Phase 1 - Camp Upton

August 25th, 1917
November 11th, 1918


As with mortals, places "oft have fame thrust upon them." What a rude awakening it must have been to the complacent inhabitants of ante-bellum Yaphank, who had no thought other than gradually to drift into old age within the cloistered precincts of their homes, suddenly to find their town blazoned on every lip and the cynosure of many eyes. When the U. S. Government announced that the training camp for the New York Division of the National Army was to be located at Yaphank, the question universally asked was:

"Where is Yaphank? "
" On Long Island, " the worldly replied.

To day Long Island owes its prominence not to the fact that Yaphank is located within its geographical confines but rather that it is the island upon which Yaphank is situated.

The nascence and evolution of Camp Upton are truly remarkable. Within a month, the seemingly impossible was entered upon and accomplished, the construction of a city capable of housing thirty thousand with the modern conveniences of electricity, metalled roads, and a complete water and sewerage system. A small army of civilian laborers and mechanics successfully combated the fly and mosquito and soon buildings sprang up, not "over night" but in the space of several hours. Each building was constructed in sections and at the sound of a whistle forty or more men with the aid of block and tackle hoisted the sides into place, hammers flew, men scrambled aloft, and the roof was on. Then came the plumbers and electricians and a few hours saw the building lighted and water running in the kitchen ready for occupancy. It was a triumph of efficiency made possible by the modern methods of construction, system and cooperation.

Camp Upton, when completed, assumed, the shape of a huge "U" formed by the symmetrical rows of wooden barracks and the main avenues of traffic. In the center of the " U, " on the summit of a bill rising high above the rest of the camp, was located Division Headquarters-" monarch of all it surveyed. " Headquarters early became known as "The Hill" to the advance guard of officers arriving to begin their duties. Had Bret Harte accompanied that advance guard he might have thought himself in one of the western mining camps, which his pen has immortalized.

Alighting from the train he would have met fleets of motor trucks laden with building materials, plowing through the mud trails generously designated as roads by huge signs. Wooden shacks of' every description gave the aspect of a boomtown. Civilian guards, singularly reminiscent of the old West, lean, bronzed, and gaunt, arrayed in broad-brimmed hats, Grey shirts, and corduroy breeches, rode about on decrepit mares superintending the work. They "packed" guns in true Western fashion, as fights and disorders were not uncommon among the thousands of workmen. Everywhere was industry. Carpenters, plumbers, laborers, and engineers were busily occupied in the construction of the Division's future Home.

View of Camp Upton

Early as the officers appeared at camp, they found themselves preceded by that august body, the Military Police, one of whom directed them to "The Hill, " where they reported to the Commanding General J. Franklin Bell. Each officer was assigned to a regiment yet unformed, and for the first time they heard the numbers of the battalions and regiments which were later to gloriously inscribe themselves on the indelible archives of history. There was much questioning as to what the 305th or 306th Infantry was, who was in the 307th or 308th, and who commanded the 304th Field Artillery. At that time all the officers of the Division were quartered in the five or six barracks then standing. A mess was at once organized and its running assigned to an officer whose only previous experience with dispensing food had been as the host at a dinner party. The mess was but one of the many petty hardships. There was one lone pump at which to wash, shared in common with all the laborers living in the vicinity. The roads were all but impassable and the dust as thick as on a drear desert in the midst of a dry season. A trip across camp after dark was a considerable adventure made interesting by thousands of stumps and the guards of the 15th N. Y. colored regiment, who being indistinguishable from the darkness had you at a considerable disadvantage when they were at the delivering end of a bayonet. The acetylene flares illuminating the various offices and headquarters, and the crowds of laborers shuffling along the roads lent more mining camp atmosphere. In contrast to this, a month later when camp was completed, the wooden barracks, row upon row, every window lighted, resembled a vast flotilla of wooden arks afloat on a dark sea.

A few days at camp under the new army regime taught the officers that although the camp in appearance might have some semblance to a mining camp, the resemblance to a beehive was more striking. This was no place for drones they discovered after the Commanding Officers of the various units had outlined their plans. Classes were immediately organized and the officers put through a rigorous schedule to insure complete familiarity with their duties. Tentative companies formed, messes planned, and a system for outfitting the future personnel formulated. The enthusiasm of the officers was contagious and intense rivalries early developed between the various organizations-an esprit de corps arising which grew and grew, spreading from the officers to the men until a statement that one organization was better than another was certain to evoke a wordy argument. Pride of company gave way to regimental pride when the regiments moved to the areas to which they were assigned.

Shortly after moving, the announcement was made that the first draft increment would arrive at camp on the 10th of September. Officers were detailed to New York City to conduct the men to camp. The remainder of the officers and the non-commissioned officers (who had been assigned to each regiment from the Regular Army) busied themselves preparing for these men. Bed sacks were filled with straw, each bed labeled with a number, the kitchens stocked with food, mess kits and blankets sorted for issue, and classification cards prepared. Enthusiasm ran high, the, officers were as excited as a young girl preparing for her debut.

"Is there plenty of beef?"
"Have the beds been labeled?"
"Who is attending to the classification cards?

Entirely oblivious of the furor their expected arrival was creating at camp, those who were to have the honor of being the first arrivals at Camp Upton had bid civilian life adieu (many of them "good-bye") and were assembled at the ferries and stations of New York and Brooklyn. Here each increment was received from the draft officials and allotted to trains. Many of the boards carried large, highly expressive signs directing the Kaiser where he might best sojourn, Musical instruments of all sorts were brought along and many hip pockets bulged suspiciously. Midst much bantering to and from the crowd, the trains pulled out accompanied by a voluminous cheer from the assembled relatives and friends. On the train the officers called the roll to see that every-one was present and were given an excellent opportunity to judge the men who were to form the nucleus of the 77th Division. They were a motley crew; some bad donned their best suits for the occasion, but the majority wore their oldest clothes-sensibly too, for early Upton paid no regard to clothes. One former Marine appeared in his dress uniform with an Expert Rifleman's Medal on his breast. Every type was represented, the gunman and the gangster, the student and the clerk, the laborer and the loafer, the daily plodder, the lawyer. They could be divided into two large classes, the man of muscle and the man of brain. From the variety of languages spoken one might have imagined himself at the Tower of Babel. These divers types, accustomed to every condition of life, knowing for the most part no master, were to bow down before the military God, Authority, and emerge from the melting pot of training, an amalgamated mass of clear-thin king, clean-living men of whom America might well be proud.

Although the men might not have been aware that they were being judged, certain it was the recruits were sizing up the officers and forming their opinions. The average civilian's idea-before the war-of an officer was a brutal, bestial sort of person who gave orders, disobedience of which meant dire punishment for the miscreant. He was harsh, severe, unjust, and unfeeling-a Prussian. How these ideas changed, best may be expressed in the words of one man referring to a group of officers passing down the aisle: "Say, they're regular guys. "

As is the way with Long Island trains, they finally bore the contingent to camp, the men were assembled at the station, somehow formed in two ranks and marched off. What an odd procession! Each man carried some sort of a bundle and many wore badges announcing the board from which they came. Proceeding slowly, for the men were unused to marching, they were able to form impressions of each new aspect of camp as it appeared before them. Their thoughts, whether of' disappointment or of relief, might be summarized in one terse phrase, "So this is Yaphank. " (The popular conception of the camp was at first embodied in the name Yaphank, but as more and more soldiers made their influence felt in the metropolis, the euphonious name Yaphank was dropped for the military and more dignified appellation-Camp Upton.) Arriving at the barracks designated, the men were turned over to the receiving officers who checked each individual, issued him a mess kit and blankets, and assigned him to a numbered bunk where he was instructed to remain as the numbers were the only way of telling who was who.

The first experience with mess dispelled another notion-army " chow " wasn't so bad after all. The men at Upton were well fed and there were very few complaints about the quality or quantity of the food. After mess began the arduous task of collecting each man's history (former occupation, home address, relatives, special ability, languages spoken, etc.), as a guide for assignment to the arm of the service for which he seemed best adapted. Much difficulty was encountered because many men could not speak English and interpreters became popular. For several days the officers were in a quandary because there was one man whose language no one could speak. Finally his English-speaking brother arrived and all was well. A "Who's Who" of Early Upton would probably be the most cosmopolitan compendium ever compiled, containing as it would representatives of every nationality and status of life.

Camp Upton in Winter

Scarcely anyone slept the first night on account of the Dew life's novelty. As soon as the men obtained a taste of a bard day's work, little trouble was found in sleeping. The first days of camp were devoted to medical inspections, recording the men at the mustering office, inoculating and vaccinating them against typhoid and diphtheria, with the much dreaded " needle, " and to clearing away the debris surrounding the recently completed barracks. Within a week the recruits were started on the rudiments of drill; military discipline and courtesy were impressed; guard duty was established, and physical exercises began the work of hardening. Then uniforms were issued, and later, rifles. The various regiments with their small quotas were soon operating smoothly. The infantry, equipped with rifles, made splendid progress, arousing the envy of the artillery, who possessed no equipment save picks and, shovels and wooden horses on which were taught the fundamentals of equitation and cannoneering. The 302d Engineers, later to win fame abroad, found no difficulty in securing work, and many of the roads and much construction work remain as monuments to their efficiency. The Quartermaster and Ordnance Departments were occupied in ordering, securing and issuing equipment. The Medical Corps was kept busy inoculating. Each arm had its work allotted and it became the task of Division Headquarters to coordinate this work, so the Division operated as a unit. Woe to the officer who ran counter to its orders. "The Hill" became the "Sanctum Sanctorum" and he who was summoned thither emerged a sadder and a wiser man.

The constructive work was not confined to building up individuals. While the task of training progressed, construction kept pace, the barracks were completed, and the auditorium and other places of amusement sprang up. Now one obtained an impression of the vastness of the place, and realizing that there were scores of similar camps throughout the country, was able to visualize the, stupendous task of raising and training an effective fighting force. Civilization had altered. Where-as thousands formerly decided the destiny of nations, millions were needed now. And with the change in civilization the camp-followers of yore, the harlot, the beggar, the thief, had disappeared. In their stead rose those praiseworthy institutions which have played such a great part in alleviating the hardships of the soldier-The Red Cross, the Salvation Army, the Knights of Columbus, the Y. M. C. A., and other organizations. Nobly supported by the public, they spent lavishly. Y. M. C. A. buts for each regiment, and an auditorium seating three thousand were erected. The Knights of Columbus built a recreation Hall and Chapel. Through the generosity of a group of Long Island women, luxurious Hostess houses were presented to the officers and men. Later, an Officers' Club, a non-sectarian church, a theater and library were added. With its miles of barracks, its stables and garages, offices, warehouses, railroad station, laundry, filtration plant, huge hospital center, and places of amusement, Camp Upton might well have been the realization of some idealist's Utopian dream.

A visitor to camp in mid October would have been astonished and impressed by the transformation, which had been accomplished in a month's time. 0 tempora, 0 mores, could it be possible that these men marching across the parade ground in almost perfect line, every man in step, were the same men who arrived in camp a month before? Those flushed faces, that erect carriage, squared shoulders, and upright heads could it be possible that they were the same men? It could be and was possible. That nondescript band which arrived in camp in early September had been converted into soldiers in the course of a month. They spoke for themselves as to the efficiency of the military regime. The precision and facility with which they executed their drills reflected credit upon themselves and their officers. Really just completing the initial stages of army training, they already regarded themselves as veterans. Large batches of new men poured into camp daily and were regarded with disdain by the "veterans," who saw in them a mirror of themselves. When-ever the "rookies" were about the "veterans" saluted punctiliously and added a bit of swagger to their walk. They spoke of K. P.s, chow, reveille, close order, and fatigue with a fluency and nonchalance, which bespoke long acquaintance rather than a few weeks. The "rookies" were duly impressed at first, but it was not long before they were fused into the melting pot. Yet for a long time they were compelled to listen to the "veterans' " tales of the "good old days of early Upton."

With companies operating at somewhere near full strength the goal of attainment appeared more clearly on the horizon. Prospective non-commissioned officers came to the fore, and companies vied with each other in correctness of drill and appearance. November saw the camp operating with the facility of an oiled machine. Orders flooded the Company Commanders, keeping them struggling until late hours. Eight hours a day were devoted to drills, given added interest by the presence of British and French instructors who injected a bellicose spirit into the work. In addition to eight hours spent with the troops, officers were compelled to hold classes for non-commissioned officers and to attend lectures in the evenings. They worked from six in the morning until midnight and many who had deemed an officer's life one of ease decided that perhaps the "buck" private was not so badly off after all.

During the early days of camp, Saturday afternoon saw a mad scramble for the first train to New York. The work of the week finished it was the desire of everyone to get away. The antiquated wooden cars en vogue several decades back, capable of accommodating forty people comfort-ably, carried twice that number inside and out. At first there was no schedule. A schedule would have been superfluous, for a train departed when loaded and arrived in New York sometime during the day. Purchase of theater tickets in advance was considerable of a gamble-you might arrive in time for the matinee, but more likely for the finale of the evening performance. However, with the addition of several thousand new men to camp, the Military Police took hold of the situation, evolving order out of chaos. A repetition of the lamentable accident of September was not to be feared. Gates were erected and only those holding passes could get by the vigilant M. P.s. Trains ran on schedule and the trip to New York became less of a venture. Returning from New York, the trains departed at frequent intervals, a certain percentage of men being permitted on each train. The last train, leaving New York at 2:59 A. M. and arriving at camp in bare time for the passengers to attend reveille, became famous as the "Owl."

The weekend passes not only afforded relaxation to the men after the arduous routine duties of the week, but also gave New York an excellent opportunity to see and judge its sons who had been transformed into soldiers-not nominally but in reality. Those above the draft age who "wished" that they "could be with you boys" regarded the men from Upton with growing envy. With uniforms neatly pressed and shoes shined to the Nth degree, they presented a very creditable appearance, the habits of personal cleanliness speaking for their training. They spoke of civilians with contempt and eagerly recounted their experiences to their proud families. They were in evidence everywhere, eliciting praises from proud Gotham. Especially noticeable were the newly appointed non-commissioned officers, who swaggered about the city with a great swinging of arms, the better to show off their new chevrons. One couldn't blame them for the pardonable pride they exhibited when first introduced as Sergeant or Corporal. The non-commissioned officers, always the mainstay of every army, surely proved their worth in the 77th Division, a few months later.

The 77th Ready for Overseas Duty

With just as much pride as the newly appointed non-commissioned officers, but perhaps a trifle more self-conscious, the officers from the Second Training Camps arrived at Upton to complete the quota of officers needed to fill up the regiments. Their initiation to camp was not under the most favorable circumstances, for December brought snow and literally transformed the camp into a sea of mud. Despite the setback to the training on account of the inclement weather, drills were carried on when possible supplemented by lectures and problems indoors.

The Artillery was occupied with its newly acquired horses. The Quartermasters worked over-time supplying much needed winter clothing and fuel. When transportation was lacking the men, themselves, cut the wood from the abundance of timber surrounding the camp and drew the coal wagons by hand. The Engineers, engaged in constructing a trench system, and a two hundred-target rifle range, had a taste of what a winter in the trenches might be like. The Medical Department began to come into its own. Not content with having inoculated everyone in camp four or five times, they conducted sanitary inspections of the barracks, which for minuteness made a company officer inspecting a rifle appear a mere novice. If only those medicos left behind in the states could have witnessed sanitary conditions at the front. Shades of Hippocrates!

December brought a slight relaxation in the intensiveness of the training. The Knights of Columbus and the Y. M. C. A. furnished nightly entertainment, either moving pictures or local talent, and men of national prominence drew large audiences to the auditorium. The regimental bands were, rounding into shape and gave very creditable concerts after drill hours. Every weekend brought thousands of friends and relatives to visit the soldiers. They arrived by train, in automobiles, and even in trucks, bringing with them good cheer and numerous gifts. The men saw to it that the visitors enjoyed a full day. There was always a sightseeing tour, including a view from the observation tower on Headquarters Hill. The various places of interest were pointed out, and the technical side of military life was explained. Each company generally held a dance in its barracks, and the Sabbath was desecrated by lively ragtime airs. With the weekly influx of visitors and the attendant good times, a weekend at camp was far from being a punishment. With the advent of the holidays, the entire camp was granted half-leave for Christmas, and half for New Year. A huge thirty-foot Christmas tree resplendent with colored electric lights was erected on " The Hill" and gifts were distributed by the Red Cross to those who remained in camp.

As an antidote for the holidays, work was speeded up in January. The rifle range completed, the men were initiated into the mysteries of the rifle. Every day saw the range crowded and despite adverse conditions of mud and cold, the majority made surprisingly good scores. The firing was done from trenches in the standing, kneeling, and prone positions, at stationary and disappearing targets and the men soon learned not to flinch and how best to get off ten to fifteen shots a minute with the maximum effect. Here were learned the lessons which were put to such excellent advantage months later in actual combat. The results confirmed the late Colonel Roosevelt's statement that the American youth is a born shot. The artillery, proud of its possession of a battery of three -inch guns, blazed away on the 3,000 yard range "somewhere in the wilderness" surrounding camp. Maneuvers were held daily, and mimic battles waged in the new trench system which the Engineers had constructed. Some days it seemed like real warfare, with the huge tank, brought from England, lumbering over "No-Man's Land," machine guns in emplacements, and the infantry going "over-the-top," their bayonets flashing in the winter sun. The men began to realize what modern warfare meant and talked intelligently of "zero hour," "parapets," "communication trenches," and other technical terms which a few months previous were as a closed book.

February brought no let up in the work but more lassitude was permitted for recreation. Each organization was allowed to hold a theater party in New York and the 308th Infantry scored a triumph with a parade down Fifth Ave. on the fourth of February, preceded by a show and a presentation of colors at the New York Hippodrome. This regiment was the first National Army unit to receive its colors and to parade before the people of New York. On Washington's Birthday the entire Division paraded before assembled Gotham. A light snow fen which, alighting on the drab uniforms, formed a striking contrast to the healthy faces of the men. The precision and unison with which the Division marched called for cheer upon cheer from the thousands gathered along the route of march. At the Public Library the Division was reviewed by the Secretary of the Navy. What a glow of pride the men felt as they realized that they were no longer spectators but the actual participants in the great war game in which they were to play such a stellar role. New York, generally so sparing with its praise, gave way to unbounded enthusiasm, which seemed to be a unanimous sanction of the manner in which its sons had been transformed. What a contrast to the motley bands which bad left for camp the previous September. Washington's Birthday marks the day when New York realized that the 77th Division had risen to the side of its sister division, the 27th, but while the latter organization was mothered by the State, the 77thwas New York City's own, and from that day hence the Division has proudly borne the title of " New York's Own. "

With the advent of blustery March came ever increasing and persistent rumors of sailing for France. And there was evidence in abundance to bear out the usually fickle Dame Rumor, equipment of every sort began to arrive in unprecedented quantities. Each piece had to be stamped and stenciled with the name and number of the organization to which it belonged. It was an easy task to obtain a superfluity of eager volunteers to speed the work of preparation. Soon the neat, orderly barracks of the past assumed the aspect of warehouses. Boxes were constructed and piled along the walls, each bearing besides the name of the organization and the speculative destination-A. E. F., the new Division insignia, the Statue of Liberty. There was row upon row of clothing assorted into sizes, revolvers, tents, saddles, harness, canteens, belts, and the thousand and one accoutrements which are necessary adjuncts to the fighting man. It was universally conceded that Uncle Sam was generous, there had been plenty of work, an abundance of drill, sufficient food and now there seemed to be a superabundance of equipment. The Government was generous to its enlisted personnel, but to the officers-no. They received a forbidding list of necessities which they themselves were compelled to purchase and many a bank account was taxed to the limit and many a note taken for those "necessities" later to be thrown away or uselessly stored in some warehouse in France.

After the middle of the month everyone realized that the day of departure was imminent and the joyous days of Upton were soon to fade into memories. Major General Bell was relieved from command on account of physical disability shortly after his return from France and he was succeeded by Brigadier General Evan M. Johnson, up to this time the Commander of the 154th Infantry Brigade. Carrying out the liberal policy of his predecessor, General Johnson granted passes to everyone desiring to visit their families. Tearful relatives and friends flooded camp for a farewell talk with their soldier boy, only to be told by that person, in very confident and calm tones, not at all indicative of the emotions that were surging within him, that the Division would not leave for months. They were comforted and went away appeased which was best. But the soldier knew, and to cover the sadness he felt at the proximity of parting from his loved ones gave way to his pent-up emotions by riotous parades, bonfires, and a great banging of kitchen utensils. Everyone joined in the celebrations with a vim, which was indicative of the spirit in which the Division later went up against and so ably helped to defeat the Boche.

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