Michael & Elizabeth CAVANAUGH
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The Duckworth Chant, Sound Off, and the Jody Call

The only known WWII image of Pvt. Duckworth
Courtesy the Duckworth family, Sandersville, Washington Co, GA

Surely whoever who did not get to sound off in the service, at least has heard it in the movies.  “The heads are up, The chests are out, The arms are swingin’, Cadence count, Sound off (1,2), Sound off (3,4), . . . Jody was there when you left (you’re right!) . . .”


            For well over half a century, the Jody (aka “Jody Call,” “Sound Off,” or the “Duckworth Chant”) has been the aural icon of soldierly life.  This has been true in the U.S. Army, in other branches and around the world.  In the entertainment world the Jody is a staple of military-themed films (starting with the Academy Award-winning Battleground in 1949, but also including Full Metal Jacket, An Officer and a Gentleman,  and Private Benjamin).   It appears also in various jingles (including, most recently, the theme song for the cartoon Spongebob Squarepants).   In 1950 it was copyrighted as “Sound Off;” sheet music was published, and the chant was recorded in 1951 by Vaughn Monroe and a succession of others.  No longer in the repertoire of American popular song, the Jody has continued an informal life among the ranks, and has evolved in various directions (not always considered fit for print or recording).


            The Jody was first heard in 1944 at and around Fort Slocum, NY.  The first recorded versions appeared on an unnumbered V-Disc (undated, but recorded at the Slocum auditorium, Raymond Hall, sometime in 1945).  The V-Disc consists of three different versions of the Duckworth Chant, plus an introductory track by T. Sgt Henry C. “Jack” Felice (1914-2001).  That track, which has become the received narrative,  offers one explanation of its origin:  that it arose spontaneously on the way back to post from a training bivouac at nearby Ardsley:


On a cold spring evening in May 1944 as the Provisional Training Center was returning from a long tedious march through swamps and rough country, a chant broke the stillness of the night.  Upon investigation, it was found that a negro soldier by the name of Willie Duckworth, on detached service with the Provisional Training Center Fort Slocum, was chanting to build up the spirits of his weary comrades.  

            It was not long before the infectious rhythm was spreading through the ranks.  Footweary soldiers started to pack up their step in cadence with a growing chorus of hearty male voices.   Instead of a downtrodden, fatigued company, here marched 200 soldiers with heads up, a spring to their step, and happy smiles on their faces.    This transformation occurred with the beginning of the “Duckworth Chant.”

            Upon returning to Fort Slocum, Private Duckworth, with the aid of the Provisional Training Center instructors, composed a series of verses and choruses to be used with the marching cadence.  Since that eventful evening, the Duckworth chant has been made a part of the drill at Fort Slocum, as it has proved to be not only a tremendous morale factor while marching, but also coordinated a movement of close order drill with troop precision.


            Since that “cold spring evening,” the chant has evolved.     Some of the original lyrics may well remain,   some of them may have been lost;   others have been added, others have been censored out.  Troops have been quick to add salty lyrics; it is even said that at least one company-grade officer was busted because a field-grade wife had been offended by hearing the soldierly innovations passing by too close to family quarters.  The Jody on the whole has been tamed.   (I don’t know, but I’ve been told . . .)


            The history of the Jody has developed a following, including on the internet, and including the now pro forma internet skepticism.  Of the claim that the Jody originated at Ft. Slocum in 1944, for instance, one can read the following refutation:


. . . some revisionists, by ignoring the extensive history of martial music and work songs going back to ancient China and early Rome, are "crediting" segregated Negro troops with the 'invention' of CADENCE calls for the improvement of morale during training in WWII, specifically an impromptu "Sound Off" CADENCE call initiated by PVT Willie Duckworth while marching in the Provisional Training Center of Fort Slocum, New York, in May 1944, and later identified as the "Duckworth Chant" in folklore. It's another insidious myth and pernicious lie perpetrated upon the gullible by self-anointed elitists!   (This appears to be a later comment inserted into a passage attributed to Combat Magazine;  cf. http://www.freerepublic.com/focus/f-bloggers/1489526/posts, visited 1 Feb. 2008.)


As distinct from the conspiratorial rhetoric in which it is embedded, there are reasons that might be adduced in support of the above counter-claim that Duckworth invented nothing very distinctive:  

ˇ         call-and-response work songs or chanteys were long used by agricultural laborers, seamen, chain-gang members and gandy dancers;

ˇ         the phrase “Sound Off” predates 1944 (as the title of a collection of Army songs edited by Edward Arthur Dolph in 1924, reissued in 1942; and even appears as the legend on a WWI-era postcard  from Fort Slocum itself);

ˇ         there is a long history of drill in the U.S. Army and before WWII;

ˇ         the specific phrase “count off your numbers loud and strong” appears in Maj. Edmund L. Gruber’s 1907 “Caisson Song” (still the official anthem of the US Army);

ˇ         the Duckworth Chant resembles popular songs like “Hey Ladee Ladee Lo,” particularly inasmuch as it uses call-and-response.


            Perhaps the most unusual story about the origin of the Jody is, "In WWII, black troops were, apparently, given more freedom of self-expression than were white troops. Fancy drill teams, particularly from Fort Duckworth, Alabama, toured and popularized jazzier cadence counts."   (The identical claim is found at  http://www.mudcat.org/@displaysong.cfm?SongID=5488 and http://sniff.numachi.com/pages/tiSOUNDOFF;ttSOUNDOFF.html, both visited 1 Feb.  2008.)  Surely this tale “loses something in the original;” though perhaps mythical "Fort Duckworth, Alabama" as a sort of G.I. Grambling University would render some measure of  poetic justice?


            Despite parallels or precursors, the fact remains that the Jody is not just any chant, work song, or the like.  And the related phrases cited above also do not amount to the Duckworth chant.  There is no record of the original chant as developed by Duckworth in mid-1944.   As noted in the received narrative cited above, upon returning to post it was quickly embellished and added to;  even early on there were significant variations in the verses, and this sort of innovation continues still.  But think of the “Duckworth Chant” as like a jazz ballad:  there is a basic core, around which the performers can still weave significant improvisations.   The earliest known versions, from 1944 to 1950, have three basic core elements: 


1.      the character Jody;  (later versions of  what are called Jodies will not always mention the character Jody;  the early versions all do.  Incidentally some have puzzled over who Jody was.  The best answer is:  a character from Black folklore, named “Joe de Grinder.”  [“Grind” is slang for sex.]  “Joe de Grinder” was alided to “Jody Grinder,” then just plain “Jody.”  Cf. Bruce Jackson,  “What Happened to Jody,” Journal of American Folklore 80(318):387-396, 1967,)

2.      some reference to left and right;  and,

3.      a chorus of Sound Off, 1, 2, 3, 4.

            Defined in this manner, it is clear from the historical record that the Jody did in fact appear first as the “Duckworth Chant” at Ft. Slocum, NY, in 1944. 


            Though it was a genuine innovation, at the same time the Jody did not appear in a vacuum.   The Jody as we now know it caught on and spread as widely as it did for identifiable historical reasons.  These involved an unlikely collaboration between a Black draftee from rural Georgia, Pvt. Duckworth, and his commanding officer at Ft. Slocum, Col. Bernard Lentz.  Lentz, the most senior colonel in the Army at the time, was a graduate of USMA West Point  --  a “ring-knocker,” in Army slang.  The draftee and the ring-knocker came from quite different backgrounds and social milieus.   They just met up, serendipitously, in the right place at the right time.  


            Col. Lentz had paved the way for something like the Jody when, during WWI, he had devised his Cadence System of Teaching Close Order Drill.   To carry out this system,  troops themselves vocalized the drill commands before executing them.  (Lentz in turn had his precursors, particularly Lt. Col. Herman J. Koehler, Master of the Sword at USMA.)   When the Duckworth Chant appeared on Lentz’ post in WWII, he was just the person to seize on it and promote it to a wider audience.    Col. Lentz’ Cadence System is not identical to the “Duckworth Chant,” nor did Lentz anticipate it specifically.  But Lentz must have been delighted to find a Pvt. Duckworth, and recognized the latter’s innovation as an extension of all his prior efforts.   The ring-knocker and the draftee found synergy;  Col. Lentz was the command enabler for Pvt. Duckworth’s innovation.   The origin of the Jody at Ft. Slocum in 1944, therefore, represents an interesting fortuitous coincidence, one in which command permission combined with soldierly initiative to produce an enduring Army custom.


            In short, there were chanteys, work songs, cadences and the like before 1944.   There was also troop vocalization during drill.   However there were no Jody Calls.


Exactly what did the first Duckworth chant sound like?   Alas Alan Lomax did not lug a tape recorder on that May 1944 bivouac.  I would like to ask Pvt. Duckworth himself but alas this too is now impossible.  The original oral tradition clearly underwent later musical shaping as well as  literary redaction.  But the improvisation that continues in the later developed Jody is just the point of the Duckworth chant:  make it up as you go along.  Eskimos, GI Grits, My Recruiter, Viet Cong, Ho Chi Minh, Iran, C-130s, whatever.  Think of the Jody as like a jazz ballad:  no one would confuse say Charlie Parker’s solo on the 1946 JATP recording of “Oh, Lady Be Good” with any of the Ella Fitzgerald versions, but anyone can recognize it is the same basic (Gershwin) ballad.


However there are some identifiable early versions, and these (along with some clues given by Duckworth himself)  can tell us something.   Duckworth gave several accounts, which may or may not square with the received version cited at the outset:  one, that he made it up in his head;  two, that when summoned before Col. Lentz he was so scared he just said the first thing that occurred, namely, that he adapted it from hog calling back home.   But the earliest account he gave came in correspondence with Col Lentz;  in a letter dated 7 Nov. 1949 (in the possession of the Lentz family), Duckworth added the following intriguing detail:  “The Chant was started in the drill field behind the gymnasium.  When the chant became of use to our company we were marching to Osley (sic;  Ardsley), N.Y. for 14 days.”  If so it would appear that the chant underwent some preliminary development, on post at Ft. Slocum, before being used on the march --  notice, Duckworth says to,  not just from  --  the bivouac at Ardsley.


Duckworth mentions that he drilled his class using the chant at the graduation ceremony  --  an early instance of a Black soldier drilling white troops.  (Is there an earlier?)  But Duckworth did not remain long at Ft. Slocum;  he was only there on TDY for the PTC and after his class graduation on 8 June, returned to his permanent station at Camp Kilmer.   During the time he remained at Slocum, he worked up some verses with the PTC staff, and apparently they continued working after he left.  By summer’s end the chant was well-established in the PTC graduation ceremonies;  and the post newspaper, the Casual News for 21 Sept. 1944 gives this snippet on the front page:


I had a good time but I left  --

You’re right (repeat)

Jodie (sic) was there when you left  --

You’re right (repeat)


Sound off 1-2                                                   Sound off 3-4

Cadence Count 1-2-3-4                                   1-2 . . . 3-4


Heads and Eyes off the ground

Forty inches, cover down

(CHORUS, etc.)


The three basic elements (Jody/Jodie;  left & right;  Sound Off) are already present in this earliest recorded version.


The next versions come from an unnumbered V-Disc recorded at sometime in 1945, indoors at Raymond Hall (the post theater).   The PTC ended late in 1944, though the same staff continued in a Rehabilitation Center for court-martialed soldiers.  The A Side of the disc consists of the received narrative, and then one version of the chant performed by rehabilitation inmates, both led by T. Sgt Felice.  The second cut on the B Side, also rehabilitation inmates, is led by one Pvt. James Tyus.  The first cut on the B Side is a distinctive WAC version led by S. Sgt Gladys “Woodie” Woodard (1920-2009).   She  recalled, in a 2007 interview, that she had to learn the existing lyrics but also “make up some of my own about the women and so forth.   The three versions are notably different from each other.    


Here are the lyrics of the Felice version.  (The call is simply written; the response, enclosed in parentheses.)


“Horeward:   harch!


The heads are up, the chests are out

The arms are swingin’;  in cadence,  count:


Sound off (one, two!)

    Sound off (three, four!)

    Cadence count (one, two, three, four, one, two   --  threefour!)

Eeny meeny miney moe

Let’s go back and count some mo’


We will march to beat the band

      And we’ll never bite The Hand,


I had a good home but I left (you’re right!)

I had a good home but I left (you’re right!)

Jody was there when you left (you’re right!)

Jody was there when you left (you’re right!)


It won’t get by if it ain’t GI

It won’t get by if it ain’t GI


We will march with a broken leg

So we can get that Golden Egg


The Second Platoon is just like Krauts (Krout?  see below)

They’re all afflicted with the gout


The Third Platoon can’t stand the [gaffe?]

Tryin’ to get ol’ [on? Blennett’s staff?] [these lines are obscure in more than one sense]


If I get shot in a combat zone

Just box me up and send me home,


I had a good home but I left (you’re right!)

You had a good home but you left (you’re right!)

Jody was there when you left (you’re right!)

Jody was there when you left (you’re right!)


I don’t mind to take a hike

If I could take along a bike


I don’t mind a bivouac

If I could take along a WAC


I don’t mind if I get dirty

As long as the Brow gets Gravel Gertie


The WACs and WAVEs will win the war

So tell us what we’re fighting for


I had a good home but I left (you’re right!)

I had a good home but I left (you’re right!)

Jody was there when you left (you’re right!)

Jody was there when you left (you’re right!)


Gump’knee, HALT!”


A note on the content of the lyrics.  Some of them are entirely obscure even today.   


ˇ         But even if we didn’t already know the Duckworth Chant came from Fort Slocum in 1944, internal evidence would make this clear enough.  Col. Lentz’ pet story:  quoting Samuel Goldwyn’s characteristic malapropism, “Oh dem directors!  They’re always biting the hand that lays the golden egg,” Lentz would warn his listeners:  “Gentlemen . . . I am the hand that lays the golden egg.  And my advice to you is don’t bite the hand that lays the golden egg.    This became proverbial on post;  The Hand became  Lentz’ most common nickname. 

ˇ         The post newspaper, the Casual News,  offered (15 Feb. 1944, p. 7), believe it or not, “Slocum’s Haircut Slogan:”  If it isn’t G.I./It won’t get by.   

ˇ         The one verse may refer to Krauts (Germans;  and it did say this in a later version of Lentz’ drill system) but there was a drillmaster with the Provisional Training Center  named S. Sgt Francis H. Krout.   His medical condition however is unknown.

ˇ         The Brow and Gravel Gertie refer to characters in the syndicated comic strip Dick Tracy.  The Brow, a Nazi naval spy, had a meteoric rise and fall lasting only four months, from 22 May to 26 Sept. 1944.  Gravel Gertie first appears 3 Sept.   The Brow is temporarily blinded; Gertie (a hag, smitten by once again having a man in her life) shelters him &  nurses him back to health; he may be on the verge of reciprocating her love but is killed when Tracy causes him to fall through a window and die, impaled on an American flag.  Therefore, this verse still in suspense about The Brow getting Gravel Gertie cannot be original with Duckworth’s May 1944 bivouac;  but it must also be one of the older ones, its form fixed sometime in Sept. 1944.


Clearly, some of the early lyrics were not meant for the Ages.  The lines about The Hand and the Golden Egg don’t travel well;  the Brow was universally known but didn’t survive Hitler; the lines about Second & Third platoons are, well, just lame.  No doubt the same is true about many other lines improvised through the years and now forgotten.


Copies of the chant were printed and distributed at Ft. Slocum;  Col. Lentz reports that the War Department had them circulated as well overseas.  The chant was in use in the ETO by at least around V-E day.    Alan Lomax documents a version in Missouri by 1945.  By 1947 it was well-known enough to elicit a parody, also on a V-Disc, called “Worth Duckin” by pianist Dick Farney and bassist “Slam” Stewart.  Lentz documents its use in  various branches of service by 1949.   And, as mentioned, it has become a staple of military films ever since.


            That the Jody spread throughout the military, and military films, is unsurprising.  It might simply have remained a staple of marching soldiers, never heard off-post.   What is astounding is it went commercial as well.  (Try imagining, for instance, the airborne cadence “Blood on the Risers” making the Hit Parade.)   But the Jody did, and here is how.    Early in 1949, as MGM was preparing to film Battleground,  Lily M. Hyland called Col. Lentz to inquire about using the chant, and whether it was copyrighted.  In a letter of 22 March, Lentz responded to her by giving the history of the Jody chant and added:


Though there is no copyright owner of the piece, I think it would be a fine gesture on the part of your Company, in case your Studio makes use of the chant, to seek out the former negro soldier, Willie Duckworth and offer him some financial reward.  Nothing would please me --  his commanding officer at the time the chant had its inception  --  more than to have him rewarded in some way.  I shall be glad to assist in a search for Willie’s present whereabouts.


            Lentz also asked for free passes to the movie for others who had worked on the chant, and were living in or near the City:  Herman L. Johnson Jr., Richard M. Gorman, Henry C. “Jack” Felice, Robert Vincent, and Edward Sadowski.  (Then 1st Lt [later Capt.]  Johnson [1916-1995], an honor graduate of the first WWII training class at Slocum,  rose to detachment commander of the Provisional Training Center;  2d Lt Gorman [1915-1974] started as a saxophonist with the band but became a PTC instructor; then S. Sgt [later T. Sgt, then M. Sgt] Felice [1914-2001], a dancer in civilian life, was an instructor and drillmaster with the PTC;  Capt. [George]  Robert Vincent [1898-1985], a pioneer in recording who sparked the V-Disc program and in particular  recorded the Duckworth Chant for V-Disc on his portable Presto recorder;  and WO Edward Sadowski [1921-1990] was the second bandmaster of the 378th  Army Service Forces Band at Ft. Slocum.)    


            MGM responded with free passes, plus a check to Duckworth for $200.  (Considering what profits MGM must have made on this Academy-Award winning film, $200 does not seem like much.  In contemporary perspective,  however, as of 1 October 1949,  starting pay for a M. Sgt was $198.45 monthly;   for a 2d Lt, $213.75.)  Lentz, as he had offered, brokered the deal by seeking out Duckworth.  In October Lentz wrote to Duckworth at his last known address, and asked specific questions in order to establish that he was dealing with the same Willie Duckworth he had known at Ft. Slocum.  These answers, as noted above, provide considerable insight into the origin of the chant.


            Battleground would mark the first time the civilian public at large was introduced to the Jody chant. It is also interesting in that in addition to the soundtrack, the film dramatizes how the chant would be used in drill.   The chant occurs in three places.   In the opening scene, fresh troops in a replacement camp are shown doing fancy dismounted drill (including such non-standard commands as freeze and box-step). There is a brief scene where one soldier walks into a tent chanting a verse of the Jody.  Finally the film closes with battle-weary GI’s relieved from Bastogne, trying to show some élan as they march out past their replacements, and here the drill is just straightforward marching while chanting the Jody  --  much as is described in the received account of the Jody’s origin on the tiresome march back from Ardsley.


            The film premiered in New York on Veterans’ Day.  Col. Lentz saw the film, and in a letter dated 24 Nov. 1949 to Mark Avramo (of  the legal department of MGM) wrote:  “. . .  the  end scene in ‘Battleground’ is nothing more nor less than  this Story’s transfer from Fort Slocum and vicinity to the Bulge Battlefield.”    There is no direct evidence that the Jody reached the ETO as early as Dec. 1944, but it is interesting that Lentz specifies the closing scene (rather than the opening, fancy drill) to characterize the way the Jody actually was performed under his command at Slocum.


            The Battleground version is pre-copyright, and once again the lyrics are largely different from the earlier known versions.   The version performed by Leonard de Paur’s Infantry Chorus at Carnegie Hall in January 1950 is probably also pre-copyright.   But the film triggered a process whereby, in 1950, Lentz had the song copyrighted by Shapiro, Bernstein & Co.  This formed the basis for later performances, e.g., Vaughn Monroe in 1951.  The Lentz and Duckworth families continued to receive royalties.    Duckworth got his initial $200 check; and by the time the film Sound Off came out in 1952, he estimated he was receiving $1,000 per month in royalties.  (The 2010 value of $200 in 1949 is at least $1,830;  that of $1,000 in 1952, at least $8,210 [www.measuringworth.com].)   That was the high-water mark, but royalties would continue and all told they allowed Duckworth to buy a truck and start his own small pulpwood business, whereby he and his wife Edna raised six children.   Furthermore, an article in the New York Times, 29 Dec. 1951, notes that Duckworth will be awarded the first annual achievement award of the George Washington Carver Monument Foundation in Joplin, MO in January.  The dateline of the article is not Joplin, but Larchmont; suggesting the Col. Lentz (who had retired to Larchmont, nearby Ft. Slocum) may have been behind the award.


            Thus the ring-knocker saw to it that the draftee was rewarded as well as recognized for his innovation.  Recognition did not stop there.   In 2010, thanks to a committee of local admirers led by Rosby Gordon, Georgia named a portion of its State Road 242 in Washington County (along which Duckworth lived, and is now buried) for T/4 Duckworth;  and on Veterans’ Day of that year, a large stone marker was unveiled on the ground of the Washington County Courthhouse.  (There is a photo on the Ft. Slocum Facebook page.)


Ironically, the Jody thrived in the movies, in recordings,  and in basic training, but not at Ft. Slocum.   Visitors to that post in the Cold War expressed surprise that soldiers were not constantly drilling.  At the time, the post contained two schools.  Students at the Information School had already received basic training and were now pursuing technical subjects.   Students at the Chaplain School did receive basic military orientation in things like close-order drill and military courtesy.  Yet, although film footage survives of chaplains being marched about at the northern end of the parade field in close-order drill (cf. YouTube:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=st3sYKi2lPg), the drillmaster is using neither the Lentz cadence system nor the Jody.   Perhaps what worked for airborne, other elite units and aspirants in basic training was a little too salty and louche for the chaplains?


Duckworth is remembered for his chant.   Lentz’ Cadence System,  born in WWI,  has not been heard for many years now. (It may have been used as late as 1967 at Infantry OCS, Ft. Benning.)   But Duckworth’s  Jody has survived now some six decades and more, and is heard almost everywhere in the US forces, and probably every day. 


Yet while the words of the Jody may have come from Pvt. Duckworth (and others at Ft. Slocum), command permission for the troops to vocalize during drill is the enduring contribution of Lentz’ Cadence System.  Outside of those who may know Ft. Slocum in WWII, no one remembers the name of Lentz.  During both world wars, he was a staff officer and not a combat commander.    He was no Patton, he was no Gavin;   he never made general.     Like many officers of his generation (Eisenhower, for example) he wore but one row of ribbons, none for valor in combat.  (It makes a difference whether one is judged by the standards of Gen. Eisenhower or Gen. Petraeus.)    Yet insofar as the Army allows and encourages the retention of the Jody, thus far does the influence on Army drill of Col. Lentz (and of his predecessors, Lt. Col. Koehler and Brig. Gen. Butts)  still echo  --  for those who have the ears to hear it  --  from West Point through abandoned Ft. Slocum and beyond, from the old Brownshoe Army to the Army of One.  






WWII integrated Rehab. Class led by T/Sgt Felice
sound off ONE TWO sound off THREE FOUR . . .

 Thanks to M/Sgt  Woodie (Woodard) Borkowski (USAF, ret'd) who had one of the rare V-Disc recordings of Sound Off, I was able to post two of the 3 versions on YouTube.   The first starts with the narration by T/Sgt  Henry "Jack" Felice (which text is also found in the official post history, 1944) and then continues with him leading what was then the standard version of Sound Off/the Jody:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q6bhv4i8qso.   The next is Woodie herself  (in her characteristic Massachusetts twang) leading the Ft Slocum WAC detachment in the WAC version:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mq2_1S_ZPAs

Two Classic Books on Slocum now Online

     Available on line are two classic descriptions of life at Fort Slocum.  From 1870-72, 2/Lt. John Wyer Summerhayes served on Davids’ Island Military Reservation (as it was then known), with the 8th Infantry.  One battalion of the regiment left in 1871 to give assistance after the Chicago Fire;  then were joined out West by the other battalion (including Summerhayes), eventually ending up in Arizona.  In 1874 John married Martha Dunham.  John returned, as Capt. of Engineers in 1892, this time with Martha, and stayed until 1896.   (John’s renumbering of post buildings lasted until 1941;  John and Martha also played host to Frederic Remington, who sketched on the island.)     Martha Summerhayes’  memoir of her Army life, published in 1908, is called Vanished Arizona.  The last chapter of the first edition, Ch. 32,  entitled “Texas,” actually includes some material on Davids’ Island.  The second edition included Ch. 33, “Davids’ Island.”   To read these chapters (or the entire book  --  and apart from the Slocum material it is a fascinating read about a VERY different US Army than any of us remember!) go to 

http://www.worldwideschool.org/library/books/hst/biography/VanishedArizona/chap32.html;  then go on to click on the link on the same page for Ch. 33.  The book was an unexpected succes fou among Army people, at least, and for some time;  when in 1939 Gen. George C. Marshall was given a reprint as a Christmas gift, he noted that he had read it decades before, and that while a young shavetail  at Slocum in 1902 had actually met Mrs. Summerhayes.   (The second edition also remains in print in an inexpensive paperback, ISBN 0-8032-9105-1.) 

            Frederick Albert Pottle, later Sterling Professor of English at Yale, was a young enlistee at Slocum for Christmas week during the bitter winter of 1917-18.  He positively hated the place, and was heartily glad (as he puts it at the end of the first chapter of his 1929 WWI memoir, Stretchers) to leave “the accumulated and unalleviated horror of Fort Slocum.”  This can be read online at http://www.lib.byu.edu/~rdh/wwi/memoir/Stretchers/Pottle1.htm.

And a Few Books Not Online


            And there are a few relevant works available only in the old-fashioned way.   The earliest one written on Davids’ Island was also published from there:   Maj. Thomas Wilhelm, History of the Eighth U.S. Infantry, from Its Organization in 1838 (2 vols., Davids’ Island NYH 1871, 1872).   A number of officers stationed on the island in the 19th c. (including Abner Doubleday, William Lawrence Haskin,  and Henry Martyn Lazelle)  published books, though none of these are  about the island itself. 


Even Army memoirs pass over  Davids’ Island pretty much in silence.  These include Gen.  Doubleday’s My Life in the Old Army (TCU Press, 1998),  Gen. Zenas Randall Bliss’  memoirs (unpublished, in typescript at Carlisle Barracks), and Chap. Maj/Gen. Francis Sampson’s Look Out Below! (Sweetwater, TN:  101st ABN, 1989 reprint;  orig. Catholic U. of America, 1958).   Perhaps this should be no surprise;   Doubleday and Bliss, who fought in the Civil War (Bliss earning the Medal of Honor)  and Sampson (the “paratrooper padre” who was twice a German POW --  the first time almost facing a Waffen SS execution squad) did not spend their most exciting days on our little 80-acre rock!  (Brevet Gen. Doubleday was CO in 1866;  Lt/Col. Bliss was CO 1878-1880;  Maj. Sampson was on the Chaplain School faculty 1952-54.) 


Father Sampson, who later became Chief of Chaplains (1967-1971) was also an Army regional senior tennis champion (14 times, over 7 championships, 1955-1963) and must have trained for these on our officers’ tennis court at Slocum.   Incidentally, he is the real-life model for the British chaplain in The Longest Day who lost his communion kit jumping into the marshes;  and he is also the one who found Sgt. Fritz Niland, apparently the sole survivor of four brothers, and started the paperwork which forced him stateside  --  the story which Steven Spielberg embellished into Saving Private Ryan.  Sampson (in Look Out Below!) and Stephen Ambrose (in D-Day) tell the basic story of Sgt. Niland; though (according to Niland’s daughter, http://www.homestead.com/sprfanfic/fritzniland.html;  and cf. Mark Bando’s very interesting 101st ABN site http://www.101airborneww2.com/bandofbrothers2.html) both Sampson and Ambrose missed key details.   There is also an interesting article (in, believe it or not, the Saving Private Ryan Online Encyclopedia!) at http://www.sproe.com/n/fritz-niland.html.  The Chaplain School website has an article on Monsignor Sampson’s interesting life and his Army career at http://www.usachcs.army.mil/TACarchive/ACTNG/Sampson.htm.


            I was recently discussing with Joel Messing (retired Col., son of Chap. Joseph Berglass Messing) the interesting fact that almost none of our fellow Chaplain School brats, at least not those in the Fort Slocum Alumni & Friends network, went into the clergy.  (As Bob Sisk reminded me more recently, John & Bill, sons of Chap. DeVeaux, were both chaplains in the Army.)   However, in a different way many of the brats went into the “family business.”  


It’s scary, but lots of the kids who used to ride the Slocum Navy to school every day seem now to be (or, are married to) retired E-8 & O-5 & O-6 . . .  including one of the Chaplain brats who switched teams and went over to the real Navy.  And became a writer:  hands down, the most prolific writer ever to have lived on Davids’ Island.   


Peter Huchthausen (son of Chap. Walther Huchthausen) graduated from Annapolis in 1962, and his first assignment as an ensign  landed him on the destroyer USS Blandy, smack in the middle of the Cuban missile crisis blockade.   He tells the tale in October Fury (Wiley, 2002)  --  revealing that at the pay grade of submarine captains, Soviet commanders had authorization for nuclear retaliation if fired upon by a US warship.  (And they came VERY close.)  

Oddly, Peter started on surface ships and graduated to swift boats (never submarines!  he was very reluctant), but before retiring at the end of the Cold War as Capt., became Senior U.S. Naval Attache in Moscow and along the way developed special expertise on the Soviet nuclear submarine fleet.  

On that subject he has written K19:  The Widowmaker (National Geographic, 2002) (later a movie starring Harrison Ford and Liam Neeson) and, with Igor Kurdin and R. Alan White, Hostile Waters (St. Martins, 1977) (later an HBO Original Movie).   Tom Clancy is a fan, and probably any Clancy fans will be likewise.  Clancy is not my own cup of tea, but I learned a lot about the technical working of submarines and sonar detection, the bravery of an enemy, and very many hushed-up Soviet nuclear disasters. 

Just recently I was re-watching K-19 on HBO.  It is comparable to Wolfgang Petersen's film Das Boot.     Just as American cinema audiences typically cheer when the Nazi submarine survives against the odds, anyone can appreciate the devotion to duty, honor, and country by which the doomed sailors of the Soviet fleet lived their lives.  The story is a contribution to the received sociological wisdom that, regardless of how we judge the cause they may serve (for better or for worse), all troops share a common bond and lifestyle.  All regimes, honorable or despicable, rely on stand-up guys whose primary motivation is to support their shipmates and comrades;  and often they are sacrificed, fairly or unfairly.

A full bibliography is on  Capt. Huchthausen's  website, http://peterhuchthausen.com. 
    (Alas, see the obituary for Peter Huchthausen on the Fort Slocum page of this website.)





The Court-Martial of Pfc Garbus


            Martin Garbus is a civil liberties lawyer.   He long has been associated with the ACLU and the Baldwin Foundation.   The son of a Holocaust survivor, he defended the free speech rights of the Nazis to march in Skokie.   He was instrumental in helping Ellsberg bring the Pentagon Papers to light.    He defended Lenny Bruce and Cesar Chavez, and was asked by Vaclav Havel to help write the Czech constitution.   


            But he got his start at Ft. Slocum.   His memoir, Tough Talk:  How I Fought for Writers, Comics, Bigots and the American Way (New York:  Three Rivers, 1998) opens with the following:   “The notice from the United States Army read: ‘You are to appear for Court-Martial Proceedings in Room 114 at Fort Slocum, New York, at 0900 hours on the 17th day of January, 1956.”  


     At 21 a recent graduate from Hunter College, Garbus was assigned to the Army Information School to teach current events.    According to him, he talked in class about reasons why the U.S. should recognize Red China, and about why those who insisted on standing on their Fifth Amendment rights before HUAC should not be fired or jailed.    Junior officers complained to the post CO, who warned Garbus to desist from controversial topics.  The next session, he discussed Sacco and Vanzetti, and the prosecution of Eugene Debs during WWI.   This triggered his court-martial.  


            Nominally the charges were AWOL and disobedience.  (Unofficially, he learned, some members of the court wished to try him for treason.)    On the charges actually filed,   Garbus faced stockade time and a dishonorable discharge.    He was spared this only because an unlikely figure, a senior and much-decorated NCO, stood up in his defense.   One M/Sgt James Hatch asked to speak on the record, told the court what they were doing was wrong, and if they persisted he would take the matter to Washington and go public.


            The Army dropped the charges.   Quietly, Garbus was transferred and lost his security clearance, but was allowed to finish his two years at a Nike facility on Long Island.    (And in fact the story never did go public, until recent years.  It is one of those several events at Ft. Slocum about which we will never find a whisper in the press.)


            His daughter Liz is a documentary filmmaker, and has recently produced “Shouting Fire:  Stories from the Edge of Free Speech.”   It is airing on HBO in July 2009.    We have been in touch with the producers;  while they did not use our material, there is a brief photo at the outset of Garbus revisiting Ft Slocum just before its destruction (bldg. 26 & the water tower in the background). 


            On the subject of those who got their start at Ft Slocum, those in the LA area who listen to KCRW-FM will be familiar with the voice of Warren Olney, who has hosted a number of public-affairs programs over the years.    His introduction to broadcasting was  at the Army Information School.  His current affairs program, "Which Way, LA?" is broadcast daily at 19h00 PST (also on www.kcrw.com).

A later (1942) aerial view of Fort Slocum
showing locations of permanent batteries Haskin & Overton (mortars), Kinney & Fraser (direct fire).

Fort Slocum Fierce

     Those of us who lived there will remember Fort Slocum as a tranquil campus, home to the Information School and the Chaplain School.   For a surprisingly brief period of time around the turn of the last century, Fort Slocum was a coast artillery post guarding the northern approach to New York City though Long Island Sound.  (The overall story of why it was so brief, though without specific reference to Slocum, is concisely laid out in Emanuel Raymond Lewis, Seacoast Fortifications of the United States:  An Introductory History [Annapolis:   Naval Institute Press, 1979].  I am a novice at this  --  a field that has a dedicated corps of serious scholars  -- but what strikes me immediately is the contrast between the extreme speed and power of the technology and the rapid evanesence of the need for any coast artillery.)  Slocum was part of this surprising story;  and even among those interested in Slocum (both alumni, and friends) the story has been lost.
      Construction began in 1891 of a concrete battery consisting of four pits housing sixteen 12" mortars.  Located at the SE corner of the island, it was placed in service in 1897.
      From at least 1896 until 1899 or later, Battery Practice (sometimes described as earthenwork;  subsequently concrete barbette, but sited on ledge rock)  first contained two Rodman guns:  one converted from 10" to 8" by the insertion of a rifled sleeve;  the other a 15" smoothbore.  In 1899 the 15" was replaced on its carriage by a Model 1888 breech-loading rifle.   Practice was located to the east of the mortar batteries, Haskin & Overton,  though it was obsolete after ca. 1899.      From 1899-1904 two concrete batteries of pedestal-mounted breech-loading rifles (Fraser by 1901 with two 5", then Kinney to the north with two 6" by 1904) were installed at the NE end of the island  --  on the spot where bldg. 58 would be erected in  1932.
     All the guns, and the location, were obsolete as coast artillery from their abandonment early in 1906.   By 1907 Slocum was removed from the NY Coast Artillery District, and the guns were removed before 1920.  Astounding!  Massive construction and armament, come and gone within decades.  Operational, really, for only about one decade.   (Likewise, later, NY-15, the Nike Ajax battery from 1955-1961.  For more on the Nikes, go to http://alpha.fdu.edu/~bender/NY15.html.  For obvious reasons the Nikes were never test-fired in the NYC area;  annually the crews went to Red Canyon range at White Sands.  There is an interesting URL about this range at http://home.sport.rr.com/nikeajax/rcrc_welcome.html.  Before the Nikes there was a mobile 90mm AA battery, 2 guns,  which persisted until perhaps 1956.)
     Little remains.  Most guns of that era were destroyed.  One of the four mortar pits was demolished in 1943 for a small-arms range, and both direct-fire batteries by about 1930 to make way for barracks (bldgs. 58-60, later part of the Information School).   As previously noted, Battery Practice has left traces.   Reported to have been buried, it appears on maps as least as late as 1915, aerial photos 1921/25 and 1936, and a 1986 CDSG expedition was able to identify its location.  Today it is obscured by brush but it is still there.   (Bob Sisk has suggested why:  because the concrete was too solid to jackhammer away.  He was one of those who tried, in the '50's.)  Only one ground-level photograph remains of the Slocum artillery, though there are comparable photos from other locations by which we can re-imagine what Slocum was like in those days.
     And then of course there is the one most durable remnant of the post:  our 15" smoothbore Rodman gun, still on the south end of the island near where the T-boat dock used to be.

12" mortars in battery Key West
Slocum mortars were 4 to a pit in 4 pits known as an Abbot Quad

12 inch mortar M1896
these were the latest mortars installed at Ft. Slocum

     "Mortars" were not what most of us might imagine.  Don't think, little 41-lb, 60mm M2 tubes humped in by squads in WWII.  Today's M224 mortars deliver 2.36" 3 lb shells 300 yards from 20-30 times a minute.  By contrast,  Slocum's mortars were large breech-loading fixed rifled guns that could throw 700-1,000 pound shells up to 9 miles.   All 16 could be fired at once, creating the effect of a giant shotgun blast (at its maximum, 5-6 tons of armor-piercing ordnance) arcing down on the lightly-armored or even wooden decks of ships.  And then they could reload & fire again.  Good luck running that gauntlet!

Our only Slocum artillery photo: Battery Fraser.
This view looks south on two 5" pedestal mounted rifles pointed eastward

Our 15" Rodman gun.
It was tame. It was our toy. Kids played on it. Every Easter an egg would be hidden in it.

     We just called it The Cannon.  Technically it is a 15" smoothbore cast-iron black-powder muzzleloader, serial no. 153 from the Cyrus Alger works in Boston, cast in 1872 (and possibly the last one they made). 
    During the Civil War the 15" Rodman was the world's most powerful gun in use.  (Three 20" Rodmans were cast, but these were mere prototypes.)  It weighs about 49,500 lbs.  (weight varies, as these were cast & machined down individually), and threw 450 lb. solid shot or 330 lb. explosive shot as far as 7,730 yds. (i.e., 4 miles) at a muzzle velocity of 1,735 f.p.s. (the fastest in the world).  At 1,000 yds. solid shot could pierce 10" of iron.   No ship afloat could resist a direct hit from this artillery piece.   (Cf. www.nps.gov/fowa/mammoth.htm.)
     Although rapid advances in naval and artillery technology would render them obsolete, Rodmans were still emplaced until the early 20th c.  Ours was in battery until 1899, when presumably it was moved to its display location, where it remains even today.   The elements and the vandals have destroyed much of our home, but who or what can destroy The Cannon?  
     Much coast artillery, including many Rodmans, was scrapped and recycled.  Of the 323 15" Rodmans manufactured, only about 25 survive.  (One of the two 20" to survive is nearby at Ft. Hamilton.)

This is what a 15" Rodman gun looked like
in earthenwork barbette battery: Battery Rodgers (D.C) 1864

Thomas Jefferson Rodman (1815-1871; USMA 1841)
inventor of the Rodman gun

     Thomas Jefferson Rodman died young (ae. 56).  Yet he hit on not one but at least three good, central ideas about the design of gunnery.  He made them happen, and they were effective in their day.  However gunnery evolved so rapidly that his designs (as anyone's would) were soon regarded as dinosaurs.
     In their day, his guns were the most powerful in the world (and may have deterred the British Navy from entering on the side of the Confederacy).
    Just before the War of 1812, George Bomford (USMA 1805) developed the Columbiad, a massive and distinctively American coast artillery weapon.  During the Civil War the Columbiad remained the best the Confederacy could boast.  But the Federals had Rodmans, which (though technically designated as Model 1861 Columbiads) were markedly different, and superior in three ways.  First, they were cast by water cooling  from the inside outward.   This process, along with their bottle shape, increased their resistance to bursting (so much so that in proving they never burst), and never required external reinforcing bands as did other large artillery pieces.  Second, Rodman developed a progressively burning gunpowder.  Previously gunpowder burnt all at once, and as the charge moved down the barrel, pressure decreased.  With progressive burning, barrel pressure increased instead.  Third, the Rodman design shortened the  barrel length to merely 11 times caliber.  (This was for the 15";  for other sizes, it varied slightly, between 13.75 and 10.5.) The cumulative result was a gun that developed high and increasing velocity without the danger of bursting in the faces of gunners, and delivered the fastest muzzle velocity in the world.
     What doomed Rodman's guns was that they were not rifled nor steel nor breechloading  -- the wave of the future, not long after.  (Doomed indeed;   at Key West, scrapped 15" Rodmans were dumped in to reinforce concrete!   See a photo of this at http://www.nps.gov/fowa/mammoth.htm)   Still, though technologically ahead of their time and soon behind the times, they remained in use for 40 years, which (given how rapidly gunnery was changing and guns were becoming outmoded at the same time) is an impressive record.
     For those interested in more details, our friend Bolling W. Smith has published  in The Coast Defense Study Group Journal an article on the Rodmans ("Seacoast Weapons of the Rodman Period 1866-1898," 13(2):4-38, May 1999) and one on powder that explains in detail what Rodman did in this regard ("Charcoal Powder Propellants for Coast Artillery," 11(3):20-29, August 1997).
     An historical curiosity:    George Bomford's son Col. James Voty Bomford (USMA 1832) was CO at Davids' Island 1870-72.  Thomas Jefferson Rodman (USMA 1841) is related to the Rodmans who owned nearby Rodman's Neck and also Davids' Island in the 18th c. (which was then known as Rodman's Island).  Therefore our 15" Rodman gun, one of the 25 surviving of 323, has special historical significance:  Rodman's gun on Rodman's island, cast in 1872, the last year Bomford's son held command there.  Long may it stand!

Col. James Voty (aka Vote) Bomford, CO 8th Inf.
(1811-1892) CO Davids Island 1870-1872