 U.S. guards battalions.

More than 300,000 men were discharged at Camp Dix by 31 July 1919. Of this number 16,485 were officers and 39 field clerks (similar to today’s warrant officer). In addition, 76,124 officers and men were transferred to other stations for reassignment or further processing prior to discharge. The largest number of discharges for a day was 5, 231 and transfers 4, 617.

Although the size and number of units inactivated during the period 1 July to 31 December 1919 began to fall off, the scale of inactivations continued to be significant. They included: nine engineer regiments, 63 transportation corps companies, two pioneer infantry regimens, six base hospitals, five ambulance service sections, 25 military police companies, 13 butchery companies, and eight sales commissary units. By October 1919, the demobilization requirements at Camp Dix had slowed to a point where no more than 500 men were handled per day. The War Department already had acquiesced in the requirement that a man be discharged within 48 hours of his arrival at the center.
It was in October that Camp Dix was chosen by the Treasury Department to be the site for filming of movies in support of the “Fifth Liberty Loan Drive.” More than $100,000 was invested in filming simulated battles with doughboys dressed in German battle dress.

Scenes took place in the mock trench area near the filtration plant at New Jersey Avenue beyond 8th Street. The trench area, which circled eastward toward Pointville and included heavily wooded terrain, afforded an ideal setting for producing battle scenes reminiscent of those fought on the Western Front.

By the end of January 1920, demobilization at Camp Dix had come to an end.

Fort Dix V - WWI

History of Fort Dix 

Chapter V


When the United States entered World War I, the US Army could not claim a single active division. At the time, the largest operational element of the Army was the infantry regiment. Of these, only 31 Regular Army regiments and 110 National Guard regiments existed. The later varied considerably in strength and number of battalions.

The War Department had prepared plans and drawn up tables of organization to assign various regiments to infantry divisions using the triangular principle, i.e., elements grouped in threes. However, shortly after General John J. Pershing and his staff arrived in France, they determined that the square division, elements grouped in fours, demonstrated far greater power to penetrate the system of trenches peculiar to the Western Front. On 8 June 1917, two months after the US declared war, the Army activated the 1st Infantry Division in France utilizing four infantry regiments, the 16th, 18th, 26th, and 28th. The “Big Red One” became the prototype for all US Infantry divisions, which were subsequently organized in World War I.

General Pershing in his analysis of tactical organizations in an official report to the secretary of war, 20 November 1918, stated: “After a thorough consideration of allied organizations it was decided that our combat division should consist of four regiments of infantry of 3,000 men with three battalions to regiment and four companies of 250 men each to a battalion and of an artillery brigade of three regiments, a machine gun battalion, a signal battalion wagon trains and the headquarters staffs and military police. These, with medical and other units, made a total of over 28,000 men, or practically double the size of a French or German divisions.” 1 (Francis A. March, History of World War I, p. 702)

The changes in size and organization of the infantry division recommended by General Pershing and employed by him in organizing the 1st Infantry Division presented problems to the War Department. Not only would all of the tables of organization have to be re-written but National Guard and National Army cantonments which already were under construction would have to be adjusted and expanded to provide for the added units and the increased strength. There was considerable opposition in the War Department to revising the organization of the Army in mid-summer 1917 just at the time that the National Guard and the first draft of selective service men were being called. However, the secretary of war let it be known that the commander in chief in France who was to command our Army in battle should have the size division he wanted. Largely because of the strong support given to General Pershing by the secretary of war, the square infantry division concept was quickly adopted by the War Department and published in a series of tables of organization beginning on 8 August 1917.

Just prior to that date, on 5 August, official announcement was made by the War Department of the establishment of 16 infantry divisions of the National Army. Among these was the 78th Infantry Division, scheduled to organize and train at Camp Dix, Wrightstown, New Jersey. The division was allocated draftees from the first contingent as follows: Delaware, 1,202; New Jersey, 20,665; and New York, 21,160. On 13 August, the War Department directed that the 78th Infantry Division Headquarters be organized and the commissioned officers report for duty on 15 August. The next day, the division commander was directed to organize subordinate units of the division in accordance with Tables of Organization, dated 8 August 1917.

Major General Chase W. Kennedy assumed command of the division on 23 August and at the same time became the first commanding general of Camp Dix. He was destined, however, to command this New Jersey installation and its units only three months because of policies being developed in France.

In November 1917 from his headquarters in France, General Pershing wrote to the War Department of his concern regarding age of the generals who had been assigned for duty as division commander with the American Expeditionary Forces. He pointed out that the average age of the French and British division commander was 38 to 45. They had found this necessary because of the extreme mental and physical demands placed on combat commanders at the Western Front, even at the division level. Pershing requested he be assigned generals of comparable age to that of the French and British commanders. His request was honored, and one of those selected was General Kennedy at Camp Dix.

Kennedy was relieved from assignment at Camp Dix on 28 November 1917 and soon after sailed for France. Following his departure, Brigadier Generals John S. Mallory and James T. Dean served ad interim assignments as commander of Camp Dix and the 78th Division until 2 January 1918 when Major General Hugh L. Scott assumed both responsibilities.

General Scott had been chief of staff, United States Army, until 22 September 1917 when he was placed on a retired list but continued on active duty. Following a visit to Russia as an observer with the Root Mission, General Scott was assigned to the A.E.F. in France. By coincidence, he was one of the older generals whom General Pershing specifically had mentioned in his letter to the War Department. On 20 April 1918, Brigadier General James H. McRae, later to become major general, was assigned as commanding general of the 78th Division and served in that capacity throughout the remainder of World War I. General Scott continued as camp commander until 12 May 1919 at which time he was relieved of the post and placed on full retirement.

To return to the activities of the 78th Division, the organization of its subordinate units began during the last week of August 1917 from a cadre of Regular Army officers and organized Reserve Corps and National Army officers from the First Officers’ Training Camp, Madison Barracks, New York.
The 78th Division consisted of two infantry brigades, the 155th and `56th with the 309th, 310th Infantry Regiments, the 308th Machine Gun Battalion, respectively, the 153rd Field Artillery Brigade with the 307th and 308th Field Artillery Regiments (75mm), the 309th Field Artillery Regiment (155mm) and the 303rd Trench Mortar Battery; 303rd Engineer Regiment; 303rd Signal Battalion; 303rd headquarters and Military Police Trains; 303rd Supply, Ammunition, Engineer, and Sanitation Trains; the 309th, 310th, 311th, 312th Ambulance Companies and Field Hospitals, and the 153rd Depot Brigade.

At each of the National Guard camps, a depot brigade with the mission of training draftees as replacements was assigned as a component part of the National Guard divisions. The 153rd Depot Brigade was activated on 17 August 1917 with six training battalions, which became a part of the 78th Division after its formation. In October, three provisional training regimental headquarters were formed by the brigade, and these assumed direct supervision of the training battalions. The brigade remained subordinate to the 78th division until the 78th departed for France. At that time, it became an independent command, expanding to 10 training battalions, which was its organization throughout the remainder of the war.

In addition to the 78th Division, other major organizations were activated at Camp Dix and carried on training simultaneously with the division. The largest of these was the 167th Field Artillery Brigade (Negro), which was activated in November 1917. The 167th Brigade was part of the 92nd Infantry Division, which had its headquarters at Camp Funston, Kansas. The brigade remained in training at Camp Dix until the 92nd Division left for France in June 1918.

Other units were the 24th Engineer Regiment, activated in November 1917, and the 34th and 54th Engineer Regiments, activated in February 1918. All of these regiments departed for France in June 1918. Camp Dix also operated a Cooks and Bakers School, which provided personnel for units throughout the US Army. It was activated in September 1917 and remained in operation until long after the end of the war. It was inactivated in April 1922.

US Army medical activities began at Camp Dix with the arrival, on 27 August 1917, of an ambulance company of the 22nd Field Hospital and several medical officers. A month later the first group of 20 nurses reported from a Red Cross training center. Initially, a temporary field hospital was established in troop barracks during the construction of the Camp Dix Base Hospital. On 22 October, the Base Hospital opened in the area just to the east of the Wrightstown-Camp Dix entrance. The original structures was expanded throughout the war until it reached a maximum capacity of 2, 184 beds. At that time, the total assigned strength consisted of 104 officers, 650 enlisted men and 158 nurses.

The first draftees reporting to Camp Dix were confronted with military supply problems similar to the construction supply problems that faced contractors. Quartermaster records of September 1917 show the following items on hand for issue to the incoming soldiers: 204 cotton shirts, 84 service hats, 614 pairs of shoes and 500 pairs of leggings. Also on hand were 47,430 cotton undershirts, 39,350 cotton stockings and 24, 600 wool stockings. With this shortage and imbalance, it is understandable why many of the first men had to continue wearing their civilian clothes during the early stages of training.

The same situation existed with respect to food supplies. The records show available for issue: 135,000 rations of bacon, 169,000 of corned beef, 1,135,000 pounds of sugar and 2,575,000 of salt. With weapons it was the same. The first rifles used by the soldiers were the Krag, .30-40, which first came into use during the Spanish-American war, and the 1903 Springfield .30-06, went into full production that the US soldiers had a common rifle.

The training day for the doughboys of World War I was not much different from that of the infantrymen today. First Call came at 5:45 a.m., with Assembly 15 minutes later. Breakfast began at 6:20 a.m., followed by sick Call at 6:45 a.m., and stable Call at 7 a.m. First Call for drill was sounded at 7:20 a.m., with Assembly at 7:30 a.m. The noon break lasted from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m., and Recall was blown at 5 p.m. Retreat was held at 5;35 p.m., with the evening meal following immediately. Night classes were conducted each evening during the week from 7 to 8:30 p.m., and Taps closed out the day at 10 p.m. A six-day work week was followed, and only on Sundays and holidays was there a break in training, when Revelle sounded one-half hour later.

The doughboys’ training consisted of heavy emphasis on close order drill, calisthenics, marches and bivouacs, filed inspections, range firing, bayonet drill, and defense and attack of mock trenches.
Despite the rigorous and long hours of training, it was not all work and no play” for the soldiers at Camp Dix. The moral and welfare of each soldier were considerations that occupied the time of many individuals and organizations. Personalities from the entertainment world visited the post to perform for the troops. The first well-known comedian to appear at the camp was Sir Harry Lauder whose Scottish brogue, put to tune in the inaugural act, was followed by other noted musicians, singer and actors of the day.

While all of the events were given on a large scale, there was no central agency such as today’s United Service Organization (USO) to organize and coordinate entertainment activities This lack of central organization did not affect the quality or quantity of entertainment supplied to the army camps. Private welfare agencies military personnel assigned to provide for the morale, welfare and entertainment of the soldiers filled the gap. Although their activities were not centralized, a number of agencies and facilities was in operation at Camp Dix.

The Y.M.C.A. maintained nine huts and an auditorium, which was the largest building on post. The Knights of Columbus had three huts and an auditorium, the latter located near the camp swimming pool at 8th Street and New Jersey Avenue. This site presently is occupied by the Army Education Center. The pool also was built by the Knights of Columbus but not completed in time for use in World War I.

Tbe Jewish Welfare organization’s building was located at 5th Street and New Jersey Avenue, and the Episcopal Diocese of New Jersey operated the Saint George Club in Pointville. The latter building later was sold to the government for one dollar and converted to a guesthouse. The Red Cross building was located at 8th Street and New York Avenue. It was later torn down, and the A.R.C. constructed a new building in 1942 near the old site.

The Salvation Army operated a club in Wrightstown as it does today. Fire consumed the first building, and the organization moved into quarters of the “Mole Tequop Club,” an Army service club located on the main corner of Wrightstown. The Mole Tequop operated under the Commission Training Camp Activities of the War Department and was one of three service clubs located in Wrightstown. The club’s unusual name was derived from an Indian phrase meaning “Sign Talker” which had been given to Major General Hugh L. Scott, camp commander, by an Indian tribe may years before.

The Christian Scientists maintained a facility near New Jersey and 8th Street; the Camp Community Service had a lodge near Wrightstown and there were two Hostess Houses for the entertainment of Negro troops, one of which was later converted into an officer’s club. Among other activities at the camp were a dramatic club, a post library with 2500 volumes, a full-time camp song instructor, a camp athletic director and a camp boxing instructor.

Each evening the latest silent films were presented at the post’s first theater. Often doubling as a sports arena, the spacious Liberty Theater could seat nearly 1,000 persons. Such classics as “West of Today,” and “Six Feet Four” were among the many films presented. “West of Today” starring William Russell was considered a film intended “only for people with red blood in their veins.”

To keep informed of the news, the soldiers had a variety of camp newspapers to choose from. “The Trench and Camp Weekly, “ “The Camp Dix Times,” “The Camp Dix News,” and “The Camp Dix Pictorial Review,” were printed by the “Trenton Times” for such agencies as the contractors and Y.M.C.A. for issue to workers and soldiers. One item the men read in August of 1918 concerned 370 Italian soldiers who had arrived at Camp Dix after crossing more than half the world on their return to Italy. It was an unusual story!

When Austria declared war in 1914, many Italians living in the provinces of Southern Tyrol, Treseste, Friuli, Istria and Dalmatia were compelled to join the Austrian Army. The impressed soldiers were sent to fight on the Russian front against a nation allied with their homeland. Taking advantage of every opportunity to surrender, the Italians fell into the hands of the Russians who held them prisoner until the arrival of an Italian military mission to Moscow. After release in December 1917, the men began a long and adventurous journey across Siberia. Eventually, they reached China and obtained passage to the United States. Upon reaching the US, the soldiers were sent to Camp Dix to await their voyage to Italy. At Dix, the Italians were joined by about 2,000 aliens who had requested return to Europe to join in the fight against the Germans.

The Italians were acclaimed to be the “bravest of the brave,” who would, when they finally reached front, “fight like demons because they have been through hell.” 2. (Camp Dix Times,  vol. I, no. xxxxiv 1918, pp. 1 & 18)

The Germans never saw the fighting mettle of these spirited soldiers for, ironically, the war ended before they reached the front.

By the end of October 1917 the 78th Division still had not reached full strength, it numbered only 16,000 men. In the last drafts of 1917, which reported to Camp Dix during the period 19-24 November, only 5,000 additional men were furnished to the camp. During this period, the division was called on to provide fillers for units shipping to France. By 10 November, transfers had reduced the size of the division to less than half its authorized strength. It remained at the same level throughout the winter of 197-18, but in April and early May, the division was brought up to full strength by transfers from New England, New York, New Jersey and Illinois. This occurred just before the division’s movement to France, where it arrived in early June. After two and one-half months training with the British in Flanders, the division joined the First US Army and participated in the St. Mihiel and Meuse operations.

With the departure of the 78th Division, the War Department designted Camp Dix as an embarkation point for units departing overseas. The first division to use the camp as a staging area before movement to points of embarkation was the 87th Infantry Division (National Army), which had been activated at Camp Pike, Arkansas, at the same time as the 78th Division. The 87th or “Acorn” Division was composed of soldiers from Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama. It’s troops began to move into Camp Dix on 18 June 1918 and remained until 18 August when its advanced elements began their movement in France. During its stay at Camp Dix, the division received 10,000 replacements from the 153rd Depot Brigade. The division did not see action in the war; it still was in training in France when the armistice was signed.

Almost immediately after departure of the 87th Division, parts of the 67th and 68th Infantry Brigades of the 34th Division (National Guard) began to arrive at Camp Dix. The 34th “Sandstorm” Division had trained at Camp Cody, New Mexico, and was composed of National Guard units called into service from Iowa, Minnesota, North and South Dakota, and Nebraska.

It was while the 34th Division troops were staging at Camp Dix that the influenza epidemic struck the reservation. The epidemic had been rampant throughout the United States resulting in the death of more than 500,000 people in a 10-month period.

The camp was placed under strict quarantine from early September to 12 October 1918. In this period, more than 12,000 cases of influenza and pneumonia were reported, and at one time, the Base Hospital had a peak load of 7,943 patients. The hospital had to utilize 18 barracks normally used for housing troops to provide for the overflow from the wards. Approximately 900 soldiers died during the epidemic. At the height of the attack, as many as 70 to 80 deaths occurred a day.

According to a newsman at Camp Dix during the epidemic, the first deceased soldiers were shipped to their homes in flag-covered coffins with military escort. However, the deaths occurred at such a high rate that eventually escorts could not be provided, and soon the post’s supply of flags ran out. During the latter stages of the epidemic, only plain wooden coffins carried the dead to their final resting place. In early October, the number of cases diminished, and the infantry brigades of the 34th Division began their embarkation for France.

With the movement of the 34th Division to ports of embarkation, Camp Dix was preparing for the activation of the 102nd Infantry Division, one of the new divisions the War Department planned to commit in France for the big offensive scheduled in 1919. However, the abrupt end of the war in Europe came with only a small number of cadres of lower ranks assembled at Camp Dix. With the armistice, plans for activation of the division were dropped, and cadre personnel were reassigned to existing units.

Thus Camp Dix ended it task as a training and later an embarkation center of World War I, but its service in the war was not finished.

Soon would begin the gigantic task of returning to civilian life a good share of the four million men to be demobilized.

Although Camp Dix began to serve as a discharge point within a few days after the end of the war, it was not until 3 December 1918, when it was designated a Demobilization Center, that full impact of the problem was felt.

Friday, March 24, 2017

History of Fort Dix - IV Construction

History of Fort Dix

Chapter IV 


Although the area southeast of Wrightstown, New Jersey, seemed ideally suited for a mobilization camp, the task of completing sufficient facilities at the site to receive the first draftees by 1 September 1917 seemed impossible. The few Army personnel who began to arrive at Wrightstown in early June expected to see construction underway or at least in an advanced stage of preparation. When these soldiers saw only vast expanses of carefully cultivated fields devoid of any activity, it is easy to understand their disappointment. The weeks of June and early July 1917 passed as they had for more than two centuries with only the crops in the fields showing any signs of growth.

Major Harry C. Williams, who reported as the first camp commander on 12 June 1917, later described the early weeks as ones of inactivity in which “make-work” projects had to be created to prevent boredom among the troops. Williams summed up the frustration of all in an article which later appeared in the Camp Dix News when he stated, “the visions of mushroom growth were painfully dissipated.”

The discouragement of Major Williams and his men was understandable, but the slow start in construction was not without good reasons. The War Department faced the almost unbelievable task of constructing within a period of three months not only Camp Dix and 31 similar camps but more than 500 other military posts of varying sizes. The problems of procurement of building materials, labor, transportation, and other equipment were of a magnitude beyond any previous experience of the American people. Yet, even though it was not apparent in Wrightstown, progress had been made in laying the groundwork for the building of Camp Dix.

The quartermaster general of the State of New Jersey was negotiating with owners of farms and forests to use their land for the military reservation, and on 17 June 1917, a one-year lease on 6,500 acres was arranged and signed by the parties concerned. Additional land was procured later by other leases and outright purchase. Of the $700,000 allocated for land acquisition, only $550,000 was ever spent. Some landowners, especially those whose families had occupied their land for generations, were understandably hesitant to leave their homes. Most, however, displayed a high degree of cooperation with the war effort. One prosperous farmer, when asked by a newspaper reporter what his reaction was to vacating his premises gave a reply that revealed the feeling of patriotism which most Americans had during those days of World War I. He answered simply, “If I had a boy in the new Army, I’d want him to live in a decent place; wouldn’t you?” 1. (Camp Dix News, vol. i, no. I 1917 7.)

Concurrent with negotiations for land were those for construction of buildings and camp facilities. A contract was signed with the firm of Irwin and Leighton of Philadelphia on 4 June 1917. It was the same type of contract made with all construction firms for the 16 National Army camps. It called for construction of buildings and facilities required to provide for an infantry division of three regiments, known as a triangular division, on a “cost-plus basis with a graded scale of percentages decreasing from 10% to 6% on the cost of the work as the total cost increased.” 2. (Erna Risch, Quartermaster Support of the Army. A History of the Corps 1775-1939, p. 607)

These terms were favorable to the contractors and were undoubtedly an important factor in the rapid deterioration of the National Army camps once the contracts were completed.

Irwin and Leighton had only two and one-half months in which to complete sufficient buildings and facilities to provide for the first draftees. The size of the task in this short time was gigantic in proportion. More than 7,000 carpenters, electricians, plumbers and laborers had to be assembled, housed, fed and cared for at the campsite. Millions of board feet of lumber, miles of piping and wire, plumbing fixtures in the thousands, plus a myriad of other supplies, tools and equipment had to be purchased, transported and assembled at Wrightstown. This was accomplished at a time when skilled workers were in demand throughout the country, building materials were in short supply, and transportation already was overtaxed.

To further complicate the construction problem, the War Department on the recommendation of General Pershing and his staff revised the organization of the infantry division in late July 1917. The new division, commonly referred to as the “square” division, called for an addition of a fourth regiment and half again as many troops. As one writer commented, “The effect upon the cantonment arrangements was much the same as building a tall building, then adding ten stories, putting the elevators in a new place, and lowering the ceilings on each floor by a foot.” 3 (Frederick Palmer, Newton D. Baker-America at War, vol. i., p. 255)

The changes in the number of buildings to be constructed resulted in the contract continuing long after Camp Dix was to have been completed.

By mid-July 1917, the campsite began to see “visions of mushroom growth,” of which Major Williams dreamed. Workers began to arrive by the hundreds each day. More than 30 million board feet of lumber and 28 miles of various sized piping for the water system arrived in the railway siding in a few days time. Buildings began to appear in the cornfields at a fantastic rate of speed. On 5 September, sufficient buildings had been erected to receive the first draftees to Camp Dix. During the month of September, 17,000 draftees arrived and were processed at the camp. However, even after their arrival, construction went on throughout the fall and into the winter of 1917. Oftentimes, the new soldiers moving into their bleak barracks had to clean up debris from the carpentering before they could set up cots.

Construction of the largest single facility at the camp was not begun until late in August. The Camp Dix Base Hospital during the early days was housed in buildings intended for use as troop barracks. By giving top priority to construction of the medial installation, a 61-building, 1,000 bed hospital was completed in record time and received its first patients on 29 October 1917. During construction of the hospital, a system of teams of workers was best demonstrated.

Contractors were constantly plagued by a shortage of skilled workers. To overcome this problem, unskilled workers were organized into teams similar to those working on manufacturing assembly lines. On 24 September 1917, 200 men operating in teams of carpenters established an unofficial record when they erected seven barracks buildings, 24’ x 157’, in a seven-hour period. The buildings were complete in every detail – floors laid, stairs placed, doors hung, windows fitted, and even screens emplaced. In addition, all scaffolding was removed, and the workmen had gone to new sites.

The influx of thousands of construction workers with plenty of money in their pockets quickly created pressures in the villages and towns of the area surrounding Camp Dix. The horde of hard-working builders looking forward each evening to the gaiety of night life in the few populated areas that prior to the war had been nonexistent. It was only natural that Wrightstown, the nearest village, developed quickly into a boomtown. The village, which claimed a population of less than 200 before the war, within a few weeks in July 1917 grew into the thousands. Gamblers quickly arrived on the scene to help workers spend their “excess” money with such devices as poker, dice, faro and three-card monte games. As all boom times, the philosophy of “wine, women and song” quickly became the standard of Wrightstown.

This situation developed in the vicinity of nearly all developing National Army camps, and the federal government recognized that something had to be done before the young men of the new Army entered the service. The result was a federal order prohibiting the sale of liquor either in camps or within a radius of five miles of the campsites. In the Camp Dix area, aid for enforcing the newly passed bans came from the Philadelphia office of what is now the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Two special agents were sent to Camp Dix to work with the military police in determining the source of apparently illegal whiskey which somehow seemed to find its way to soldiers’ hands. The agent in charge of the operation at Camp Dix was Richard Hughes, father of the present governor of New Jersey, Richard J. Hughes.

Vice and corruption were not the only problems that faced the area municipalities. Housing workers and the many families accompanying them became a matter of deep concern. Within a few days, there was no available lodging within miles of the encampment, and the few stores in the formerly quiet country village were literally swamped with customers.

Camp Dix itself rapidly became a fair sized, self-sufficient city capable of handling its own problems and many relating to neighboring communities. Adjoining townships delegated by ordinance to the Army the right to police, regulate and restrict traffic within reasonable regulations on the Wrightstown-New Lisbon and Pointville-Pemberton Roads.

The Camp Dix Fire Department was organized in October 1917 and operated six stations and a fire truck and hose company. 

A huge bakery with a daily capacity of 36,000 pounds of bread per day was built. A complete water system was installed, including a pumping station on the Rancocas Creek which supplied the cantonment area with 3,000 gallons of water per minute. A series of water storage tanks also were constructed to facilitate the system. One, a 200,000-gallon steel tank, built on the Wrightstown-Pemberton Road, is still in service today, 50 years later.

A sewage disposal plant and a sewage system also were constructed. Stables and horse shops were built to house and care for the 7,000 horses and mules assigned to the camp. Approximately eight and one-half miles of standard gauge track were laid into the camp by the Pennsylvania Railroad.

By 15 December 1917, the contractors reported that in the period since 14 June, the company had employed a maximum of 11,000 workers operating in 400 teams and utilizing 40 trucks. They had constructed a total of 1,660 buildings of 143 types and sizes. At the time, Camp Dix consisted of 7,474 acres, of which 3,500 acres were used for artillery and rifle ranges. In the winter of 1917-18, the strength of Camp Dix averaged about 25,000 men per month.

New construction at Camp Dix continued well into the year 1918. Events in Europe such as the loss of Russia as an ally, the defeat of the Italian army at Caporetto, and the terrific losses of French and British forces in the spring of 1918 forced the War Department to revise its estimates of US forces to be committed in Europe from one-half million to a million and then a million and a half.

Camp Dix was destined to do its share in providing for this increase. The strength of the camp gradually rose until it reached a peak of almost 55,000 men in August 1918.

Insofar as the cost of construction is concerned, War Department records indicate that $13 million had been expended on construction of Camp Dix by 30 June 1919.

Almost 50 years later some of it still would be in use….for escalation of the War in Vietnam. In 1967 Congress appropriated more for a single brigade complex than the entire original construction cost of Camp Dix.