A Soldier from Camp Shanks 1942
Our soldier would have grown up in Orangetown and been born around 1923. He would have remembered the desperate years of the Great Depression and how the Principal of the Tappan Grammar School, William O. Schaefer made the school a safe haven for his students, hosting many activities such as movies, plays and sleigh riding on the hill in back of the school. Many men, once gainfully employed were out of work and became tramps. A large X drawn on a house front indicated that a tramp could get a free meal; our soldier's mother might have provided a fried egg sandwich and a cup of coffee to a needy traveler. The Miller Grocery Store on Western Highway across from the railroad station would let families buy groceries on credit during those hard times. Few people had cars, except for still running Model A's, the German hopmobile (the Volkswagen of the 1920's), the Stutz or the Kissel. One could play miniature golf at the Mamitsch greenhouses on the eastside of Ann Drive. A small green bus ran from Tappan to Nyack, which was a shopping center for the surrounding area and also had the Rockland Theatre where you could see a film for 10 or 20 cents. This isolated, semirural lifestyle was changed forever with the opening of Camp Shanks.
Camp Shanks was constructed on 2,040 acres in Orangetown which extended 2.5 miles north of Tappan along Western Highway. The western heights above Tappan and Orangeburg, the site of vegetable farms and orchards stretching as far as could be seen, was the chosen site for the camp. The county's change from rural community to crowded suburb did not begin with the opening of the opening of the Tappan Zee Bridge, the Palisades Interstate Parkway but with the construction of Camp Shanks. The peaceful rural scene was quite suddenly transformed. The camp was quickly constructed within a couple of months in the fall of 1942 and was formally opened January 4, 1943. Camp Shanks became one of the largest troop staging areas of WWII, processing an average of 40,000 soldiers per month. A total of 1,362,630 American Servicemen were moved through Camp Shanks, which was the major east-coast Port of Embarkation for troops headed overseas. The government added wood planking and a ferry slip to the Piermont Pier so that departing GI's could board the harbor boats that would take them downriver to Europe bound troop carriers awaiting them in New York Harbor. There were also troop ships docked in Piermont that would head out directly oversea
The camp contained seven staging areas, including one for WAC's, (Women's Army Corps) and one for medical units being sent overseas. In all the camp contained 1,800 buildings, consisting of barracks, headquarters buildings, post exchange stores, chapels, a laundry, bakery and a hospital. The huge camp had its own baseball team, newspaper and symphony orchestra, which hosted such guests as Oscar Levant, Frank Sinatra and Jimmy Durante. Our soldier would have been aware of German and Italian POW's at the camp. His navy counterpart might have served on the massive aircraft carrier, USS Enterprise, the most decorated ship of WWII that famously participated in the battle of Midway. After the closing of Camp Shanks the need for Veteran housing was satisfied with the establishment of Shanks Village in September of 1946. Our soldier may have lived there with his young family while attending Columbia University; New York University or City College. The world had changed dramatically and the war became a memory on which to build a bright new future.