Camp Upton (from a pamphlet published by the Public Affairs Office of Brookhaven National Laboratory)

from a pamphlet published by
the Public Affairs Office
Brookhaven National Laboratory

The area of central Suffolk County presently occupied by Brookhaven National Laboratory once served the nation in a different manner. It was the site of Camp Upton, which was active from 1917 until 1920, and again from 1940 until 1946. During World War II, the camp was rebuilt primarily as an induction center for draftees. The Army was later to use the site as a convalescent and rehabilitation hospital for returning wounded.

When the United States entered the First World War in 1917, a standing army was non-existent, and large forces would be needed to fight overseas. It was decided that sixteen cantonments would be erected across the country to train the New York area inductees. The proposed army base was to be named Camp Upton, after Major General Emery Upton, who served in the Civil War and wrote numerous books on U.S. military policies.

Construction began in the summer of 1917. Plans called for a U-shaped encampment, large enough to house 40,000 troops. The land had to be totally cleared of the scrub pines, oak, and tangled undergrowth which dominated the landscape before any construction could begin. A rail spur was built, connecting Upton to the Long Island Rail Road, on which most of the supplies for construction arrived.

Labor problems plagued construction. Local communities could not supply all the men needed, so workers were brought in from New York City. Many of these laborers were immigrants who had recently arrived from Europe and could understand little English. Irish workers would not eat the pasta products requested by the Italian laborers. Gambling theft, and alcohol were constant headaches for Major "O.K" Meyers, the construction quartermaster. July was an especially hard time for Meyers. Intense heat, frequent downpours, and swarms of mosquitoes harassed the workers.

Despite these problems, the camp started to take shape by late summer. Fifty-five railroad cars of supplies were unloaded daily. Thousands of tons of lumber, nails, and stone arrived at the construction site. The original order called for 680 buildings. This was raised to 1400 buildings. However, the scheduled date of completion was delayed only 10 days. When the first 2000 drafted men arrived on September 10th, two-thirds of the camp had yet to be completed. The new soldiers were put side by side with the laborers to help complete the camp. On December 20th, the camp was officially declared complete, and turned over to Major General J. Franklin Bell, the Camp Commander.

The recruits who arrived at Upton came from all walks of life. They came from New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut, and represented twenty-five or more national backgrounds. In all, some 40,000 men would spend some part of their military service at Upton. The completed camp doubled the population of Suffolk County.

The drafted men were issued equipment and uniforms and were assigned a bunk. Until the first shipment of rifles arrived in late September, the troops were kept busy on the parade ground. In October, General Bell put into action a sixteen week training program, outlined by the War Department.

This program included training in almost every aspect of infantry combat. French and British officers were brought to the U.S.A. and instructed the men in tank, trench, and gas warfare. The draftees trained in the use of hand grenades and machine guns. Professional boxers taught the men hand-to-hand combat.

From these raw recruits came the nucleus of the famed 77th Division. Officially formed before the first draftee arrived in camp, the 77th was to gain recognition for its valor at the Argonne Forest in gust of 1918. Major General Bell was found unable command the 77th in Europe due to health problems. When the first contingent of the Division t Upton for France in March, General Bell turned leadership of the men over to Brigadier General Evanson. It was to be General Johnson who would d the 77th to fame at Argonne.

Among the members of the 77th was one individual who was already famous, and whose fame would grow after the war. This was Sergeant Irving Berlin. While at Upton, Berlin wrote "Yip, Yip, Yaphank," a military musical based on his life at the camp. The show was produced on Broadway, with Berlin's fellow soldiers filling the cast. From this show came one of Berlin's most famous songs, "Oh, How I Hate to Get Up in the Morning."

With the war's end in November of 1918, Upton's use was limited. The camp served as a demobilization site for returning veterans. The Army decided that Camp Upton was of no further use, and was deactivated. A public auction in August of 1921 saw everything from stoves to complete structures bought up and removed from the Yaphank base. By the fall of that year, all that remained of the great military city of 1917 was the roads. Many of the temporary buildings still exist, having been converted to homes by Long Island residents.

For almost twenty years, the site remained quiet as Upton National Forest. Then, in 1940, the Yaphank wilderness came to life again. The war in Europe and in the Pacific (of which America was not yet a part) gave rise to a drive for military preparation among some members of the government. Since the Yaphank land was still available, the decision was made to rebuild the camp. Once again, plans were drawn up for parade grounds, barracks, and the like, and, again, before the construction could commence, the undergrowth had to be cleared. However, this time it was not to be the struggle it had been in 1917. This time there was only a twenty year growth to contend with. Also, part of the site had already been reforested by the Civilian Conservation Corps. Sewerage systems were installed to help drain the water that often accumulated on the roads and parade grounds, and the road system was improved.

Again, the raw recruits started entering the camp. Once war was declared, the camp was filled to the brim with men and machinery.

But the camp was not used solely as an induction center. After the war effort moved from the European to the Pacific Theatre, the induction center was moved to Fort Dix, N.J. The camp was then expanded to convert it into a convalescent and rehabilitation hospital in September of 1944. Bowling alleys, swimming pools, and tennis courts were added to serve as recreational therapy for the patients. Upton became a showcase for the type of treatment the returning wounded veteran would receive.

The camp was again deemed unneeded once combat in the Pacific ended, drawing a close on the Second World War. It was officially declared surplus on June 30,1945. However, this time the base was not dismantled. A number of suggestions arose as to how the base and its facilities could be put to the best use among them a plan to use Upton as a vocational school for the youth of Long Island. The final accepted proposal, however, called for the former army camp to be converted into a research center for the peaceful uses of atomic energy. Barracks were to be used until permanent structures could be built to house the equipment to be used by the scientists. Thus, in January 1947, Brookhaven National Laboratory was born, and Camp Upton had finally completed its service to the nation.

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