Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Chapter VIII - WWII

Chapter VIII
In the 1930s, the United States recovered slowly from its major crisis, the Great Depression. The minds of the nation’s people were preoccupied with earning basic necessities of food, clothing, shelter. There was no time for more than mild interest in the power struggles of Europe and Asia.
United States direct involvement in a second global conflict was far from the thoughts of this vast majority of American people, even though objectives of Japan’s ruling clique, Germany’s “Fuehrer” Adolph Hitler and Italy’s “Duce” Benito Mussolini were clearly evident. Generally in the late ‘30s, the US public was paying little heed to the world’s systematic dissection by the Axis powers – Japan, Germany and Italy.
Japan’s armies had overrun Manchuria (1931) and were storming China. Germany had reoccupied the World War I demilitarized zone of the Rhineland (1936) and annexed Austria and the Sudetenland of Czechoslovakia (1938). Italy had invaded and annexed the independent nation of Ethiopia (1935-36).
Two days after Germany invaded Poland (1 September 1939), France and England declared war on Hitler’s “Third Reich,” and the Second World War began. In the same month, Russian forces struck into Poland to insure a share of that country. A year later, with the war proceeding badly for the Allies, President Roosevelt proclaimed a limited national emergency -- this country’s first real step in preparing for active participation in the world struggle. Immediately after the 8 September proclamation, an effort was made to expand the nation’s military forces. The Selective Service Act of 1940 was enacted to strengthen the Armed Forces, with the largest percentage of men to be inducted into the Army.
Fort Dix felt the impact of the buildup almost immediately. To meet requirements of building the largest Army in the history of the United States, new military installations had to be constructed and existing facilities expanded. By the end of 1940, Dix had become one of the largest posts in the country with a population of 17,929.
The “Battle of Britain” raged in the skies, and the British Commonwealth stood alone against Germany’s onslaught. But Germany changed direction and pointed her efforts, along with several other unlimited national emergency, and all-out efforts were made to build one of the strongest Armed Forces in the world. Fort Dix came into its own as one of the busiest Army training centers in the country.
In the next few years, the post became a primary staging and training area for troops shipping to the war fronts of North Africa and Europe. Army Air Corps units and men used the installation as a stopover before proceeding overseas. In addition, the huge military post was used as the air base in defense of Atlantic shipping and the North American continent itself. Fort Dix bustled with military buildup activity in preparation for the big push across North Africa, up the Italian Boot, and the invasion of “Fortress Europe.”
The land and facilities at Dix, however, were inadequate to handle the volume of men and materials necessary for the post to accomplish maximum results desired by the Army. Already the largest Army installation in the Northeast, more land had to be acquired and a great number of buildings constructed. America’s effort in the crash program at Fort Dix was completed just in time but not without a great deal of difficulty.
The acquisition of land was one of the most difficult undertakings of the expansion program at Fort Dix. Beginning in October 1940, the Post Judge Advocate’s Office held repeated conferences with farmers and their representatives to negotiate amicable acquisition by purchase, lease, or trespass rights of thousands of acres needed for airfields, maneuvers, range work and training facilities.
Condemnation proceedings were instituted, and approximately 16,000 acres acquired in November 1940. There was, however, considerable dissention among the farm owners affected. This was particularly true of occupants of the Pinewoods, an area to be used as an artillery impact zone. The Pinewoods people had been firmly rooted to the area for many years and required considerable persuasion before they would vacate their land.
Meanwhile, expansion activity brought Fort Dix into the limelight of national news. Because of this, the War Department invited newsmen from the eastern United States to the post for briefings and inspection of facilities and equipment. This was done to help newsmen interpret the needs and actions of the Army at one of its most important camps. To give them an idea of the size and importance of the camp, the newsmen were permitted to tour the entire post, which at the time covered approximately 25,000 acres. During their stay they inspected the Garand semi-automatic rifle, latest models of military vehicles, 155mm artillery pieces, antiaircraft weapons, and a host of other up-to-date items of war equipment.
By March 1941 federal expansion of Fort Dix resulted in an increase of nearly five million dollars in tax-exempt real estate property. The more valuable properties were located mainly on acquired land in New Hanover Township, site of many buildings. After repeated conferences with these and other property owners, the government acquired 17,000 acres of local land needed for infantry maneuvers. Tresspass rights were negotiated for an additional 70,000 acres. This tract encompasses the reservation extending south to the Lakehurst Road between Pemberton and Browns Mills and north to New Egypt, Jacobstown, Georgetown and Jobstown.
In addition, 2,500 acres bordering the water pipeline from Fort Dix to New Lisbon were condemned. Including in this acreage was the Clifford Borden farm on the Wrightstown-Jobstown Road and 129 properties in Pemberton and New Hanover townships. The Borden Farm was selected to be the site of a million-dollar hospital, later known as Tilton General Hospital. Approximately $200,000 was allotted to the War Department to purchase the properties, which included 71 houses.
The condemned property boundary extended from the Burlington County Farms eastward along the Browns Mills-Pemberton Road to Browns Mills. Included was everything north of the road except for one Lyman’s Hornor’s house. A large number of bungalows in Sherwood Forest also were included. The boundary cut cross country from Anderson’s gravel pit on the outskirts of Browns Mills to the Deborah Sanitorium woods. It continued along the Trenton Road and included Billingham’s garage and the Lake Tresing Housing development.
From the outskirts of Pointville, the line followed an irregular course to Lemmontown, continued westward to a farm occupied by a Mr. Baker, then southward to the Burlington County Institution Farm at New Lisbon.
On 14 August 1941, the United States Government formally took possession of 285 acres of land, which was part of the Burlington County Institution Farm. The land was sold by the Burlington County Board of Freeholders to the federal government for Fort Dix expansion at the offered price of $5,700. Most of the land constituted low woodland not used by the county farm system.
One of the seemingly impossible tasks in connection with the acquisition of land was determining individual owners of respective tracts. There were few maps or surveys to use as a guide. In order to obtain some idea of where the boundary might be, aerial photography was necessary.

The photographs this provided title examiners with a practical means of checking description of the land as written in public records against lanes, paths, water courses and other physical boundaries. Many titles to the land were based on possession by members of a family for generations -- a possession often originated without deed but in the form of squatters rights. In order to trace the authenticity of titles to these properties, family histories also were also examined, for many titles had to be traced back to original proprietary grants.
In one of these searches, an interesting fact was uncovered. Near the boundary of the Fort Dix reservation (now the Fort Dix-McGuire Air Force Base military complex) ran the Quintipartite Line, which formed the division between East Jersey and West Jersey. Under the deed, the eastern half of the New Jersey Colony was conveyed to Sir George Carteret and the western half to William Penn, Gamen Lawrie, Nicholas Lucas and Edward Byllinge. Some of the sheepskin deeds, which proved transfers from these original owners, were still in existence and examined by title searchers early in 1941.
The record of titles to the land now comprising Fort Dix and McGuire Air Force Base as itself a history of the law and legend of New Jersey. Titles to more than 1,000 separate land ownerships were painstakingly examined. Each was an interesting story of the changing times and progressive development of the state. All of this research had to be accomplished within a year, the time set by the government for completion of the title searching. Size of the project to analyze and abstract title documents for this vast area of 25 square miles can be better understood by considering that almost 4,000 recorded documents existed in a single development. Each was examined.
Fort Dix expansion faced other problems. For instance, extension of the reservation included the site of the famous Hanover Bog Ore Iron Furnace that had manufactured cannon balls during colonial days. Burlington County Historical Society induced Army officials to set aside, as a marked enclosure, the small area that still retained visible reminders of an almost forgotten spot.
While land acquisition took place, the 44th Division, made up of New Jersey national guardsmen, was inducted into federal service on 16 September 1940 by executive order of President Roosevelt. Immediately, organizations and individuals of this unit began to move to Fort Dix. At first only small detachments arrived, while company commanders, first sergeants, supply sergeants and men of all grades labored vigorously at their home stations to make the transition from state to federal service and to prepare for the move to the post.
As each unit completed preparations, it was released by its federal instructor. Orders were received, and the units were sent by truck and train to their new home, Fort Dix. First to arrive were the 104th Engineers, the 119th Quartermaster Regiment and batteries of the 157th Field Artillery. These units were in camps by 18 September, two days after being activated.
During the next few days other units of the division, and some from out of the state to be attached to the division, rolled in, from as near as Mount Holly and others as far as Niagara Falls. By 25 September, all were here – 11,000 strong. Construction of buildings in the area to be occupied by the 44th Division began about 1 September, but the troops were assembled at Dix before the barracks and other facilities were completed. A tent city was erected to serve as living quarters.
Meanwhile, new volunteers began arriving daily. Men were enlisted for one year’s service with the division under a War Department ruling that permitted the unit to sign men on. The division’s recruitment station was set up at the Wrightstown entrance to the post. As new men came, they were temporarily housed in a special segregated area for the customary two weeks of quarantine. On 10 October, troops of the division had their first pay day since induction.
Then came the draft, and on 29 November the first bewildered selectees arrived on post to become members of the 44th Division, a unit already considering itself a veteran organization. By 4 December, more than 1,400 selectees were received by the unit. The men joined regiments and after two weeks of quarantine began 13 weeks of basic training. By February 1941 the division had “adopted” 6, 115 selectees, or 36 percent of its total strength. The men were drawn from New York, New Jersey and Delaware.
At its peak the division totaled 754 officers, seven warrant officers and 17,762 enlisted men. This figure was gradually whittled away by discharges, but the division was able to maintain an overall strength of about 16,500. When it was transferred from the post in December 1941, its strength was more than 16,000.
Considerable food and supplies were needed by the men at Fort Dix. In early 1941 it was estimated that 60 tons of food were required to feed the men on post each day. It was also reported that 13,000 pairs of footgear were issued to arriving soldiers each month. In a month’s time, 12,000 replacements of other garments were made to equip the modern soldier. Gasoline consumption was another item that ran into astronomical figures. In April 1941, 44th Division trucks consumed 160,000 gallons of gasoline, and this figure was expected to double considering more than 5,000 vehicles were to be added later in the year.
On 20 April 1941, the division’s training was interrupted when one of the worst fires to hit the area broke out, destroying hundreds of acres of woodland and parts of several towns and villages. In an area between Lakewood and Medford, the blaze came perilously close to the sprawling Army post. Some 10,000 men of the division teams up with civilian fire fighters and national guardsmen to battle the inferno, which lasted several days.
Army trucks carried food to weary fire fighters, and temporary kitchens were set up to supply coffee and sandwiches. The infantrymen worked in shifts and were “on call” constantly, while alternate shifts remained at their barracks ready to be transported anywhere needed. After days of fire fighting, the flames were checked, and the reservation untouched.
The job of physically preparing the post was ably performed by Major David R. Wolverton, post quartermaster. It was completed with speed and efficiency, and in a relatively short time, the fort was ready for the men inducted into service and assigned for training. Six million dollars were appropriated for the development of the post in 1940.
With the construction contract awarded to the George A. Fuller Company, approximately 850 buildings were erected in the area to accommodate troops of the 44th Division.
Other items included in the contract were construction of two theaters, miscellaneous signal barracks, roads, drains, waterlines and electrical distribution system. Additional funds were appropriated for building a new station hospital. The hospital contract was awarded to LaFountain, Christenson and Arace of Hackensack, New Jersey.
Improvements costing more than a million dollars were made to the water and sewerage facilities. The daily capacity of the water plant was increased from 2,000,000 to 4,000,000 gallons. These improvements consisted of enlarging the filtration plant, constructing an additional water tower, installing additional pumps at the New Lisbon station and doubling the size of the sewerage plant.
The gigantic task of land acquisition was perhaps equaled by the extensive construction projects on the post since the beginning of 1940. A recapitulation of buildings erected in the short period of two years presents and astounding picture. In all, more than 1,600 buildings were completed in this time. Included were 531 barracks, 173 day rooms, 178 dining halls, 172 buildings for company administration and storage, 35 recreation buildings, 41 administration buildings, 13 chapels, 14 infirmaries, 23 hospital barracks, 18 hospital quarters, 26 motor repair shops, 28 warehouses, 10 fire stations, 12 gasoline stations, six theaters and two morgues. The Fort Dix Station Hospital also was built in 1940 and consisted of a 1,000-bed cantonment-type structure of 80 buildings.
Within a year, another medical facility, Tilton General Hospital, was built on Florida Avenue. The completion of this hospital in July 1941 was the prototype of the Army’s World War II hospital building program throughout the country. Tilton construction was rushed by three shifts working day and night throughout the unusually server winter of 1940-41. The original construction schedule of 60 days could not be met because of heavy snowfalls and severe storms. Except for grading and surfacing, construction was completed in 87 days.
The original plan called for 79 buildings, including wards, mess buildings, warehouses and quarters. Nine additional buildings were added later that year. Finally, because of the ever-increasing war load, many more structures were needed, and by 1944, the main hospital comprised 178 buildings.
Tilton General Hospital, named in honor of James Tilton, surgeon general of the US Army from 1813 to 1815, was built to care for individuals in the II Army Corps Area requiring definite treatment or prolonged hospitalization. This was done on the basis of bed allotments to some 14 separate camps, posts and stations, including the New York Port of Embarkation. The first year’s peak load was attained on 29 December 1941 when 559 patients were being treated.
The organization of Tilton General Hospital began when orders were published assigning Colonel S. Jay Turnbill to duty at Fort Dix in January 1941. However, it was not until March that Colonel Turnbill was ordered to take command of the unfinished hospital. A few days later, other officers reported for duty, and on 25 March 1941, the first contingent of 75 enlisted medical specialists arrived from the Army Medical Center, Washington D.C. The enlisted medical detachment for Tilton was activated on 29 March and authorized a strength of 250.
Prior to 2 April 1941, Tilton officers were quartered at the Fort Dix Station Hospital, pending completion of the general hospital. During the next several months, additional officers and nurses arrived, and sufficient personnel were available during the early years of World War II to meet all problems as they developed. Medical Department officers were originally assigned to Tilton by the Surgeon General’s Office, but Second Service Command headquarters took over personnel assignments in mid-1942.
Officers were selected on the basis of professional qualifications, and each specialized position for the original staff was properly filled. During 1941, no significant losses of the hospital’s Medical Corps officer personnel occurred, primarily because the staff increased during the period to bring it to an authorized strength of 75.
The first nurses assigned to Tilton arrived in the spring of 1941 from Pine Camp (Now Camp Drum), New York. They supervised setting up wards and equipment in anticipation of the arrival of patients. The first civilians were authorized and assigned as early as March 1941 - - prior to arrival of the enlisted cadre. The civilians included professional as well as non-professional workers, who occupied clerical, administrative, fiscal and unskilled labor positions. The peak number of civilians at the hospital before the 1944 consolidation of Tilton and the Fort Dix Station Hospital was 323. After consolidation, the number increased rapidly to an August 1945 peak of 1,030.
During 1942 and 1943, it periodically became necessary to obtain replacements for transferred Medical Corps officer personnel. During these years, many Fort Dix doctors were sent to overseas assignments. Personnel assignments were made from Second Service Command Headquarters, and replacements for Medical Corps officers loses were adequate. At that time, the turnover was not excessive, and specialized assignments were well covered. However, in 1944 and 1945, personnel loses caused by overseas commitments and separations increased appreciably, resulting in the inability to meet replacement needs. These difficulties were felt, especially in the highly specialized fields.
The first overseas casualties, survivors of the Philippine Defense Campaign, were admitted to Tilton in March 1942, chiefly because of the surgeon general’s policy of sending general hospital cases to installations near their homes.
In late 1944, Tilton General Hospital was assigned the services of between 225 and 300 German prisoner-of-war workers. They were selected for hospital work on the basis of previous civilian and military training, and to some extent, the POWs compensated for existing personnel shortages. The scope of the activities in which POWs took part were commensurate with their backgrounds and training. While a number performed menial tasks at the hospital, others with specialized skills and training were assigned to duties in the laboratory, x-ray room, utilities section and orthopedic brace shop. A small number, who had medical training, were assigned to two German POW wards, which served the sick and wounded prisoners on post.
On 7 July 1944, Tilton absorbed the Fort Dix Medical Station Hospital, which was then named Tilton Annex. This resulted in the added responsibility of Tilton to function as a station hospital. The combined facilities had a normal capacity of 3,000, with an emergency expansion capability of 5,500.
At the height of activity during the war, 195 of the hospital’s 215 acres were used for buildings and tents. Tilton General Hospital was situated in the northwest quarter of the reservation, just west of the old remount area, and Tilton Annex was just inside the main entrance to Fort Dix from Wrightstown. This amalgamation of facilities came none too soon, for in December 1944 with an end of hostilities in sight, it became apparent that a large number of patients who then were hospitalized in the European Theater of Operations would be transferred to Dix.
In fact, in early 1945 an emergency expansion to 4,100 beds was authorized to accommodate the increasing number of patients from overseas. Services were further expanded to receive and care for patients air evacuated from the war zones of Europe and Africa. Another contributing factor was the increased availability of shipping facilities from overseas areas.
The expansion of facilities was accomplished by converting all available buildings into wards. Converted buildings included enlisted men’s barracks and such miscellaneous buildings as clinics and dispensaries that could be readily converted to 50-bed wards. By the middle of 1945, 4,448 beds were made available for patients.
At the Fort Dix Army Air Field, later to become McGuire Air Force Base, workmen had been employed on a $300,000 project to apply concrete surface to the three long runways.

These were soon to be used by the 119th and 126th Observation Squadrons, National Guard units inducted into federal service in 1941.
In addition to the expansion of flight facilities, many other improvements were made and temporary buildings constructed.
The field, under control of the Army Ground Forces at the time, was turned over to the Army Air Corps in 1942. Under jurisdiction of the 1st Air Force, the airfield was used in antisubmarine patrol operations. It afforded protection against German U-boats, not only for American ships and coastal points but for allied shipping as well.
Later in 1942 the Air Services Command, located at the Middletown Air Depot in Pennsylvania, and the Atlantic Overseas Air Services Command used the field. In 1944, the Fort Dix Army Air Field was used by the Air Transport Command as the eastern terminal of the Ferry Command. The airfield was one of the few that could base B-29s, the Army’s heaviest bomber at the time.
Late in the war many such planes left Fort Dix for service overseas. Toward the end of the war, casualties were returned from Europe for hospitalization in this country by way of the Fort Dix airfield. In 1945, control of the airfield was returned to Fort Dix until the creation in 1947 of the third branch of service - - the United States Air Force.
The effect of post expansion and construction on neighboring townships in 1941 was reminiscent of World War I days. Early announcement that more than 20,000 soldiers would be trained at Fort Dix created a real estate boom in the surrounding towns of Pemberton, Wrightstown, Browns Mills, New Egypt, Jobstown and Cookstown, where housing shortages already existed. Rents jumped, sometimes as much as two-fold, and the necessity for low-cost housing projects to satisfy the requirements of officers and noncommissioned officers was immediately apparent.
Hanover Homes, located on the Jobstown-Wrightstown Road, was a result of this need. The project was constructed by the Federal Works Agency at a cost of 4350,000. It was named in honor of the historic Hanover Bog Ore Iron Furnace. Dedication ceremonies were held on 4 July 1941. It was one of 30 housing projects throughout the country dedicated at the same time.
Fort Dix expansion affected the neighboring communities in still another way. For many years, residents of Burlington County enjoyed driving leisurely along the highways and secondary roads in this part of New Jersey. However, Fort Dix had become heavily populated and a virtual beehive of activity. Traffic on the highways leading to the post doubled and tripled. Traffic accidents increased as a result. Officials at Fort Dix were asked, along with state police and other enforcement agencies, to concentrate their efforts and facilities to eliminate rural highway slaughter. It was obvious that old roads had to be improved and new roads constructed.
In April 1941, such a task was begun, but conflicting applications to the Works Progress Administration (WPA) for a project to provide 47 miles of new highways on access roads to Fort Dix resulted in a delay. The reason given was that two conflicting project proposals were sent to the Washington WPA office. The first project, seeking release of funds to provide access roads to Fort Dix, estimated the cost of repairing the 47 miles at $200,000. However, that figure was too low for the long mileage of reconstruction needed. The type of paving to be laid would raise the coast to $800,000. The second project was submitted with the $800,000 estimate. The delay, caused by that mixup, was straightened out in a short time.
On 9 August 1941, the road project began. Nine country roads were reconstructed to provide better access to the Army post. Finally, the estimated cost of $800,000 was confirmed.
First of the nine-road-improvement program was the Pemberton-Fort Dix Road. A short while later, construction began on the military highway from Fountain Green at Fort Dix to Route 39 at Mansfield Square, via Georgetown.
The expansion of Fort Dix in 1942 caused another dire need for access roads to handle increased traffic in the immediate area of the installation. Existing roads were not adequate to handle civilian traffic, much less heavy military vehicles and other war machines.
Cooperating with the Army in the war program, State Highway Commissioner Spencer Miller, Jr., approved the alignment of an access road to Fort Dix through Burlington Country in May 1942. The concrete thoroughfare was 10 miles in length and left route 39 at Mansfield Square, two miles south of the Bordentown to Georgetown Road intersection. It followed the Mansfield-Georgetown Road to Georgetown at Hutchinson’s Corner. From that point it was carried over a new right-of-way to a traffic circle on the Pemberton-Wrightstown Road at Fountain Green, near the residence of the fort’s commanding general.
During the week of 12 July 1942, additional steps were taken to relieve traffic conditions in the Fort Dix area when the New Jersey State Highway Department announced that a three-and-a-half-mile section of dual highway between Mansfiled and Georgetown would be built. The federal government was to pay for the work. Meanwhile, following United States Public Roads Administration approval, Route 39 from Bordentown to Mansfield Square was widened, and four and a half miles of road from Georgetown to the Pemberton-Wrightstown Road, skirting Fort Dix, was constructed.
As roads to Fort Dix were being planned and constructed, the town of Pointville passed out of existence during the week of 31 August 1942. The United States Army moved in to take over New Hanover village, which for months had been surrounded by the constantly expanding Fort Dix reservation.
Monday, 31 August, was the last day for civilian business there. Efforts by the residents and by township officials to change the Army’s intentions had proven fruitless the week before.
As Pointville was drafted for military service, two old landmarks passed from the scene. One was the Pointville Methodist Church, which had been built in 1848, and the other was old Tom Harvey’s hotel.
A number of Army and Navy uniform and equipment stores also closed their doors. However, they weren’t “old timers,” having opened for business since Fort Dix expansion began in 1940. As Fort Dix gained more land, Burlington County lost some settled areas, and the townspeople had to find a different way of life.
The expansion of Fort Dix in the early 1940s affected the area’s telephone services. The increased training program resulted in heavier phone traffic through the Mount Holly office. District Manager Paul A. Coffee and his business office staff moved out of the Main Street building and into a larger facility in the Robert Peacock building at 105 High Street. Coffee stated, “Since designation of Fort Dix as a major Army training station, telephone traffic through the Mount Holly exchange has grown steadily. Nearly 9,000 calls on the exchange are made each weekday, compared with less than 5,800 a day in the first week of September 1940. About 2,000 calls a day are toll calls. More than 1,200 of the daily toll calls are made from Fort Dix coin telephones.” 1 (Mount Holly Herald, vol. cxvi, no. 50 1941.1.)
Also, with the expansion of Fort Dix in 1940, Burlington County officials prepared themselves for a crime wave. It was no secret that law enforcement authorities expected a great increase of crime from the Army post. Advocates of enlarging the Burlington County Prison in Mount Holly, built in 1810, used this theory as one of their most forceful arguments. Until the beginning of the war in December 1941, the crime wave had not materialized, and, considering the area’s great influx of civilian and military personnel, increased crime was nominal.
Until 29 January 1942, civilian authorities had jurisdiction in criminal cases occurring within the boundaries of Fort Dix. After that date all criminal acts on the installation were handled by military or federal authorities. Burlington County authorities were no longer asked to assume the responsibility. The most frequent complaint regarding soldiers during those days was auto theft. Many persons, both civilian and military, felt that such thefts were due mainly to the carelessness of the car owners. In almost all cases, keys were left in ignitions after vehicles were parked. The few soldiers who did steal cars were punished, and the reputation of Fort Dix suffered little.
Meanwhile, the huge job of classifying selectees was placed into the hands of the 1229th Service Command Unit, later renamed the 1262nd Reception Center.
Each man entering the center was given an intelligence test and interviewed by enlisted men specially trained for the job. The marking of papers was completed by machine, a report was made by the interviewer, and all results of the examination were fully cataloged. The method employed at the post was used as a model for other reception centers throughout the country.
The Reception Center itself was divided into battalions and a number of companies. In addition to the problem of adjusting the newly inducted men to the change from civilian routine, the center had the tremendous job of satisfying appetites of men who were accustomed to a variety of foods. To accommodate the inductees, there were 11 mess halls, three of which had a capacity of 1,000 men each. Often they fed more than this capacity.
In 1941, it was not unusual for any one of the mess halls to serve more than 100,000 meals per month. All of the center’s cooking and baking was done by permanently assigned enlisted personnel. The mess staff consisted of approximately 200 soldiers, including officers, cooks, warehousemen and other permanent party enlisted men.
In addition to regular mess facilities, the center also was responsible for feeding selectees who were shipped from the Reception Center to training centers throughout the country. Kitchen cars were attached to each train when the distance involved more than 24 hours of travel. Sometimes the cars would serve as many as 14 different meals en route.
Good food is but one factor in maintaining the health and morals of troops. Equally important is the furnishing of entertainment and recreation, and these needs received considerably more attention during World War II than during the days of World War I. A unique branch to handle this function was created, and the Army’s Special Services became most important in providing for the welfare and morale of the troops.
The Special Services branch at Fort Dix coordinated the functions of government agencies with those of the United States Service Organization (USO), the Red Cross, and other welfare organizations. Under Special Service’s supervision, project after project was initiated and completed.
The list of visiting personalities brought to Dix by Special Services and the cooperating agencies contains outstanding people of the theatrical, musical and athletic world. Mischa Elman, Yehudi Menuhin, Albert Spalding, Mr. and Mrs. Joseph Lhevinne, Leopold Stokowski, Ossy Renardy, Dorothy Kirsten and Nelson Eddy are but a few who gave their time and talent to entertain troops of the post. To these are added Robert Woods, Igor Gorin, Lucy Monroe, Lucille Manners, Conrad Thibault, and Kay Kaiser and Vaughn Monroe with their orchestras. There were hundreds more.
In Mount Holly, plans for a soldiers’ retreat, where men of the fort could gather for relaxation and amusement, were discussed by ex-servicemen and clergymen in January 1941. Such a place existed during World War I when a building on the southwest corner of White and Washington Streets was made available as a local headquarters for visiting soldiers. The VFW post headquarters on Main Street was selected for this purpose and made available throughout World War II.
During the week of 22 August 1941, construction of three community buildings in the Fort Dix vicinity was approved by President Roosevelt as part of the Defense Public Works Program. The program was to provide facilities or services necessary for the health, safety and welfare of servicemen. The three buildings, costing the government $82,195 each, were operated by the USO.
By 1942, facilities on the post for entertainment functions and activities were numerous and varied. Plans were well under way to construct a large indoor Sports Arena. During the latter part of January 1942 the mammoth building was completed at a cost of $86,000. On 7 March, the Sports Arena, located on the parade grounds, officially opened with an exhibition tennis match featuring Helen Jacobs, former women’s singles champion. The arena is 217 feet by 131 feet with a n 8,000-square-foot sports floor - - large enough to accommodate three athletic games, such as basketball, simultaneously. Regimental and battalion dances often were held within its walls. Sergeant Joe Louis, world’s heavyweight boxing champion, used the arena for exhibition and training in preparation for his fight with Abe Simon.
Other athletic facilities operated by Special Services included a nine-hole golf course, seven tennis courts and several softball and baseball fields, for which the necessary equipment was supplied to commissioned and enlisted personnel alike. Organized unit intramural sports of all kinds took place on Special Services facilities. Softball and basketball were perhaps the most popular.
There was a swimming pool on post for wives and children of the men stationed at Dix. In addition, complete swimming facilities were made available at Soldier’s Island in nearby Browns Mills and Hanover Lake in Fort Dix Park.
Four service clubs, four cafeterias and four libraries also came under Special Services supervision. Two open air theaters with unlimited seating were sites for entertainment during the summer months. Special Services also operated a guesthouse for relatives of the enlisted men. However, the facility, which charges 75 cents per person for overnight accommodation, was later closed because of its location within staging areas of task forces.
To accommodate the growing influx of personnel, a gymnasium and an outdoor swimming pool were under construction in June 1945. Both of these structures were built on Tilton Annex area. To aid the off-duty leisure of post enlisted personnel further, a swimming pool located just west of the Sports Arena was reopened. This pool was built in 1918, but had fallen into disuse in the Twenties. At one time it had been used as a wash well for tanks and other heavy vehicles.
Shortly after the infamous Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor on 7 December 1941, the 44th Infantry Division left the post for extensive combat training. It remained in the country at various camps for three more years before shipping overseas. In September 1944, the division embarked for the European Theater of Operations.
Its first major assignment with the Seventh US Army was to secure passes in the Vosges Mountains. After accomplishing this and nullifying a German counteroffensive, the unit worked with the French 2nd Armored Division and advanced through Alsace-Lorraine, taking Laintrey, Avricourt and Sarrebourg. Elements of the division reached the Rhine River at Strasbourg.
Halting a savage German panzer attempt to retake Sarrebourg, the 2nd Battalion, 114th Infantry, 44th Division, was credited with saving the division from annihilation and checking a possible major Seventh Army defeat. By December the division reached the Maginot Line. In March 1943 the unit was relieved from its position. In the succeeding months, the division rolled deep into Fortress Europe, capturing Mannheim and slashing into Austrian Tyrol. VE-Day found the unit established at Imst, Austria. On that day elements of the 44th made contact with the Fifth US Army, which had fought north from Italy.
On 1 January 1942, the 34th “Red Bull” Division, activated National Guard unit made up of men from Iowa, Minnesota and the Dakotas, had arrived at Fort Dix from Camp Glaiborne, Louisiana. After completing staging procedures, the division departed for overseas in three increments. These first troops from Fort Dix to arrive in Europe since World War I went to northern Ireland in February 1942. By then of May the entire division was in Ireland. The unit eventually entered combat in north Africa late in 1942. From there it landed at Salerno and for the next 500 days took part in the liberation of Italy. At the war’s end the division was in north Italy. It returned to the United States on 3 November 1945 and was inactivated a week later.
A short time after the departure of the 34th Division from Fort dix in early 1942, other units streamed through the post in rapid succession. The 1st Armored Division, a Regular Army unit nicknamed “Old Ironsides,” arrived from Fort Knox, Kentucky, on 10 April 1942 for traditional training. Activated on 15 July 1940, the division already had completed considerable training at Knox. In addition, the unit participated with the Second US Army in maneuvers throughout Louisiana and the Carolinas. Upon arrival at Dix, the division underwent additional training and in May 1942 departed for Ireland. The division saw action in north Africa, where it joined with the 34th Infantry Division and later the British Eighth Army. After a short second stay in Ireland in 1943, the division went to French Morocco where it reorganized before participating in the Italian campaign. After the war, the unit traveled to Germany where it was assigned to occupation duty. It remained there until April 1946 when it returned to Camp Kilmer, New Jersey, for inactivation.
Shortly after departure of the 1st Armored Division and during the staging of the 8th Composite Air Force at Fort Dix, the 2nd Armored Division rolled into the post. Activated on 15 July 1940, this Regular Army unit, nicknamed “Hell on Wheels,” received its initial training at Fort Benning, Georgia, and held maneuvers in Tennessee, Louisiana and the Carolinas. In late 1941 the division participated in special amphibious training off the east coast of the United States and then reported to Camp Hood, Texas, for additional training. On 27 October 1942, the division’s Combat Command “B” departed Fort Dix for North Africa. The command was later joined by the remainder of the division in December. After taking part in the assault of Casablanca and prior to the invasion of Sicily, the division underwent intensive amphibious training in north Africa. Later, after activity in Sicily, the unit shipped to England and prepared for the invasion of Normandy. Fighting through Normandy, northern France, the Rhineland, Ardennes and central Europe, it fulfilled a three-year-old pledge in July 1945 when it became the first American division to enter Berlin. In early 1946, the division returned to Camp Hood for retraining.
Also active in north African battles was the 756th Tank Battalion, which had been assigned to Dix on 28 November 1942, processed overseas in February 1943, and joined the famed 3rd “Marine” Infantry Division during the African campaign. Later in Germany, the battalion distinguished itself on two occasions while still a part of the 3rd Infantry Division. In these actions, the tank units swept through the Vosges Mountains in August 1944 and cleared the Colmar Pocket from 23 January to 18 February 1945.

Many miscellaneous groups passed through Fort Dix in 1942. Among them were the 22nd Quartermaster Regiment, 551st Signal Air Warning Battalion, 382nd, 384th and 389th Quartermaster Battalions, 177th and 827th Engineer Battalions, 397th and 398th Quartermaster Port Battalions, 90th Quartermaster Railhead Company and 187th Quartermaster Depot.

The Post Naturalization Office, established in 1942 as an adjunct of the Post Judge Advocate’s Office, played an important part during World War II. Approximately 5,000 recruits became citizens in its first year of operation. During 1942 and 1943, an average of 400 persons per month were naturalized. Most of them were natives of European countries who later fought with other American troops overseas and again returned to the US.

The 4th Mechanized Division, another regular Army unit, arrived at Fort Dix in April 1943. Activated on 1st June 1940, at Fort Benning, Georgia, the division moved to Dix. While at the New Jersey post, the unit was redesignated the 4th Infantry Division. The “Ivy” (IV) Division left Dix in September for amphibious training at Camp Gordon Johnson, Florida. In December the unit moved to Fort Jackson, South Carolina, and then was ordered to England for further amphibious training. This intensive waterborne training proved invaluable, for on 6 June 1944, elements of the division became the first allied units to hit the beaches at Normandy. From there, the Ivymen fought through Normandy, northern France, Rhineland, the Ardennes and central Europe. By war’s end, the division had suffered 21,550 casualties. Shortly after VE-Day, the 4th began returning to the US for retraining. However, before the division could be redeployed to the Pacific, VJ-Day was announced, and on 5 March 1946, the unit was inactivated at Camp Butner, North Carolina.

In the spring of 1943, the 80th Division, an Organized Reserve unit made up of men from the Blue Ridge states of Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Virginia, arrived at Fort Dix. A serious transit strike in Philadelphia, which affected the military war effort by hampering the transport of men and materials, occurred during the stay of the 80th. With the authority of the President and orders from the War Department, a regiment of the division was dispatched to that city to participate in the handling of the strike-bound transportation.

Activated on 15 July 1942, the division had trained at Camp Forest, Tennessee. Upon completion of its organization and training, the 80th was shipped to Fort Dix where it stayed until July 1943.
From there it was sent back to Tennessee to participate in maneuvers and then to Camp Phillips, Kansas. After participating in a number of maneuvers in California and Arizona, the Blue Ridgers were sent to France where they entered combat on 8 August 1944. After 239 days of combat, fighting their way through northern France, Rhineland, the Ardennes Forest and central Europe, the division returned to the United States. On 5 January 1946, the Blue Ridge Division was inactivated at Camp Kilmer, New Jersey.

Meanwhile, in September 1943, many smaller specialized unites were staging in preparation for overseas shipment. Among them were the 741st Tank Battalion, 245th Quartermaster Battalion, 44th and 106th Evacuation Hospitals, 818th Tank Destroyer Battalion, 719th Military Police Battalion and 11th Combat Engineer Battalion.

Soon after the departure of these units in October, the 85th Infantry Division, another Organized Reserve unit, arrived at Fort Dix for staging. During its stay at the post, several smaller units also were staged, including the 2nd and 5th Ranger Battalions, 211th Field Artillery Battalion and the 537th Antiaircraft Artillery Battalion.

The 85th, nicknamed the “Custer Division,” remained at Dix until December 1943, when it was sent to Hampton Roads, Virginia for overseas shipment. The division had received its nickname from activities in August 1917 at Camp Custer, Michigan. The unit adopted the name of its post and at the same time honored the famous General George A. Custer, who was killed during the great Sioux War. 

Debarking overseas, the 85th Division went to north Africa for amphibious training and then to Italy. Entering combat in March 1944, it fought in the Rome-Arno, northern Apennines and Po Valley battles. In August 1945, the division returned to Hampton Roads where it was inactivated.

Shortly after the departure of the 85th Division from Fort Dix, the 90th Infantry Division, an Organized Reserve unit made up of men from Texas and Oklahoma, arrived at Dix. After its activation on 25 March 1942, the men of the division, nicknamed “Tough ‘Ombres,” trained at Camp Barkley, Texas. Later they moved about the country participating in various maneuvers. Exactly two years to the day after activation, the division departed Dix for England where it underwent two months of amphibious assault training. In June, elements of the division took part in the landing at Normandy, and by the 10th of the month, the entire unit was in combat. From Normandy, after 308 days of combat, the Tough ‘Ombres had fought through northern France, the Ardennes, Rhineland and central Europe. On 16 December 1945, the division returned to the States and was inactivated at Camp Shanks, New York, on the 27th of the month.

Other units arriving at Fort Dix in early 1944 were the 628th and 807th Tank Destroyer Battalions, 15th General Hospital, 460th Anti-aircraft Artillery Battalion, 297th General Hospital, Headquarters Special Troops of the XIII Corps, 179th Engineer Battalion, 3468th Ordnance Company, 628th Engineer Company and 168th Quartermaster Trucking Company. These units stayed only long enough to stage to the European Theater of Operations.

In July 1944, the 102nd “Ozark” Infantry Division arrived at Dix from Camp Swift, Texas, where it had been participating in maneuvers. Activated 15 September 1942 at Camp Maxey, Texas, the 102nd had taken part in extensive training exercises in Louisiana. The “Ozark” division, which originally included men from the Ozarks, remained at Dix until a September 1944 shipment to the European Theater of Operations.

Arriving at Cherbourg, France on 23 September 1944, the 102nd again trained for combat, which began 26 October in a northward drive to the Rhine area between Duisberg and Dusseldorf. In March 1945, the division captured the Rhine objective after a six-month battle that cost the Nazis 86 towns, a rocket factory, and numerous railroad and communications centers. The 102nd continued its push until VE-Day, when units were in position at Gotha. In late February 1946, the division returned to the United States and was inactivated on 12 March at Camp Kilmer, New Jersey.

At war’s end, it was estimated that almost 430,000 prisoners of war were in the United States. The Germans numbered 370,000, Italians 55,000, Japanese 3,000, and the remainder were from other Axis nations. It was further estimated that of the German POWs, 70,000 were officers and noncoms who either elected not to work or were refused the opportunity by US military authorities in the interest of military and national security. However, the others were permitted to engage in work not related to America’s war effort. Some 85,000 worked in agriculture, 55,000 in industry, and the remainder at military posts or stations throughout the country.

Fort Dix was one of the major holding areas for prisoners of war. On 5 January 1944, the post’s POW camp opened, and soon the first POWs entered the compound. Although the prisoners held at Dix during the war were mainly Germans, there were some Italians, and surprisingly enough, a few Russians. The Russians were captured by American forces on the western front of Europe. During the early part of the war, many Russians had defected to the Axis powers and elected to fight for Germany. Donning uniforms of the “Wehrmacht” and assigned to units in western Europe, they had fought in France against the liberation armies of Americans, British, French and Canadians. Upon capture, some of them were sent to prisoner-of-war camps in the United States – 154 of them to Fort Dix.

The POW camp at the post was often cited as a model camp. Officials of the International Red Cross and the State Department verified this after making frequent inspections of the camp.

In the latter part of 1944, German prisoners of war were allocated from the POW camp to various facilities on the reservation. Almost all of the prisoners were employed in a pay status, serving in the laundry, hospital, quartermaster supply, and camp maintenance. Tilton General Hospital received 225 to 300 of these prisoners.

Prisoner duties at the hospital varied from orderlies and administrative work to skilled medical functions. Their presence at the hospital contributed, to some degree, to the efficient operation of the facility, especially during a shortage of US Army medical personnel. POW doctors, working with US Army Medical Corps officers, were used to care for sick and injured prisoners. In addition to medical service provided by the post’s Station Hospital, the prisoners enjoyed recreation facilities and religious activities. The rations issued the prisoners were the same as those given to the troops on the post. They also received a full issue of quartermaster clothing.

With cessation of World War II hostilities in Europe, plans were made to repatriate American-held prisoners of war. All prisoners would be returned to their homeland.

In several issues of June and July 1945, the New York Times reported an astounding story. In late June 1945, after learning they would be sent back to the motherland and fearing retribution as traitors, the 154 Russian POWs at Dix rioted. In an attempt to force their way out of the compound, they attacked camp security personnel with mess kit knives and clubs made from chair legs. As they rushed their guards, the Russians were fired at with carbines and submachine guns. In the ensuing struggle, one prisoner was killed and several others wounded. One prisoner was injured while trying to scale the wire enclosure surrounding the compound. After this attempt for freedom was thwarted, three of the Russians committed suicide by hanging themselves from the rafters of their buildings.

On 29 June 1945, the remaining 150 prisoners were taken to Camp Shank, New York, each escorted by a military policeman, to board an Italian merchant marine vessel bound for Russia. The heavy escort was provided to prevent escapes and to forestall further attempts at suicide. Shortly after their 1:30 p.m. arrival at Camp Shanks and prior to the 3:30 p.m. scheduled sailing of the vessel, the escort received President Truman’s order to return the prisoners to Fort Dix. They were to be held at the post’s POW camp until a State Department study could be made of the situation.

The men were returned to the Fort Dix POW camp, still escorted man for man. Upon arrival at Dix, the POW camp was stripped of all furniture and equipment. The only item left was a mattress on which each Russian could sleep. It was then learned that apparently others had previously planned to commit suicide when an additional 15 lengths of rope and belts were found hanging from the rafters. The men were kept at Dix a while longer and eventually shipped somewhere. Final outcome of the incident is vague; government records still are classified.

In June 1946, the prisoner-of-war camp at Dix began to phase out. All remaining prisoners were readied for overseas shipment. In two and a half years, more than 15,000 POWs had been held at the post, the highest number at any one time totaling 5,580. These included prisoners at branch camps in Centerton, Bridgeton, Dias Creek and Glassboro, all of whom worked in canneries and on farms.

During World War II the post experienced a rapid growth of buildings, facilities and population. The growth, which started with the mobilization of the 44th Division and the arrival of the first conscripts at Fort Dix, continued to the time World War II hostilities ceased. Hundreds of thousands of Americans passed through the fort’s portals to train and prepare for shipment to combat areas across the Atlantic. With the war’s end, activities at this New Jersey post did not cease. Thousands of American soldiers were returning to Dix from overseas for separation processing or reassignment. Without breaking stride, the post, which had more than tripled in total acreage during the World War II period, continued to bustle with debarkation and separation activities.

No comments: