CAMP BLANDING, FLORIDA
"IN WAR AND PEACE"
By Sayer L. Frisbee, IV, Maj. Flaarng
6 June 1979
Camp Blanding, Florida, located 10 miles east of Starke and 37 miles southwest of Jacksonville in north Florida, is the primary Annual Training Site for troops of the Florida National Guard. It is also used extensively by the Active and Reserve from Florida and other states, and is a major forest management area, game management area and mining site.
Its development may best be understood in four clearly defined stages: its inception as a National Guard training site in 1939; its conversion to an Army training post in 1940; a period of semi-dormancy in the post-war years and its rebirth as a major National Guard training site in 1967. This report is organized to reflect each of these phases in the development of Camp Blanding into the facility that it is today.
The writer has discovered that there is relatively little written material available on Camp Blanding, and has been fortunate in being able to interview several persons whose recollections help fill in the gaps in the written material that has been located.
Camp Blanding was established in 1939 as a replacement for Camp Foster, which was the Florida National Guard's primary facility for what was then called Summer Camp. Camp Foster, located at Black Point in the St. Johns River southwest of Jacksonville , was sought by the Navy Dept. as the site for a Naval Air Station. The political leadership of Duval County supported the Navy Dept's aspirations, and the Duval County Air base Authority was formed for the purpose of purchasing the Camp Foster property for the Navy. The Armory Board of the State of Florida agreed to sell the land for $400,000 plus the salvage rights from the Camp Foster development. The deal was consummated in mid-1939, and the Armory Board used the money to purchase a site containing 30,000 acres in western Clay County, including a little more than half, (three miles), of the shoreline of Kingsley Lake.
The National Guard Officer's Association of Florida recommended that the Armory Board name the facility "Camp Albert H. Blanding", in honor of LTG Albert Hazen Blanding, born in Lyons, Iowa, on 9 November 1876, moved to Florida in 1878. He graduated at the head of his class from the East Florida Seminary, (Now the University of Florida) in 1894. He joined the Gainesville Guards, Florida State Troops in 1895, and served as an enlisted man until the unit's disbandment prior to the Spanish-American War. He was commissioned a Captain in the Florida National Guard in September 1899, and was assigned as Regimental Adjutant, 2nd Florida Infantry. He was promoted to Major in 1906, Lieutenant Colonel in 1908, and Colonel August 1917, and was appointed a Brigadier General by President Woodrow Wilson.
He saw action in World War I and commanded the 53rd Brigade, 27th Infantry Division. He returned to the United States in 1919, and on 15 October 1924, command of the 31st Infantry Division, Florida national Guard, and was promoted to Major General. He was appointed by president Franklin D. Roosevelt to be Chief of the National Guard Bureau in January 1936, and held that office until January 1940, while still retaining command of the 31st Infantry Division. He retired on 9 November 1940, and was promoted to Lieutenant general, Retired. He died at his home in Bartow, Florida on 26 December 1970.
Construction was begun on an installation suitable for accommodating one Brigade shortly after the purchase of the Camp Blanding site. The facilities consisted of two Regimental Headquarters buildings facing opposite sides of a parade field, and behind each headquarters building, a row of administrative buildings, mess halls and latrines. The plan was to house virtually all of the Summer Camp troops in tents near these buildings. Construction also was begun on an Officer's Club overlooking Kingsley lake. The club was named Cooper Hall, in honor of then Capt. Ralph W. Cooper, who, as State Quartermaster, supervised construction of the initial facilities. Capt. Cooper would later retire as a Brigadier General.
As fate would have it, the World War II mobilization brought Federal troops to Camp Blanding before the Officer's Club was ready for occupancy, and the Florida National Guard officers who designed and built Cooper Hall were not allowed to use it until after he war. (Cooper Hall was to become the Officer's Club for the Station Complement -primarily the doctors and nurses at the Camp Blanding Station Hospital. Other officers assigned to the Post would use other clubs.)
As American entry into World War II became imminent, Camp Blanding was federalized, and its population and utilization mushroomed to a degree never anticipated a scant year-and-a-half earlier when the initial property was purchased.
Pearl Harbor Day was just over a year away when the federal government took over Camp Blanding, to begin converting it from a modest National Guard training site, to a sprawling Army training center. The first major unit to be mobilized and stationed at Camp Blanding was the 31st Division, nicknamed the "Dixie Darlings", which had troops throughout the Gulf coast states from Florida to Texas.
The 31st was called into active duty on 25 November 1940, and began setting up a tent city that would house the troops prior to the major construction phase. Arriving on he heels of the 31st Division, was the 43rd Division, nicknamed the "Grapelea Division", which drew its manpower from the New England states. The 43rd, like other units mobilized during the years immediately preceding American involvement in World War II, was called to duty for a period of one year's training. An immediate rivalry developed between the two divisions - one manned by Yankees, the other from the heart of Dixie, manned by the Rebels - and the post parade field, now the airfield, was bisected by an imaginary "Mason-Dixon" Line, which extended throughout the training area.
Soon after the federalization of Camp Blanding, the Army bought an additional 40,000 acres and leased 100,000 more acres, expanding the Camp from its original 30,000 acres to 170,000 acres. With that acreage, Camp Blanding claimed the distinction of being the second largest training camp in the country. Starting from the modest construction effort that the state Armory Board had begun in 1939, the War Department in 1941, embarked on a construction program which would grow to some 10,000 buildings, serving 100,000 troops. Construction contracts were written on a 'cost plus" basis as an incentive to speed, even at the expense of economy. Among the earliest buildings constructed under War Department jurisdiction, were a row of wooden structures which housed a 3.000 bed Station Hospital. This development was built just off Kingsley Lake, between Avenue A and Avenue B. The hospital, like most of the construction that was to follow, was designed to have a useful life of five years, a prophetic projection which would prove far more accurate than the one on which the one-year mobilization orders were based. Other early construction priorities went to headquarters and warehouses. It was not until mid-1942 that construction of troop housing began in earnest, and by this time there were some 60,000 troops on post. The troop housing was completed within a year. In addition to the basic barracks buildings for the troops, there were more lavish quarters for General Officers. The Post Commander's home, overlooking Kingsley Lake, is a two-story building which still exists, and is designated as Quarters 1. It stood adjacent to the Post Headquarters. Quarters 1 was to become the home of the Florida National Guard Director of Maintenance after the war, and today is reserved for the use of the Adjutant general and his guests. There also were eight General's Quarters overlooking the parade field. Two of these were relocated to lakefront sites after the war, and are designated Quarters 2 and 3. They are used for housing senior officers during the Annual Training periods, and are available for use by other Guardsmen during the rest of the year. The other six General's Quarters also were retained after the war, but since, have been razed. Other major buildings included two large division officer's clubs, also overlooking the lake. One of these, the 31st Division's, was retained after the war and converted into an enlisted men's club. It was destroyed by fire in December 1976.
With the exception of these major facilities, most of Camp Blanding was developed in two segments on opposite sides of the :"Mason-Dixon Line", each a mirror image of the other. The basic organization for construction purposes was the regiment, and each regiment, (four per division at the time of mobilization, later reduced to three per division) had its own Regimental Theater. Each Division had a large enlisted men's club. On the periphery of the division areas were artillery units and combat services support elements, some carrying the parenthetical designation (COL), which indicated "Colored" units in a still segregated Army.
The post was laid out with four major avenues - arcs concentric with the shoreline of Kingsley Lake - each originally named for one of the states whose troops were stationed on post. These streets, beginning nearest the lake and moving out were: Alabama; Connecticut; Florida and Maine Avenues. They have since been redesignated Avenue A through D, respectively. The connecting streets between the four major avenues were named for cities and regions represented by the troops. Among them were manes such as: New England; Providence; Brunswick; Waterbury; Tampa; Vicksburg; Meridian and New Orleans streets. Most of these streets were renamed after the war for Florida cities and counties.
During the period of major development, construction crews overwhelmed the area. State Road #16 from Starke, the nearest town, to Camp Blanding was nine feet wide, and traffic was bumper to bumper for the entire 10 miles which separated the post from the community. The trip typically took 30 - 60 minutes. Honky-tonks abounded, and a small community of temporary housing, clip joints and prostitutes, called Boomtown, grew up just outside the Camp Blanding gate. Much of Boomtown's housing consisted of small trailers and even packing crates, desperation housing, occupied by construction workers who chose to avoid the congestion on State Road #16 at any cost. Some of them actually froze to death in the winter months.
After undergoing its initial training, the 31st Division was stripped of its initial complement of troops and functioned as cadre for 3 cycles of trainees before being redeployed. This training concept evolved into conversion of Camp Blanding into an Infantry replacement training Center around 1943, and Camp Blanding's mission became training of filler personnel for the American Forces overseas. A map bearing the initials IRTC, (for Infantry Replacement training Center) shows 11 Regiments - the 60th through the 70th - suggesting that this may have been the troop structure when Camp Blanding reached its peak strength of 100,000 troops. Facilities shown on that map, in addition to those already mentioned, include the Guest House, Civil Dormitories, a Red Cross Office, a post Office, a Railroad Ticket Office and a Bus Depot and Ticket Office.
In the later war years, a small part of Camp Blanding was used to hold German and Italian Prisoners of War. A small POW Cemetery was established there, and the remains of the half dozen or so prisoners buried there, were disinterred after the war and shipped to Ft. Benning Ga., where they were reburied.
Then, even as now, construction
of highways trailed years behind the
Following the war, Camp Blanding was used for a limited time as a Separation Center as the federalized period of the post's history drew to a close. The original 30,000 acres was returned to state control. The state asked for and received title to some of the improvements built during the war years in lieu of restoration of the property to the original undeveloped condition. Among these were the road system, the sewer system and part of the water works, the 31st Division's Officer's Club, (to become the enlisted men's club), the cold storage warehouses, which were among the few masonry structures built by the War Department, the Field House, (it was converted into a Post, Camp or Station warehouse and was later destroyed by fire in 1977), some wooden warehouses, since razed by the state, the General's Quarters and Maintenance Shops.
The remainder of the buildings - the vast majority of what was built during the war years - was disposed of by the Army Camp Wrecking Corporation. The dismantling of the war years' construction began in mid-1945, and took five years - longer than the construction phase. Many of the buildings were sold intact and moved to other locations. Some of the Hospital buildings were cut into two or three sections, with each section being re modeled for residential use. Many of the houses in the Alachua, Clay and Bradford Counties today, came from the Army Camp Wrecking Corporation's disposal operations. One St. Augustine Motel was created from salvaged Camp Blanding buildings. Still other buildings were razed and their lumber sold for salvage value. Several of the barracks buildings were transported to Gainesville, Fla., to the University of Florida, where they were reassembled, remodeled and utilized by the large influx of veterans. Many of the veterans took advantage of the G.I. Bill to further their education, and they were given preference to move their families into these buildings, which became known as FLAVET Village.
The 100.000 acres of leased land was returned to the owners, and the federal government retained the 40,000 acres it had purchased. The war was over, most of the post was dismantled, and Camp Blanding went into a period of relative dormancy, compared to the bustling pace of the war years.
As the state once again took over the operation of Camp Blanding after the war, the role of the post in support of the Florida National Guard became primarily logistical. The development of Camp Blanding as an annual training site - the purpose for which the acreage was originally purchased in 1939 - was postponed indefinitely, and about the only training that took place on post was marksmanship qualifications and an occasional command post exercise. The Summer Encampments in the post war years were held at Ft. McClellan, Ala., Camp (now Fort) Jackson, SC, and Ft. Stewart, Ga. Vehicles and equipment salvaged from the war effort were assigned to the Florida national Guard by way of Camp Blanding, where they were rehabilitated and then issued to troop units. Logistical operations at Camp Blanding included establishment of the U.S. Property and Disbursing Office, now the U.S. Property and Fiscal Office, or USP&FO, development of a Combined Support Maintenance Shop, (CSMS), and the formation of a Mobilization and Training Equipment Shop (MATES). The USP&FO, which operates under the Directorate of Supply and Services, receives, stores and issues federal property and supplies. The CSMS performs higher echelons of maintenance for federal equipment assigned to units throughout the state. The MATES stocks and maintains various weapons and vehicles used by units which train at Camp Blanding, primarily the M-42 track- mounted 40 millimeter Air Defense Artillery weapons.
Camp Blanding got a major economic boost when large deposits commercially mineable ilmenite were discovered on the western edge of the Camp Blanding property around 1947. The Armory Board entered into a long-term contract with E.I. duPont de Nemours and company for the mining of this mineral, which is used in paint pigments. Prior to the discovery of ilmenite on the Camp Blanding property, the South Pacific was the only commercial source for this mineral. The royalties which the state receives for the ilmenite, are tied to the market price and to the Consumer Price Index. The company has instituted a program of covering its mined- over land with a layer of top soil, and the acreage now supports grass and trees.
Camp Blanding got another big break during the Korean conflict build-up, when the federal government, anticipating the possibility of federalizing the post once again, spent 3 million dollars to put in a new water system. The project involved drilling new wells, installing additional pumps, and putting in 300 fire hydrants. Camp Blanding was not needed for the training of troops for Korea after all, and the water system improvements have proved to be a major asset to the post.
During his tour as Adjutant General, MG Mark W. Lance persuaded U.S. Sen. Spessard L. Holland, (D Fla), to sponsor federal legislation to deed to the state the 40,000 acres of land that had been purchased during the World War II build-up. That legislation was approved on 14 July 1954 as Public Law #493. PL #493 conveys to the Armory Board, 40, 145.51 acres of land, and acknowledges 30, 234.25 acres, (the original Camp Blanding purchase), to be state land. The conveyance reserves to the federal government the right to take over Camp Blanding again in the event of national emergency. It recognizes the duPont lease, and requires the state to operate a forest management program, reserving to the state the option to sell timber and mineral rights, but requiring the revenues to be used for the benefit of Camp Blanding.
Ranges on Camp Blanding, some retained from the war years, others developed by the state since then, include: 7.62, .30 and .45 caliber small arms ranges, machine gun, rocket launcher, 106 millimeter recoilless rifle, 81 millimeter and 4.2 inch mortar ranges; sub-caliber tank ranges; an aviation assault range; a demolition and explosives range; an antiaircraft artillery range for the 40 millimeter weapons; and a Navy and Air Force gunnery and bombing target area. The ranges for the 40 millimeter antiaircraft weapons include both indirect fire and aerial fire targets, the latter being Radio Controlled Aircraft Targets.
A new activity was created at Camp Blanding during the post-war years with the establishment of the Florida National Guard Officers Candidate School in March 1961. Class #1 was commissioned in 1962. On 1 September 1975, a Non- Commissioned Officer School was added, and the OCS and NCO programs were brought together to create the Florida National Guard Military Academy.
A jungle warfare training center for the training use of the 20th Special Forces Group, (Abn.), First Special Forces, was established late in 1964. Its facilities include a rappelling and jump tower and a small drop zone.
Little by little, Camp Blanding was reestablishing the importance which Camp foster once had occupied as a Florida National Guard training facility, but it was not until 1967 that Florida was once again to have its own full-fledged Annual Training Site. It happened all of a sudden.
The advance detachment for the Annual Field Training of 1967 had already arrived at Ft. Stewart, Ga., to prepare for the arrival of the Florida National Guard, when Gov. Claude R. Kirk ordered the Guard to spend its encampment at Camp Blanding. Civil disturbances were becoming increasingly common during the "long hot Summer of 1967", and Governor Kirk said he wanted the Guard, in its capacity as the state militia, close at hand in the event of riots in Florida. The precaution proved to be unnecessary, but the diversion of the Guard from Ft. Stewart to Camp Blanding sparked the rebirth of Camp Blanding as the Florida National Guard's primary training site.
During that first major encampment, most troops were housed in squad, (General Purpose, medium) tents on land from which basic training housing had been cleared two decades earlier. These battalion-sized areas were designated as Administrative Bivouac Areas A through E, plus the company- sized Avco area adjacent to the airfield. A decision was made to continue holding Florida National Guard encampments at Camp Blanding, with the exception of the Field Artillery units, for which there were no adequate ranges, and various specialized units which needed facilities not available at Camp Blanding, and a five year development plan was begun under the leadership of MG Henry W. McMillan, the Adjutant General. The primary thrust of the five- year plan was construction of permanent troop housing for a five-battalion Brigade. Administrative Bivouac Areas A through E and the Avco area were selected as the sites for the permanent housing. Areas A through E were designed to accommodate a battalion each, with a battalion headquarters facility, company headquarters, supply and mess hall buildings, and barracks and latrines. The Avco area was designed to accommodate an aviation company, though the TO&E of the aviation company has since been expanded.
A number of additional barracks buildings were built in the cantonment area, behind the rows of buildings which were originally intended to be regimental headquarters areas. Another major element of the five-year plan was construction of a dispensary with an emergency room, several examining rooms, a ward, a pharmacy and doctor's offices. Behind the dispensary is a lighted concrete helipad for emergency medical evacuation. All of the new construction is of concrete block. Permanent barracks facilities on Camp Blanding now have a capacity of approximately 5,000 persons. The cost of the five-year plan construction was approximately $6.5 million.
Another major facility on Camp Blanding came as the result of a gift. President Lyndon B. Johnson ordered the Green Cove Springfs Naval Station deactivated, and the property was sold to Reynolds Aluminum for use as an industrial park. Col. James M. Gilchrist Jr., then the state Quartermaster, went to the corporation's leadership and proposed that the Chapel be given to Camp Blanding and named the Reynolds Chapel. His proposal was approved, and the building was cut into three sections, moved to Camp Blanding and reassembled. The Chapel has three altars on a turntable, each designed for the use of a different religion of faith. The building is designed so that two services can be conducted simultaneously - one at each end of the building - each congregation facing the altar appropriate to its faith. The Chapel also has chaplain's offices and an external public address system. The Army Chief of Chaplains was invited to visit Reynolds Chapel in the hope that he could be persuaded to provide some simple furnishings for the vacant building. Instead, he was so impressed, that he furnished first class pews, carpeting and draperies, and the air-conditioned Chapel is now the showplace of Camp Blanding. The Chapel has been used for several Florida National Guard weddings, and worship services are held in it at both Annual Training and week-end training assemblies.
Camp Blanding suffered two setbacks in its redevelopment, when fire destroyed two of the major buildings which had been salvaged from the World War II era. The first was the old field house, which had been converted for use as Post, Camp or Station Warehouse #1. The massive frame building and its contents were destroyed in October of 1977. The building was replaced by a modern warehouse built with funds from the state fire insurance trust fund at a cost of approximately $500,000. The enlisted men's club, which was built as the 31st Division Officer's Club, burned to the ground in December 1978. Though it was insured with the state, it was carried on the books at its depreciated value, as required by state law, and insurance proceeds cannot pay for a building the size of the one which burned. At this writing, (1979), plans are to replace the club, but details as to location and size of the new facility have not been decided. For the 1979 Annual Training encampments, a temporary Service Club was operated in one of the Administrative Bivouac areas by the Army-Air Force Exchange Service. The Officer's Club, Cooper Hall, has proven to be a problem to operate, and a succession of concessionaires have been unable to make a financial success of the club. Attempts to operate the club under national Guard management also have been unprofitable. At this writing, the club is closed temporarily.
The Post Exchange operation has been more successful. During the first encampment in 1967, the Post Exchange was operated as a small, mak shift facility, but the operation has been moved into a masonry building which served as a Post Exchange for the Infantry Replacement Center during World War II, and a full fledged facility is operated during major Annual Training periods by the Army-Air Force Exchange Service, as a branch of the Patrick Air Force Base Exchange.
The only major construction project still in the works, aside from replacement of the enlisted men's club, is a 44,611 square foot Armory. That building, tentatively scheduled for occupancy in 1982, will accommodate eight permanent party units, including the Command and Control Headquarters, the Annual Training Site headquarters, and the 653rd Engineer detachment. The latter unit functions as Post Engineer. The budget for the new Armory is $2,430,000, of which $1,100,000 will be state funds and the remainder, federal funds.
While Camp Blanding's primary use is for military training, the post also serves several other important purposes. Much of Camp Blanding is operated as a game management area under agreement between the Armory Board and the Florida Department of Natural Resources. A resident game manager operates the program. Access to and the use of wildlife areas is regulated by the Florida Game and Fresh Water Fish Commission. A forester is hired by the Armory Board, operates a forest management program, and some of the timber planted by the forester is now being harvested. The revenues from the sale of timber are used to help maintain Camp Blanding.
The Post is available for recreational use by National Guardsmen and their families, and facilities include a civilian camping area and a number of air-conditioned mobile homes and quonset huts. Other non-military uses, in addition to the duPont mineral operations, include operation of a 100 acre Clay County landfill and operation of a Girl Scout Camp along a half-mile of Kingsley Lake frontage, by the Gateway Girl Scout Council.
Though Camp Blanding is a state owned military facility,
it is operated
Camp Blanding's military use is not limited to the Florida National Guard and the nearby Air Force and Navy units, which use its gunnery and bombing ranges. The 1979 Annual Training schedule for Camp Blanding includes six major encampments, bringing to the Post: National Guard, United States Army Reserve and United States Marine Corps Reserve elements from Florida, Georgia, So. Carolina, Alabama, Mississippi, New Mexico, Puerto
Rico and the Virgin Islands, plus a company of infantrymen from Scotland. From its inception as a modest National Guard Summer Camp site in 1939, to its burgeoning development as a World War II training post, to its post- war dormancy and its re-birth as a major National Guard training facility, Camp Blanding has served the military needs of the nation in War and for two generations.