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US Army Photograph of Camp Kilmer, NJ
US Army Photograph of Camp Kilmer, NJ

Camp Kilmer, New Jersey is a former United States Army camp that was activated in June 1942 as a staging area and part of an installation of the New York Port of Embarkation. The camp was organized as part of the Army Service Forces Transportation Corps. Troops were quartered at Camp Kilmer in preparation for transport to the European Theater of Operations in World War II. Eventually, it became the largest processing center for troops heading overseas and returning from World War II, processing over 2.5 million soldiers. It officially closed in 2009.

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  • Interview with Ralph Martire, WWII veteran. CCSU Veterans History Project
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  • Interview with Francis J. Vail, WWII veteran. CCSU Veterans History Project.

Transcription

TRANSCRIBER: Mary Lou Mellinger - July 12, 2011 MASTIONI: Okay. Today is March 27, 2010. I'm at 115 Summer Street in Stratford, Connecticut, and I'm about to interview Ralph Martire, who was born on February 2, 1924. Okay. So let's see. Ralph, you're a veteran of World War II. Let's go back now and let's talk about events leading up to your entering into the service. What were you doing at the time? Where were you living prior to your going into the service? So let's talk about that a little bit. MARTIRE: Well, I was living at 93 Commercial Street. I think I was still in school, Central High School. And before I went in, it was all talk about the Japanese bombing Pearl Harbor, and this sort of got us all going, all wanting to enlist into the service, and I was one of the ones that went in early. I didn't wait for the draft, really. I had to register for the draft, but I didn't wait for it. I went in a little earlier, and I went to Texas for training. And it's comical how I got the name "Martire," because my family all say "Martire," I say "Martire," because when I was training in camp, the sergeant was always yelling at me, "Martire, get in step." So I picked up the name. For some reason I start calling myself "Martire," and until today I still call myself "Martire," remembering my old sergeant. MASTIONI: You selected the Army? MARTIRE: Yeah. MASTIONI: Any reason why the Army? MARTIRE: No, no reason really. At first I wanted to be a Marine, I wanted to join the Marines. But I went into the Army, which was okay with me. I started my training at Camp Barkeley, Texas. MASTIONI: Camp Barkeley, Texas, training for, what were you -- MARTIRE: Infantry training. MASTIONI: Okay. And at the same time did you have any other family members also in the service? MARTIRE: My brother Frank was in the service. MASTIONI: Talk a little bit about Frank. MARTIRE: Frank went into the Pacific. He landed on Guadalcanal, and he was wounded there on Guadalcanal. He lost part of his leg. He came home, but he's no longer around, he passed away. MASTIONI: So getting back to your training, now, was in -- you said in Texas was your training? MARTIRE: Yeah, Texas. MASTIONI: So you had your infantry training? MARTIRE: Infantry training in Texas, and then we went to Louisiana from Texas, and then from Louisiana we went to California desert to get desert training, and I guess it was all the time we had. We shipped to New Jersey. From New Jersey we went to -- we went into Fort Dix, New Jersey. And then from Fort Dix we went to New York to get aboard the ships that were going, we had to join the convoy going overseas. And we landed at Birmingham, England. And at Birmingham is where we were taking our training for D-Day Landing, but we didn't know what we were going to do. It was just training as far as we were concerned. Then from Birmingham, we got our orders to ship out, and we went to Liverpool and got onto the ships. And we sat in the English Channel for five days waiting for our orders, and finally General Eisenhower made a speech saying that June 6, 1944 we were to land in Normandy. So our outfit landed at Utah Beach on D-Day. MASTIONI: When you said "landed," were you one that went into one of those -- MARTIRE: Landing barges. MASTIONI: -- landing barges? MARTIRE: Yeah. MASTIONI: And talk about that experience. There must have been a lot of noise and -- MARTIRE: Well, there was -- we were very quiet. No noise, we were very quiet, because everybody was thinking their own thoughts. But to get on the landing barge is what scared me. You're so far up on the ship, you got to climb down those ladders with all your equipment on you, and you got to step down the landing barge -- to get onto the landing barge, and if you got to the bottom, if you didn't wait for that -- the waves were so bad, if you didn't wait for that barge to come close to ship, then you jump, and if you jump too soon, you got crushed. You know what I mean? So that was something that scared us very much. MASTIONI: And you mentioned that the sea was pretty rough? MARTIRE: The sea was rough, yeah. The English Channel was very rough. MASTIONI: So as you're going in, can you see anything when you were going toward the shore? MARTIRE: No, you don't see anything. You don't see -- you saw a lot of ships and a lot of men going ashore, and then when you start landing, when the landing barge -- when the landing barge goes down and you have to start running out, that's when you, you realize you're being shot at, because all of a sudden you see some of your men falling into the water because they got hit. And we got to the beaches and you crawl and -- you lay down and you crawl. I laid down next to a man who had been hit, he was dead already, and the shells that were coming were hitting him more, that's how I missed those shells. But you start crawling, crawling. Then you get up on your feet and you're able to move faster on foot. And we pushed our way in with all the firing that was going on, all of the shells that were exploding next to you, the machine gun fire. Oh, it was, it was -- you can't even explain it, really. It was too loud. And we finally got to where we got some high land and some cover. And then we, after that, we moved into the hedgerows, which were -- MASTIONI: Before we get into the hedgerows, so from the time that you landed on the beach until you -- what did you do, reassemble your outfit at -- MARTIRE: Well, we were all together, really. See, everybody that landed, they landed together with their company, and we were all together, and we were spaced apart, though, but we were close enough together that when we hit the high ground, we had cover, we got organized, and then we started to move inward. MASTIONI: Had you suffered casualties at that point? MARTIRE: Oh, yeah, we had casualties all around us. Men were dropping like flies. They were wounded, you know. I mean, some got killed, but a lot of them got wounded and shells popping. I saw one guy, his arm go flying off him, you know, so he got hit with shrapnel bad and his arm just went the other way. But he fell down, yelling, you know. And other guys, they got hit, yelled when they got hit, but then when they laid down that was it, they died, because there was no -- the medics were not there at the time. The medics came up after and start picking up the wounded and trying to save them, you know. MASTIONI: Did you encounter the enemy? Did you see the enemy at that point in time? MARTIRE: We could only see pillboxes, and the firing that was coming from there, that's all we could see, and we knew we had to take those pillboxes. They were all -- you know, they were in cement encasings, and they just had a slit where they were firing machine guns from. There were no German troops outside. Those -- the pillboxes were defending the beaches. When we passed those pillboxes, that's when we start meeting the enemy. And then we got into the hedgerows, where we had to -- we'd be in one hedgerow and the enemy would be in the other hedgerow, which the other hedgerow was about a hundred feet, a football field, of open space. We had to go in that open space to crawl and get to the enemy that was in the hedgerows firing at us, until we can get some tanks in there and the tanks were able to plow through and make openings for us. And that's the way we got -- took over the hedgerows. Then it started where you'd be chasing the Germans, the German Army were running backwards, you know what I mean, to fall back, and as they fell back, we just -- following them, firing at them. And then started where we come into the towns. We were scheduled to go into Cherbourg, and we had a rough time getting into Cherbourg, believe me, but we finally took it, and Cherbourg was at the end of the peninsula. And finally we start, we start hitting the hedgerows, and when we hit the hedgerows, that's when we -- we were losing a lot of men, a lot of men, but the hedgerows were not too long anyway. We fought in about maybe one, two, three, four, finally the end of the hedgerows. But in that open area, we lost a lot of men, a lot of men. MASTIONI: Were you injured during -- MARTIRE: Not at that time, no. I was very lucky, until I came to -- when we came to Thionville, that's when I got hit with shrapnel bad. I was taking the fellows back, and we got them back. They were wounded pretty bad. MASTIONI: This is when you received your first of two Bronze Stars; am I correct? MARTIRE: Yeah. MASTIONI: Talk to us about what happened at that time. MARTIRE: Well, I don't know, it's hard. What happened was, you know, you're not thinking of what's going on, you're not thinking you're going to get hit. You're thinking of saving the fellows that are laying on the ground hurt. And you check them, you pick them up, you put them on a jeep, you had a jeep that you're able to get to, and you pick them up and put them on a jeep and head back to headquarters where you can get them into a, what we called hospitals then, but they were just tents that -- something like a MASH unit, you know. And the doctors then would take over and check their injuries, and then you would just go back and start your own routine again and join your outfit. MASTIONI: I just want to read what your citation says. MARTIRE: Yeah. MASTIONI: It says that "PFC Ralph Martire, fully aware of a sniper infested street, together with one other man exposed --" MARTIRE: Right. MASTIONI: "-- himself to direct small arms fire and drove to an outpost position knowing that it was under constant mortar fire." MARTIRE: Um-um. MASTIONI: "As he arrived at the outpost shelter, enemy shell landed wounding two of the OP personnel. Disregarding his own safety and disregarding the succeeding incoming shells, he remained in the open and succeeded in bringing wounded men into a position of safety. After an inspection of their wounds, PFC Martire, again fully aware of the danger, drove the wounded men to the aide station." So you exposed yourself to enemy fire and you -- MARTIRE: Well -- MASTIONI: -- you saved some men that otherwise would have died at your own risk. MARTIRE: Yeah, but see, you say you expose yourself to enemy fire, there's enemy fire all the time. I mean, you know, you're in the front lines, there's enemy fire all the time. You don't -- you try to avoid it all the time. You duck here and you duck there and you crawl here, you know what I mean? You look for shelter all the time. But in a situation like that, you don't think. You don't think. You just -- you're just so concerned about the men, you want to save their lives and that's how it happens, you know. You do -- what should I say, you do crazy things I think, not realizing you have the strength to do it, and you're not hit yet, you're not, you know, so you go ahead and you do, you try to save the poor fellow that's hit. MASTIONI: Were there any experiences that you had with hand to hand against the enemy? MARTIRE: Oh, yeah. That was later on, when we were -- MASTIONI: Well, let's continue, then. So you fought out of the hedgerows? MARTIRE: Yeah. MASTIONI: And now you're -- were you -- did you say Cherbourg, were are you saying? MARTIRE: The town of Cherbourg, yeah. MASTIONI: Okay. And you continued -- MARTIRE: Yeah. MASTIONI: -- heading toward Germany? MARTIRE: Yeah. MASTIONI: Now, you were involved in another major battle, maybe it was a little later, the Battle of the Bulge? MARTIRE: Yeah. Well, that was toward the end, the Battle of the Bulge. MASTIONI: Okay. So before the Battle of the Bulge, take us -- what happened leading up to that? MARTIRE: Well, like I said, in Thionville, when we took the town of Thionville, that's where I got -- I think I got hit with shrapnel in Thionville. I was saving those fellows. MASTIONI: Okay. So that's when you got wounded? MARTIRE: Yeah. MASTIONI: Were you taken off the line? Tell us about where did you go? MARTIRE: I wasn't taken off the line -- I was taken off the line as far as getting my wounds taken care of, but then as soon as I was able to walk around, get up and get on my feet, I went back to the front. MASTIONI: Okay. MARTIRE: I went back to the front. And then we -- the town of Verdun, city of Verdun, town of Verdun, we took that, the town of Verdun. MASTIONI: When you say you took the town, was it a battle going into the town? MARTIRE: A battle going into the town, yeah. MASTIONI: And was it the kind of thing where you had to clear the houses? MARTIRE: Yeah, house to house fighting. Every time you went in, it was house to house fighting. MASTIONI: And talk about that a little bit. What -- when you say -- what is that like, each room, each building? MARTIRE: Each building. Each building really you, you have to take the building. You have to -- you lay down on the ground, you take cover, first of all, to see where the firing is coming from, and then you start going toward that house that has the fellow in there shooting at you. And you got to work where two or three guys do different things to draw the attention of the guy that's in the building, and then have one guy be able to get up close enough to throw a hand grenade in the window and knock him out, you know. Like the one time we came to this house that was full with Germans, and it was a stone wall, our company was up against a stone wall and we were seeing, trying to fire at them and we were not succeeding very well. So the company commander started ordering four or five men over the wall to crawl and see how far -- close they can get to the house. Well, the first five men didn't make it at all. They got, they got shot getting over the wall, and then they got shot when they were on the ground. So he'd order another five men. I was there on my knees praying he wouldn't call my name. But I wasn't that lucky, he called my name. So I had to go over that wall, and fortunately I got over, and I crawled, I crawled by the -- past the men that were wounded already, some of them were wounded, some were dead. So I started taking cover and crawling. And finally I got to where the fellows that were in -- the Germans that were in the house couldn't shoot at you because their machine gun was angled at a certain angle. So I got underneath the strafing of the machine gun and got up to that house and I was able to throw grenades into the window and knocked them out, and then the rest of the company came up and we took the house. So I don't know, maybe they say that was heroism or whatever, but it was just a job you had to do. MASTIONI: Did you get a Bronze Star for that, also? MARTIRE: Yeah; yeah. It's just something you had to do at the time, and you weren't alone doing it, there was another guy doing it with you, you know, and together we'd throw hand grenades in, you know, and that's the only way I can describe it. Then you go on to another area as we keep moving forward. I don't remember the towns or the -- small towns or anything like that, it's just that -- MASTIONI: During this time, talk a little bit about were you getting any letters at all? Were you mailing any letters? Did you hear anything about what was happening at home at that point? MARTIRE: No. No, I didn't receive any mail. I didn't receive any mail for a good four months. I didn't know what was going on back home. MASTIONI: What about food? Talk about what did you have to eat when you were doing all this. MARTIRE: Well, that's it, food, we had what we had on our back, our K-rations and our C-rations. But there's one thing we found out, that the French people, they used to store hard boiled eggs in jars down in their cellars. And when we took these houses, the first thing we'd all do is run down the cellar and get the jars of eggs, fresh eggs, and we'd open those jars and eat the eggs because they were good. MASTIONI: As opposed to your K-rations and C-rations? MARTIRE: As opposed -- well, K-rations, K-rations were in a box form, and you would get a chocolate bar and some small cans of ground up eggs, you know, scrambled eggs in there, and that's what you would eat. You opened the can, you'd open the can with your bayonet and you would eat the scrambled eggs and with the slice of chocolate and a cookie, you know, it was a square cookie. But the C-rations were more of like a dinner and a supper. The dinner was cheese, a round piece of cheese and with crackers, crackers in all of them. And then the supper was chopped meat in there, ham or something like that, you know, with crackers and eggs and stuff like all ground up, and that was your, that was your meals and that's what we ate. That's all we had to eat. We never had a warm meal until, oh, I think until we were halfway through France, that the Red Cross was able to send up a truck, you know, with warm meals. And we'd line up there and get a hot coffee and something warm to eat, the Red Cross would give it to us, and then we'd go back, right back up to the front. MASTIONI: Your clothing, did you have changes of clothing or -- MARTIRE: No, no change of clothing at all. We wore the same clothes we started battle with. MASTIONI: In fact, isn't this one of your -- you talk about what this is. MARTIRE: Yeah. This is the coat I had on in the Battle of the Bulge, but you can see this coat is -- had to battle itself. But I still wear it. I wear it when I shovel snow now, you know. But this coat, this coat is -- it weighs a ton. But this is what we wore in the Battle of the Bulge, because the snow was about knee deep and we were very cold, and I, I just can't part with it. That's all. This coat is ready for the dump right now, but I can't part with it. It's got too many memories, because it fits me yet and I wear it proudly out there shoveling snow, you know. It's just part of me. I can't get away from it. That's all. I just can't get away from it. It started to deteriorate, the sleeves and all, see, but it's almost as old as I am. In fact, I think it is as old as I am. I'm 86 years old, and I think this coat might be a little older than me. But I love it. It brings back memories all the time. MASTIONI: In a minute we're going to look around the room and I want you to point out some of the things. I notice you have your uniform here, the weapon you carried and so forth. We'll talk about those in a minute, but let's go continue now leading up to the Battle of the Bulge. Where were you when that event took place? MARTIRE: That's hard to remember. MASTIONI: You don't remember what town, what area you were in? MARTIRE: No. MASTIONI: Okay. Well, what's your, what -- talk about the first, the first time -- what happened here? MARTIRE: We were in Bastogne I know. We were in Bastogne, and it's something I never even concentrated on. It's a lot of -- we were so covered with snow and so cold, that there wasn't much fighting going on in the beginning, but we were taken, there was a bunch of us there, there was -- we had mixed outfits in there, and we were taken by surprise. These Germans came, as I remember, they were speaking English and they were dressed in American uniforms, so we didn't think they were the enemy and they took us by surprise. And they, they had us lined up, and we thought that the Germans were going to be taking us to a prison camp when we saw their trucks backing up toward us, but then when they -- the flaps, they threw the flaps up, we saw the machine guns, two Germans manning the machine guns, and they started to fire at us. So when they started to fire at us, myself and another fellow threw ourselves down the hill. We were running on -- like on top of a hill, and we threw, rolled down the hill. We rolled quite aways, and we were all covered with snow and we just stayed there. We didn't move. They didn't come after us, because the American troops were coming in, you know, and so they took off. And the American troops that came in, when we heard them, that's when we uncovered ourselves from the snow and we joined them and got to our outfit again. But that's the experience of that one. The battle itself was a big battle. It was a lot of firing, a lot of mortar fire, a lot of cannon fire, snow flying all over the place, and -- I don't know. MASTIONI: Did you engage in personal -- any personal contact with -- MARTIRE: Yeah, I did at one time at hand to hand combat, I can't think of the town we were coming into, but I came across this young German. I overtook him, I hit him with a rifle, and he fell down, and I was going to bayonet him when he start, he start calling for his mother. He start going "Mommy, mommy, mommy." And I knelt down next to him and I says to him "You speak English?" And he said "Yes." I says "Why are you calling for your mother?" He says "I don't want to die." He says "I want my mommy." I said "All right. I'll tell you what. I'm going to put this bayonet between your arm and your chest. I'm going to make it look like I stabbed you. Pretend you're dead when I move away from you." "Okay." He said "Okay." And I did it, and up 'til today, I don't know if he's alive or what, you know what I mean, because we had other soldier, and if he made any move at all while the other soldiers came up he would have got killed, because they would have finished him off figuring he didn't get it when he -- you know, when the first wave of soldiers hit. So 'til today, I don't know if he's alive or not, or if he lived, you know, as long as I have. I know he was younger than me. He was about 16 or 17 I think. So he may not be alive today. But that's the only time I really came face to face with a German youth, that's what he was, he was a German youth. And after that, it was more house to house fighting, as you took a town, it was house to house. MASTIONI: And this continued -- MARTIRE: All the way through. MASTIONI: -- all the way through? MARTIRE: All the way through. Every -- if you follow the battle route of the 90th Division, you'll see the towns. It's hard for me to remember the towns, but there's another town, Weiden I remember we took, you know. There's so many towns, it's hard to remember them. MASTIONI: Do you remember eventually when you crossed into Germany, do you recall that? MARTIRE: Yeah, we went through Frankfurt, Germany. Yeah, we went through Frankfurt, and then we went through Nuremberg, Nabburg, Germany, we took those towns, and then we occupied Nabburg, Germany. MASTIONI: Didn't you also see one of the death camps? Can you talk about that experience? MARTIRE: Well, yes. We went into Dachau. Dachau. We went to Dachau and we had to clean out the camps. We had to scrape out the ovens with skeletons in there and the -- pile up the dead bodies. And we had the French, French people help us do it, you know, and the German soldiers that we took prisoner, we had them pile up all the dead people. And there were so many dead people in there, it was really sickening. They were just piled on top of one another anyway, because the Germans used to, when they died, they piled them up. That's all they did, was just pile them up. There were piles and piles of them. So we had to transport them all out of there to a cemetery that they dug these big graves, you know, just one big unit, and they would bulldoze it and then bulldozed the people in there with the bulldozers. You didn't get individual burials, because they were all mixed. There were French people in there. There were Jewish people in there. There were Americans in there. There were Germans in there that were prisoners. They were all just mixed people. It's big, big shame. Big shame. We couldn't get over it. In fact, I couldn't get over it. I kept seeing those people for years, until finally I think -- I don't know. There were times I even threw up. MASTIONI: When the war ended, then, you were in Nuremberg, Germany when the war ended? MARTIRE: Yeah, Nabburg, Nuremberg and Nabburg. MASTIONI: Did they come across, they announced that the war is over? MARTIRE: Yeah, right. MASTIONI: And now what happens to you at that point? MARTIRE: Well, we stayed in Nabburg and we occupied Nabburg, and we had it set up like a table at the street, the border lines, you know, and we'd see these guys come walking by, they could be German soldiers dressed in civilian clothes and we'd strip them of their identity to see who they are, and if they're German soldiers then we put them aside, but if they're civilians we let them go. So we had to do that in Nabburg. MASTIONI: The town, a lot of damage, a lot of buildings damaged? MARTIRE: Oh, buildings were blown apart, because the Air Force comes over and drops bombs, you know. MASTIONI: You were still -- were you staying in a home? Were you still sleeping outside? MARTIRE: Well, in Nabburg, in Nabburg we took over a hotel, and what we did was we set a certain room off for the headquarters company, you know, office and so forth, and the men would sleep upstairs or across the street in the other part of the hotel, you know. But we took over the hotel in Nabburg, I don't know what they called it, but we had a sign out there saying verboten, that meant forbidden, you know, for anybody else but the American soldiers. MASTIONI: And then from there did you -- did they give you R and R? Where did you go from there? Did they give you R and R to go to France? MARTIRE: Well, yeah, we were stationed then in Nabburg, Germany, and they sent us to Paris, and then they sent us to Marseille, and Marseille was the last trip I took. That's in September. MASTIONI: I'm going to point the camera to a picture you have on the wall and you can just point out, this is you in Marseille, isn't it? It says on it what, September '45 -- MARTIRE: Yeah, that says September '45. That's I'm walking down one of the streets in Marseille. MASTIONI: Okay. MARTIRE: Yeah, and that's another German, that's a soldier behind me. And I always say, if you look at the expression on my face, you'll see it says don't fuss with me, of course I used a different word, but now I'm just saying don't fool with me. That's the expression I have on my face. MASTIONI: Now, I'm also going over to the picture which shows your -- the medals that you received. MARTIRE: Up there, yeah. That's me dressed in uniform, and the Purple Heart, the Bronze Star, D-Day Landing, the Victory, the World War II Victory Medal, the Verdun Medal, for taking the town of Verdun, D-Day Landing, German Occupation, the Good Conduct, you got to get that one in there, Good Conduct Medal, and then the Expert Rifleman, Bayonet man and Marksman. That's the rifle for infantry. MASTIONI: Now I'm looking at the picture of Memories from the Front. Is that you in the middle holding the dog? MARTIRE: That's me in the middle there, and the dog I'm holding is -- the only reason I am holding him, he was -- we just took that little town, I don't know what the town was, but he was eating a German, a dead German's foot, and I took him away from that. I didn't want him to eat that German's foot. I couldn't take him with me, though. I had to let him go. He was a good little boy. MASTIONI: Let's go over to -- MARTIRE: This is me standing at a pillbox that we just took. MASTIONI: Okay. Yes. MARTIRE: Yeah, right there. And this is me riding a horse in Nabburg, Germany. I had my own horse then. MASTIONI: Okay. MARTIRE: And this is in Camp Barkeley. I met a fellow Bridgeporter in France. Here's training here with the bayonet and rifle in Camp Barkeley. And this is on our ship on the way back home. I'm feeding Fatso. I called him that. He was -- and these were some of the fellows that were -- some of them they're buried in France. And here I'm standing by a pillbox we just took. MASTIONI: Can you point out the weapons that you brought back? MARTIRE: Yeah. I got the German luger over there, and my M1 rifle with the bayonet right there, the bottom one, and the saber in the middle was a German officer's saber. That's my M1 rifle there. MASTIONI: And I also notice that on another wall here you have your uniform. I'm going to go over to that. MARTIRE: Oh, yeah. MASTIONI: And was that the actual uniform that you wore? MARTIRE: Yeah, that's the uniform. They called it the Eisenhower jacket. They did away with the long jacket. MASTIONI: And it has all your -- also all your ribbons on it? MARTIRE: Yeah, it has the ribbons from the medals, yeah, and the hats and whatever. MASTIONI: Okay. All right. And let's finish up with a few more questions so why don't we go sit back down. And this, I would like to get a picture of this bust, too, of you. Who did that? MARTIRE: I don't remember the company. It's a company in Illinois. Do you want me to hold it up or what -- MASTIONI: No, I -- MARTIRE: -- get the writing? MASTIONI: Yeah. Okay. Just a few more questions. If you can sit back down. MARTIRE: Okay. Yeah. MASTIONI: Okay. So now you -- the war is over, you were -- from Marseille you came back on the ship to -- MARTIRE: Camp Kilmer. Camp Kilmer, New Jersey. MASTIONI: In New Jersey. And you called home and got some devastating news. MARTIRE: Yeah. MASTIONI: Tell us about that. MARTIRE: Well, when I called home, you know, I was talking to my sister, and then we talked for a little bit, you know, I was in the phone booth in Camp Kilmer. And my sister, I says -- I said hello to my father, because he didn't speak English at all, my father. So then I told my sister to put my mother on the phone. And when I told her that, she says "You didn't get the news?" I says "No. What news?" She says "Well, mom passed away." I says "Well, I didn't get the news." I was never notified. So I asked when did she die, and they said she died in October, and that's when I came home, in October. So I just missed her. But that was a blow. I put my fist through the window of the phone booth, I broke the window, because I didn't like the news I got. That's all. MASTIONI: You come back home. Tell us about what did you do getting re-acclimated, and what did you do as far as a job and so forth. MARTIRE: Yeah. Well, once I got home I took a job at Underwood Corporation. And then from Underwood, I went to Vitramon, which was making the capacitors for the missiles. So after Vitramon -- I got bored there because there was nothing else I could do, because they made me a foreman there and I got the production, I got the production going and I got quality control, you know, there was nothing else I could do. So I was 38 years old and I decided to go back to school. I went to embalming college in New York, McCallister School of Embalming, and I had to go three years there for that. So while I went to school, I took a job at Avco at nighttime, and I went to work at 11:00 at night to 7:00 in the morning, and then I would catch the 7:10 train out of Stratford to New York, to be at college at 9:00. And I did that for three years. I graduated McCallister School of Embalming. Then I had to go up to the state board, take a state board exam, and luckily I passed that, so I got my embalmer's license. And when I got my embalmer's license I had to serve apprenticeship, and I served it with Louis Abriola Funeral Home. But when I got my license, I called the school, because the rest of my class, they were all New Yorkers and New Jersey students, so I told the dean that I passed my state board. So he was very happy to hear that, and he said wouldn't I be glad to -- would I want to come in to New York to give a lecture to the class, he says because they're taking, you know, what do you call it, to -- MASTIONI: History of the war? MARTIRE: No, to give -- to rehearse -- refresher course, you know, because they didn't take their state boards in New York and New Jersey. So I says "I'll be glad to." So I went into New York and I stepped up in front of my old class, you know, and I says "What's your problem," you know, "Why you taking a refresher course?" I says "If a dummy like me could pass a state board," I says "you guys, you're all kids, you should be able to pass it," because they were all just out of high school. So they cheered and yelled. And I says "All right. Any questions for you, you know, you got any questions, ask me." And they asked how the test was and what was on it, and I says "Well, you know, Connecticut is probably different than New York and New Jersey," I says "so -- but I imagine the same thing will be on there." I says "Study those things and I think you'll make it." So I found out after that they all did pass their state boards, and they thanked me for it. MASTIONI: So you were older, you went -- MARTIRE: I was 38 years old. MASTIONI: Thirty-eight years old. You didn't use the GI Bill? MARTIRE: No, I didn't use the GI Bill. I really didn't know anything about the GI Bill really when I came out. And I even mentioned it later on, I says, "You know, I should have taken advantage of that when I was able to, huh?" Didn't I mention that? And I says "Then maybe I should have gone to become a lawyer or a doctor or something," you know. But the embalming I paid for myself, you know, I paid for it myself, and so I took the shortest thing. I was thinking of being either a doctor or a lawyer, or -- but it was too long, you know, going to school, so I didn't, you know, I didn't -- MASTIONI: Your military experience, which is quite extensive, do you still think about your experiences? How did they affect your life as you are now and do you still think about that? MARTIRE: I still think about it. I still think about it a lot. I wake up at night sometimes. I don't like to talk about it. That's all. My family gives me hell because I don't tell them anything, and I can't help it. MASTIONI: Did you join any organizations, veteran organizations? You mentioned you never talk about your experiences. You never joined any other groups? MARTIRE: No. No. They wanted me to join the VFW, because I remember they had the VFW at one of my birthday parties, all right, and they gave me a lifetime -- MASTIONI: Membership. MARTIRE: -- membership I guess, but I never -- because I don't go and sit down and drink beer and, you know, talk things about different things. I don't do that. So I never went. I could have gone to the VFW right here in Stratford. MASTIONI: And finally, is there anything that we've left out of this interview that you would, you know, want to add? MARTIRE: Well, the only thing is, I'm very proud that I was able to do what I did, help out this country as much as I did, if I did, and I'm proud of all the veterans that served with me and all the veterans that didn't come home, they're the heroes as far as I'm concerned. I was just part of them, but they're the heroes, I'm not. I came home. That's all I can say I guess. MASTIONI: Thank you, Ralph.

Contents

Origins and history

The camp was named for Joyce Kilmer, a poet killed in World War I while serving with 69th Infantry Regiment. His home was in nearby New Brunswick, New Jersey.[1]

The site was selected in 1941 by the War Department as the best site to serve the New York Port of Embarkation. Construction began in early 1942. Located in Piscataway Township, New Jersey and Edison Township, New Jersey at 40°31′00″N 74°26′45″W / 40.51667°N 74.44583°W / 40.51667; -74.44583, the closest city was New Brunswick located two miles to the south. Plainfield was located four miles north of the camp. New York City, about 22 miles to the northeast, could be reached by the mainline of the Pennsylvania Railroad. A flyover loop crossing the four-track mainline (now the Amtrak NEC) allowed movements into the large train loading yards without interference with mainline traffic. Many troop embarkations would be at the New Jersey locations of Military Ocean Terminal at Bayonne and Hoboken. The camp was also served by the Port Reading branch of the Reading Railroad and the Amboy branch of the Lehigh Valley Railroad.

Camp Kilmer Map
Camp Kilmer Map

The post was activated in June 1942[1] and the first unit to arrive at Camp Kilmer was the 332nd Engineer General Service Regiment, a complement of 1,239 enlisted men and 52 officers. The unit arrived July 22, 1942 on three separate trains from Camp Claiborne, Louisiana. The buildings were constructed of wood and were painted bright contrasting colors for a camouflage effect. This was similar to the dazzle camouflage used for ships in World War I. The camp primarily consisted of ten "Disposition Areas", or sets of barracks in which units and soldiers were assigned while awaiting transportation to Europe.[2]

At Camp Kilmer troops sent personal effects home, received medical injections and the supplies needed before loading onto transport ships for travel to the European Theater of Operations. After V-E Day, the post was used to deprocess troops returning from Europe, prior to sending them on to their local Personnel Center, Separation Center or Reception Station.[3] The camp remained active until the fall of 1949 when it was no longer needed.

Post-War Use and Closure

A color guard from the 77th Division (Training) takes down the colors for the last time during the Kilmer U.S. Army Reserve Center's inactivation ceremony.
A color guard from the 77th Division (Training) takes down the colors for the last time during the Kilmer U.S. Army Reserve Center's inactivation ceremony.

In the fall of 1950, with hostilities in Korea, the camp was reactivated. It was placed on inactive status again in June 1955. In November 1956 it served as an initial place for housing for refugees from the 1956 Hungarian Revolution until June 1957. In March 1958, Camp Kilmer became Headquarters for the U.S. Army II Corps, the controlling headquarters for United States Army Reserve units across the northeast. Camp Kilmer also housed a maintenance and repair facility supporting the Nike/Hercules missile sites in the greater New York metropolitan area. This facility included large, armored rooms with heavy blast doors where missile engines and conventional warheads were stored and maintained.

During the Cold War after the failed 1956 Hungarian Revolution 30,000 refugees were resettled at Camp Kilmer. Many settled in New Brunswick, which had a thriving Hungarian American community in its Fifth Ward.[4]

In 1963, most of the 1600 acres was auctioned and sold to local governments, and Rutgers University. The Livingston College campus currently sits on 540-acres acquired by Rutgers in 1964.Camp Kilmer By the 1960s much of the Camp's properties and land were dispersed. Today, there is a Vocational Training Center located at the site as well as housing and schools.Camp Kilmer

The concentration camp scenes for the 1964 movie The Pawnbroker were filmed in the section of Camp Kilmer which had been used for the movement of prisoners-of-war.

Throughout the 1980s and 90s, the remnants of Camp Kilmer, then known as the Sergeant Joyce Kilmer Reserve Center, was the location for Headquarters, 78th Division (TS) and for the Division's 1st Brigade (BCST) headquarters, both units of the US Army Reserve. The 78th Division (TS), nicknamed the "Lightning Division" or "Jersey Lightning", is the lineal descendant of the 78th Division of World War I and the 78th Infantry Division of World War II. The current 78th Division (TS) is responsible for conducting simulations exercises and field training for US Army Reserve and Army National Guard units across 14 states from North Carolina to the Canada–US border.

In the immediate aftermath of the September 11th terrorist attacks, the Federal Emergency Management Agency created a temporary headquarters at the facility.[5]

As of October 2009 the Sergeant Joyce Kilmer Reserve Center was closed as per the recommendation of the Base Realignment and Closure, 2005.[6] The last tenant units relocated to Fort Dix.In Fall 2014 the last section of Camp Kilmer was occupied by the Edison Township Public Works Department.

Areas surrounding the former base now belong to Piscataway Township or to Rutgers University and many existent buildings and facilities were clearly part of the former Camp Kilmer. Portions of the World War II-era camp are still used by the Edison Job Corps, including some of the original barracks, the chapel and post flag pole. Most of the site is now occupied by the Timothy Christian School.

Notable people

  • New York Yankee star Joe DiMaggio and comedian Red Skelton, both serving with the Army, were temporarily assigned to the Camp. DiMaggio autographed baseballs for wounded soldiers and gave hitting and fielding lessons, while Skelton made unannounced visits to the hospital for his version of "laugh therapy."

Environmental hazard

The former environs of Camp Kilmer, and the current Kilmer Reserve Center, are soiled with numerous contaminants including PAHs, VOCs, SVOCs, PCBs, asbestos, and heavy metals affecting groundwater, surface waters and sediment, as well as the soil.[7]

References

  1. ^ a b Camp Kilmer Pamphlet, p. 1.
  2. ^ Camp Kilmer Pamphlet, p. 2.
  3. ^ Camp Kilmer Pamphlet, pp. 3, 28.
  4. ^ "Welcome to Adobe GoLive 5". rutgers.edu. Retrieved 1 November 2015. After 1956 and the Hungarian Uprising, 30,000 refugees were resettled through Camp Kilmer in nearby Piscataway. About a thousand of these refugees settled in New Brunswick.
  5. ^ Graff, Garrett (May 2, 2017). Raven Rock. 9911: Simon & Schuster. |access-date= requires |url= (help)
  6. ^ http://www.mycentraljersey.com/article/20100413/NEWS/4130356/Edison+may+convert+Camp+Kilmer+building+into+school
  7. ^ "US ARMY CAMP KILMER". Environmental Protection Agency, United States Government. Retrieved 2009-03-27.[permanent dead link]

Bibliography

"Camp Kilmer" pamphlet. Camp Kilmer, NJ: Special Services Branch, 1945.

External links

https://www.archives.gov/nyc/exhibit/camp-kilmer/ https://web.archive.org/web/20150222231309/http://makerspace.rutgers.edu/content/history-camp-kilmer

This page was last edited on 5 October 2018, at 01:01
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