Michael & Elizabeth CAVANAUGH
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Michael & Elizabeth
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Pont Alma, New Year's Eve 1999-2000

This is our website with information about our family, our travels, our genealogy, sometimes our pets and usually our obsessions (for Michael this is currently, foremost,  the Fort Slocum web list and alumni association).   (And now that there is Facebook, more of the purely personal stuff can go there.)   This website also has information for Michael's philosophy students at LA Southwest College.

OK, obsession first:  anyone interested in Fort Slocum, a.k.a. Ft. Slocum which was located on Davids' Island in Long Island Sound during the period it was occupied by the military from 1861 to 1965, email Michael (michaelacavanaugh@earthlink.net).   (Be sure to include the subject line Ft. Slocum so I know it's not spam!)   I am the web list convenor and also the custodian of a whole lot of documents, photos, maps, and other information, free to whomever asks.  (And we accept donations  -- historical material like photos etc., not money  --  freely too!)
 

From 1999 (and increasingly since 2003) I set out to write a comprehensive history of Davids' Island and Fort Slocum.   I dickered around about the format, from a traditional monograph between two covers, to a coffee-table book organized around the extensive collection of photos and maps  --  more than 10,000 items (much to my astonishment) which have turned up since then  -- and finally settled on an annotated collection organized around the photos and maps, made public however not in book form but using the PowerPoint platform & available on CD-ROM.  This finally appeared in November 2013.  Copies of The Biography of a Rock:  Davids' Island & Ft Slocum, 1861-2008, are available free of charge to anyone who wishes.  In the end this seems to me to be the best way to make sure that this very interesting story concerning America's military past, lost so many times before, will remain lost no longer.

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Fort Slocum, Davids' Island NY during the Cold War

And in the End . . .

 

            Fort Slocum is now gone.

 

            2009 marks the centennial of the last major wave of construction at Ft. Slocum.   In the  year 1909 appeared the new post HQ, Raymond Hall,  the Chapel of St. Sebastian, and the YMCA.  Yet none of these buildings survives to mark the occasion.   For none of the buildings survives, whatsoever.      In 2008, the US Army Corps of Engineers removed the last remnants of this historic post.  Now, for the first time since before the Civil War, there is nothing to be seen of Davids’ Island from the mainland -- except the rock itself.

 

            The process began in March 2005 and was projected to run at least until 2013.   It was a process of historic documentation, abatement of hazardous waste and possible preservation of historic structures.    The process became a juggernaut (rolling right over those of us on the preservation side  --  almost to the end it looked like some structures might be saved, and that there would be years of debate ahead), picked up funding faster than predicted, and in the end defined almost all structures (however historic) as hazardous waste, all to be removed.   USACE was the instrument;   the City of New Rochelle, as property owner, made the decision to destroy it all.   Little more than 3 years later, it was all a done deal.

 

            At some point during the process I remarked (tongue-in-cheek, or so I imagined) that the tail of what was doable, was beginning to wag the dog of what was historically significant;  so that in the end, we would be in danger of leaving only the remnants of the coast artillery phase simply because they are the hardest to remove, and that for any future visitors to the site, this would badly distort the overall history of the military occupation of Davids’ Island. 

 

            In fact this is exactly what happened.    The only physical remnants of the post are the 25-ton Rodman gun;   and the remainder of 3 of 4 solid concrete pits of the Abbot Quad built for mortars, and one earlier artillery battery,  in the 1890’s;  and the road system.    (In the name of avoiding liability, I am told, chicken wire will be placed over the muzzle of the Rodman, and entrances to the mortar battery will be sealed.  This mocks even the little history that is left.)

 

            Funds were expended on destruction;   nothing was done on landscaping (for instance, to reopen the historic parade ground, now overgrown with trees).   Brush was removed only insofar as expedient to move around heavy equipment.   It is altogether possible that the poison ivy which has taken over the SE corner of the island, will in future spread more widely.    So the result is (to paraphrase Barbara Davis)  it is not even left in a State of Nature, but simply as urbanized space gone to jungle.

 

            On paper, the plan was for USACE to remove hazardous wastes, and then New Rochelle would sell the property to Westchester County for a park.   Whether or not this will happen remains to be seen.   Despite the fact that a number of influential developers have been beaten back (including Donald Trump, most recently) by the very real difficulty of getting Federal permission for a bridge to the island, and despite the fact that in the meantime the Sound has become more overdeveloped and more polluted than before, it is not impossible that yet another ambitious developer may try to acquire the real estate with an eye to building a large, high-impact development.

 

            My crystal ball tells me that one of two outcomes is possible.  Either no one will ever again inhabit Davids’ Island.    Or else, one very rich person (family) will.    There is a market for private islands, and anyone rich enough to buy this one would be rich enough to provide their own boat & helicopter service to the mainland.  In the eyes of the present owners, a motivated private buyer might well trump an unmotivated County.

 

            As to use by the general public, despite the fact that it is empty, despite the fact that any hazardous materials have been abated (since the entire post has been abated!),  it is not yet a park.    For the moment New Rochelle, the owner, forbids any access except by special permission, and its Harbor Patrol enforces this prohibition.

 

            The real estate history of Davids’ Island is that (to paraphrase the Conch Republic of Key West), “it seceded where others failed.”   Just about the time South Carolina was leaving the Union, Davids’ Island was seceding from Westchester County.    It was under Federal control, as a military reservation, until 1965.   Thereafter, although it was returned to local control, the effect of secession continued, as the possibilities for its development remained under Federal regulation.   In the interim, had it been on the open market, it might well have been developed;   if there was a bridge to Brooklyn by 1883, there might well have been one to Davids’ Island.   

 

            Sour grapes?    We have lost the physical Fort Slocum;   gone forever.   In March 2008 I walked the island, and could still see most of the remnants;   in December, after even the water tower was gone,  I walked the island again and (though I know the layout of Ft Slocum like the back of my hand) I became greatly disoriented.     On the other hand, had Davids’ Island been developed by Con Ed in the 1970’s or  Xanadu in the 1980’s or Trump in the 1990’s, Fort Slocum would have been swept away equally but 1) with some monstrosity put in its place and 2) with no respect whatsoever for its history.    Because the destruction was part of a Federal process, it was also subject to the ordinary Federal regulations regarding history and archaeology.    As remediation for the physical destruction, USACE was required to leave some compensation in place.

 

            As a result, posterity receives:

 

  • More archaeological documentation of the Siwanoy tribal occupation before the European settlement of the island;
  • 10,000+ photos, documents and maps from various stages in its development by the U.S. Army, all in easily accessible digital format;
  • A virtual archive and repository of these images and other artifacts;
  • A website to make these available, developed by USACE and maintained by New Rochelle & Westchester County.  It was rolled out 9 Nov. 2009 (see below for description & URL link);
  • Eventually, a book-length history of Davids’ Island and Fort Slocum.

 

 

            In the end (as Bob Sisk points out), Fort Slocum may turn out to be the best-documented Army post ever. 

 

            That’s the good news.  The bad news is, like the village of Ben Tre in Vietnam, it became necessary to destroy it in order to save it.

 

            The thing which most surprised me is the sheer number of photos and maps, and the rapidity with which they were collected.   We started 6 years ago with maybe 2 dozen, black & white, mainly out of focus.   I thought, maybe we might get as much as 100.    Some that we have collected had been scattered in public archives, but many have come from private sources, such as former residents including members of the Ft Slocum Alumni & Friends and/or appearance on the open market (particularly eBay, but also the web in general).    More continue to trickle in, and gaps remain to be filled.   For example, in January this year I managed to turn up 10 photos (now increased to 14;  cf. Features Page)  of De Camp General Hospital, which occupied Davids’ Island during the Civil War.   Previously we had maps and even an aerial view, but never before ground-level photographs.

 

    So there is the inevitable silver lining.  (Sometimes metaphors blow up in one's face:  ill winds, dark clouds, lemonade.    And surely we don't want to catch ourselves saying, I like the disease because the medicine tastes so good.   I think about the Charles Lamb story on how roast pig was discovered.   In the end, someone figured out it was not necessary to burn the house down in order to savor the pig.   Was it really necessary to lose our island in order to get the goodies?)

 

             The web list of Ft. Slocum Alumni & Friends began in Feb. 2003 and has snowballed to around 100 members (with varying degrees of attachment). 

 

     We are a motley collection of ex-GI's, Army (& AAF)  brats, mommies (daddies alas have tended to die  -- but, not all of them!) and also local Westchester County residents who also are attached to our old island home.   We are someone's worst nightmare:   we lived in New Rochelle, AND clung (if not bitterly) to our guns & religion.   Spanning the 1920's to the 1960's, not everyone knew everybody else.   Our members are like scales on a fish:   the fish needs all its scales, but each scale only overlaps with a few more scales at most.   (Still, all the scales have the fish in common.)

 

    Over that time members have contributed their own photos and anecdotes.   I myself have finished about 4 of a projected 9 chapters of a full-length history of Davids' Island and Ft. Slocum.

       

            So the full history of Davids' Island including its nearly century-long occupation by the Army has yet to be written;  but it seems safe to say it was something like "the Ellis Island of the U.S. Army."  It was a hospital for both Federal and Confederate soldiers (and a prison camp for the latter) during the Civil War.   From 1878 through 1922 it was a major recruit depot; in WWII it was a staging area for shipping troops to the European Theater of Operations.  It was home to a series of Army schools.  Across its historic docks have passed hundreds of thousands and more, some obscure, some notable.  Gen. Abner Doubleday was CO in 1866, with one 2/Lt Arthur MacArthur under his command.  In 1880 it was visited by Secretary of War Alexander Ramsey, Gen. of the Army William T. Sherman, and Maj/Gen Winfield Scott Hancock, commander of the Department of the East.    Frederic Remington sketched there in the 1890's;  in 1902 it was the second assignment out of VMI for 2/Lt George C. Marshall;  in 1905 the "Dook of Ft. Slocum," the Hon.  Arthur Reginald French, later 5th Baron de Freyne, was there as a Pvt. in Co. A, 8th Inf.; Eleanor Roosevelt and Francis Cardinal Spellman visited in 1951.  Former Vice President Walter Mondale was a student at the Information School in the early 1950's.  As Phil Reisman (a Westchester journalist who has covered Davids' Island over the years) put it, Davids’ Island has been "a crossroads for several generations of soldiers sent to fight Apaches, the Spanish and Germans"  --  not to forget the CSA nor the NVA.  

 

       On the subject of press coverage, in addition to Phil's article above, and some coverage in the New York Times, Ken Valenti also published in the Journal News an article drawing on some of his interviews with our members:  Joanne (Gebhard) Geer, daughter of the WWII post chaplain;  Doug Looney, journalist & instructor at the Information School 1963-65;  Richard Lowery, radar operator with the Nike battery 1958-60; and Bob Sisk, a retired NCO and son of the long-time Chaplain School 1st/Sgt who lived on the island 1951-58. 

 

            More recently, Ken Valenti and Aman Ali have provided coverage for the Journal News.  Currently it is the beat of Hannan Adely (hadely@lohud.com).

 

       We also welcome our allies in the Coast Defense Study Group (CDSG; visit them at www.cdsg.org).   Bolling Smith in particular had provided lots of information about the post.      Briefly around the turn of the last century Davids' Island hosted 2 batteries comprising 16 mortars, 2 more  batteries with 5" and 6" direct fire guns, and several other guns including a formidable 15" Rodman gun which remains even today on the island.  There is perhaps no one alive who remembers those days when little Fort Slocum was positively fierce.  It was not always the tranquil campus we remember.  (See the current Slocum Features page for more on the artillery.)

 

     The Chaplain School was at Slocum from 1951-1962.  After several changes of organization and venue the U. S. Army Chaplain Center and School is now at Ft. Jackson, where the Chaplain Museum (founded at Slocum in 1958) is also.   As of 2008 ground was broken at Ft. Jackson to relocate the Navy & Air Force Chaplain Schools there into a joint Armed Forces Chaplaincy Center.  Their web site is www.usachcs.army.mil.   Chaplain (Col.) Chuck Gibbs (Ret.) maintains a weblist for retired chaplains;  those associated with the School are invited to email him at cgibbs1@bizsatx.rr.com.

 

     From 1951-1965 the Information School (variously known as the Army Information School (1946-48, 1954-64), Armed Forces Information School [1948-54], and Defense Information School [1964-present]) was also at Slocum.  They too have moved a bit but are now at Fort George G.  Meade.  Their alumni association is at www.dinfosalum.org.

 

            The Spanish-American War Centennial website has kindly agreed to host two articles about Fort Slocum during that war, which will also soon appear in the beta version of The Fort Slocum Reader.  "How the Private Fooled the Captain" first appeared in the Washington Post in 1904;   it concerns the 22nd NY Volunteers, stationed at Fort Slocum during 1898.   It may be read at http://www.spanamwar.com/22newyorkdance.htm.    "War Kites at Glen Island" first appeared in the New York Times in 1898;  it concerns the experimental bombing of Fort Slocum and an early attempt at aerial photography.  It is at http://www.spanamwar.com/warkites.htm

 

            Harold Crocker, a long-time Westchester resident whose parents were married in the post chapel in 1946, maintains a Ft. Slocum website at http://www.geocities.com/hcftslocum/index.html.  Phil Buehler, a Manhattan photographer and filmmaker with an interest in documenting modern ruins, has posted (note:  now, 2 separate Davids' Island groups:  1998/9, & 1983) some of his photos of the island at http://www.modern-ruins.com/attractions/davids.html.   Rob Yasinsac of Tarrytown, who also has an interest in historic ruins in the region, has posted some photos on his website www.hudsonvalleyruins.org Marie Lorenz, a Brooklyn-based artist, runs an idiosyncratic "taxi" service using small boats she builds by hand;   one such run, out to Davids' Island recently, is documented on her website, http://www.marielorenz.com/inprogress/?p=1212.    Tito Rosario, former San Juan coffee merchant (now living in Richmond, VA) and former resident of Quarters 23A,  started a Slocum chat room on his website,  http://gicco.com/Slocum/chat.html.  He has added a blog feature: http://www.gicco.com/wordpress/.

 

            George Willhite, who was at the Info School in the early 1960's, organized the first Slocum reunion in 2006.   The 2007 reunion  took place on 13 Sept., and involved a trip back to the island.   You can contact  George at Slocumreunion@aol.com.   Harold Crocker has posted photos of that trip at http://www.flickr.com/photos/fort_slocum/.   Bill Waterhouse is trying to organize a larger reunion;   contact him at slocumreunion@yahoo.com.  Pat Skelly has a Slocum page on his Military History Network:  http://www.milhist.net/fortslocum/index.html.

 

      Something Wiki this way comes.    There is a short article in the standard Wikipedia:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fort_Slocum.  What may be less well-known, is the fact that there is a specific Wiki devoted to forts;  and the article there (where we are known as Ft Slocum 2  -  to distinguish us from the earlier Civil War fort)  is more extensive (I know because I wrote most of it!):  http://fortwiki.com/Fort_Slocum_%282%29

           

      For the Brat constituency:    many of us will know the classic novel and film, The Great Santini, by Pat Conroy.  If Conroy is the godfather of it all, the reigning doyenne of brat studies surely must be Mary Edwards Wertsch.   Her pioneering work, Military Brats:   Legacies of Childhood Inside the Fortress, is a must-read.   Where Conroy's portrait of Lt/Col "Bull" Meecham is bitter, Wertsch's take  is deliberately bittersweet:   there are upsides and downsides, and all sorts of ongoing tensions (destructive, creative), to growing up Brat and then to living the rest of one's life outside the fortress.   Full of insights into culture and social relations (e.g., different attitudes to regulations by officers & NCO's and how NCO's often become master of the master) as well as to the development and maintenance of identity.   Cf. also Wertsch's blog, http://bratblog.brightwellpublishing.net/.  Wertsch's fortress metaphor also informs the recent film by Donna Musil, “Brats:  Our Journey Home,” sometimes informally known as the "bratsfilm" (cf. http://www.bratsourjourneyhome.com/).   See the website for screening dates around the world;   some people find it’s useful to watch it at these gatherings with other brats, but it is also available on DVD for viewing at home.

 

            Our alumna Judi (Forquer) Runyon has passed along a link:  someone is manufacturing Ft Slocum coffee mugs.   These are not period pieces but modern products;  and with no commercial endorsement, but FYI, you might contact Rich Rizzo, 

http://www.zazzle.com/fort_slocum_ny_mug-168797143012126418.  

 

       Judi has also started a Ft Slocum group on Facebook (a free site).  After some confusion over names, it is now sorted.  “Fort Slocum” is Judi’s personal page on Facebook, while “Fort Slocum Friends” is the alumni site maintained by Judi & Rivka  --  the place to chat, comment & post photos.   There is also a Slocum group on classmates.com (a subscription site). 

 

      Our network is FSA&F, Fort Slocum Alumni & Friends.   One of the Friends is Rachel Bayla Moskowitz.   Though she is one of those who never did get to see our post in its heyday, she has done some research on De Camp General Hospital, which was there during the Civil War.   Her 2006 senior thesis at Penn concerned the work of Mary Ann Agnes (Dickinson) Smith (1822-1891), who organized a group of women from Stamford CT to aid the patients and prisoners on Davids’ Island.  Ongoing graduate work at NYU has led her to scan some of Smith’s correspondence, and to post the scans online.  (They are digitally scanned, though not digitally searchable.)   The website is a work in progress, but you can read some of these documents online at www.rachelbayla.com/project.

 

     Since July 2009 HBO has been running a documentary called "Shouting Fire:  Stories from the Edge of Free Speech."   It is an interview with civil rights lawyer Martin Garbus,  who got his start at Ft. Slocum.  (For more, see Slocum Features page.)

IT’S   H - E - R - E - !

 

            Thus far, the website you are reading is the oldest one concerned with Ft. Slocum and Davids’ Island; and, when Google works in mysterious ways its wonders to perform, this site shoots straight to the top of any search for Ft. Slocum.  There are a few good reasons for it to continue.

 

  • For one thing it has extensive coverage of our network, FSA&F (the Fort Slocum Alumni & Friends).
  • It works as a recruiting tool.  Before the website appeared, I had to work at Google, eBay, snowballing, etc. to track down fellow alumni, but now that we have a web presence, fellow alumni track us down too;
  • It has links to all other known Ft. Slocum websites (and some online articles, including Wikis), as well as to related organizations (like the Coast Defense Study Group, the Chaplain School, the DINFOS alumni).  It still works as a network node and clearinghouse.
  • The site still has the most extensive coverage anywhere of the Duckworth Chant. 
  • And it has an editorial edge.

 

 

            That said, I am quite glad to hand off first place (or so I am hoping)  to the new kid on the block.  That is to say, the long-awaited Ft Slocum/Davids’ Island website is now on line.   It was rolled-out at a public meeting in New Rochelle on 9 November, attended i.a. by some our members.   The URL is:  http://davidsisland.westchesterarchives.com.

 

            The new site is not in competition with the present one.  The new one is different with respect to being:

 

§         Not particularly partial to  our FSA&F network;

§         Potentially comprehensive though far from complete yet;

§         Bureaucratic, safe, non-editorial.

 

            But if those features are drawbacks, consider what the new site has going for it positively:

 

  • It is MUCH bigger!
  • It was professionally designed and will be professionally maintained;
  • It is linked to a Virtual Archive.

 

            In terms of military history, it is a quantum leap forward.  In my remarks at the roll-out, I asserted that this new website represents a benchmark.   I think this is correct.  There is nothing else like it.  No other post has been so extensively studied and documented as has Ft. Slocum.  This website is, so far, the cutting edge of that effort.  We can only hope that this product will serve as an inspiration to those seeking to write the history of other posts or bases.

 

            The worst that can be said about it is that it is incomplete.   But such a flaw is so fixable.

 

            The Archive feature is particularly exciting, at least to me.  Since FSA&F has been in existence, I have been the custodian of all our images and documents.  Much to my surprise,  the collection has grown by leaps and bounds, well over 10,000 items, at approaching 10 GB  of space.  This is a joy, and a burden.   As custodian I have been hard-pressed to discharge my duty in sharing it all.  Various strategies over the years have proven unsatisfactory.  I have responded as best I could to individual queries,  burning a CD here and there on request;  but in fact very few people have ever had a chance to share my guilty pleasure in examining  the whole mind-boggling collection.  In time, the new website can change this.  I look forward to the day when all of our material will be digital (most of it now is), AND all of it will be available on the website server, for self-service browsing and download (which almost none of it now is).

 

            Prepare to be blown away, as I have been, by an embarrassment of riches!

 

            Speaking again for myself, as custodian I have felt under a sword of Damocles.  Much of the stuff we have collected has been lost to posterity thus far, and we have yanked it back.  I worry that it might be lost once again.   When we get it on a virtual archive,  and thence copies dispersed,  it will never be lost again.  I (and you) will get out from under that damned sword!

 

            For the FSA&F, such an outcome (having it all digitized, and self-service) would represent real fruition for all our work in gathering and contributing material for preserving the memory of our old home.  Who cannot welcome this and be happy about it?

 

            The advisory committee has worked hard to make what information appears at the launch as accurate as possible.  To repeat, the main downside is that, accurate as it may be, the site is incomplete.  But as flaws go this is minor.  It is fixable, providing there is the will and the funding to maintain and expand the site now that USACE has handed it off to its new custodians, Westchester County and New Rochelle.  (Terms of the hand-off agreement require a moratorium of a year before changes can be posted to the site.  But that does not preclude working on those changes in the interim.)

 

            A few words of explanation.  (Apology, in either sense.)    On behalf of the FSA&F, I have been an active member of the advisory committee and interested parties working group with the US Army Corps of Engineers (USACE).  They are the agency that (along with their subcontractor TetraTech Inc.)  destroyed from 2005 to 2008 what was left of Ft. Slocum, under the direction of the property’s owners, the City of New Rochelle.  As a public agency, however, USACE was bound by Section 106 of the Historic Preservation Act.  Specifically, if they cause “adverse effects” (this covers destruction) in a designated historic district, they must offer some remediation.  Ft. Slocum was an historic district.  They did wreak destruction.  Providing this new website is part of the remediation required by Federal statute.

 

            As a participant in this process, I was on the side of maximizing preservation.   I opposed the destruction on behalf of our network.  As someone who had done considerable historic homework on Ft. Slocum, I insisted furthermore that buildings be evaluated for preservation or destruction by their historical significance, and if preserved, so done according to such criteria.  (Made myself a bit of a nuisance, truth be told.)

 

            Until the close of 2007, there was still a debate about whether this would happen.  In June, an independent body of experts had declared that many of the buildings could be salvaged, and this was being discussed by the advisory group.    On December 4 of that year, the New Rochelle City Council met in closed session with USACE and voted unanimously to remove all above-ground structures.  The decision was kept secret until February;  there was no local political opposition to it;  and the condemnation proceeded swiftly throughout 2008.  But until the close of 2007, there was still room for debate and maneuver, at least in principle, in a process that had been projected to last until at least 2013.  

 

            At the same time that I opposed destruction and insisted that any case for destruction be made on grounds of historical significance, research-based and not simply whimsical, I must also say that I decided very early on that the probability of our succeeding in preserving much, or even anything, was fairly low.  (Not entirely out of the question;  but, low.)  The forces of preservation were like The Mouse that Roared;  if one is unfortunate enough to be a small power locked in a war with a larger one, the best one can do is secure favorable rather than unfavorable terms of defeat.  That is essentially what the new website represents:  not the best we might hope for, but perhaps the best we could do.

 

            Please don’t take this the wrong way, but this experience gives one an added appreciation for those Confederate POWs who once lived on our island. 

 

            Because USACE is a public agency, subject to Federal historic preservation law, what the preservation forces did take away clearly is a lot better than what we would have gotten had previous owners of the island carried out their own plans for destruction and renewal:

 

§         Con Ed, which wanted to build a nuclear plant (“Three-Mile Davids’ Island”?)  in the late ‘60’s and into the 70’s,

§         Xanadu, which wanted a stately gated ‘Yuppie Pleasure Dome’ of high-rise condos through the ‘80’s;

§         Donald Trump, ditto (with a towering central skyscraper large enough to be seen from Manhattan!   a new ‘World’s Largest Keep-off-the-Grass Sign,’ taking that title away from Pitt’s Cathedral of Learning?) for the 1990’s.

 

            Any of the foregoing agencies would simply have wiped our post off the map, and given nothing in return. 

 

            Surprisingly perhaps, the remnants of our post survived all these onslaughts.  Longtime.  Decades, in fact.  They simply did not survive indefinitely. 

 

            Yet The Mouse won.  Relatively at least;  won something.

 

            And lost something too.  During WWII, and at least through the period when it was Slocum AFB, the wall of the CO’s office was decorated with framed portraits of most of the previous post CO’s.    The miracle of eBay has yielded what extensive archival digging has not, namely, two of the original framed portraits.  (Images of the others have turned up at NARA however.  A possible future project for the new website would be to recreate a virtual CO’s office wall.)  The two I found are at the top of my staircase.  Col. Henry Peoble Kingsbury, son-in-law of Henry Warner Slocum himself, was a retread from the Indian Wars, brought back to command the post in WWI.  Maj. Thomas Buchanan Dugan (promoted Brig/Gen by WWI) commanded the post in 1909, during a massive wave of construction that saw the appearance of post HQ, the YMCA, and the Chapel of St. Sebastian.  Is it just my imagination;  when I walk downstairs, are they simply gazing sternly (as Old Army officers should), or are they frowning at me for having stood by watching the bulldozers tear down our brick and mortar?

 

            Metaphors about lemons and lemonade, clouds and silver linings, ill winds that blow good,  etc., tend to  backfire.  I always hate to find myself saying:  I like the disease, because the medicine tastes so good.   I do not like the disease.  I wish we had our old island back.  I wish even we had the ruins back.  I miss being able to walk through them (as I did in 1981, and again from 2005-2008).  No one, myself included,  will ever be able to do this again!  I opposed the destruction then.  I do not approve the destruction now.  Extinction, as someone has said, is forever.  

 

            At the same time I cannot deny that the medicine tastes good. 

 

            Damn it.

 

            An ill wind has blown in a silver cloud which rains medicinal lemonade  and perhaps the Mouse Army can swallow it, recover and  make the best of a bad situation?  You be the judge, as you visit the new website.

 

[As of May 2012, the website is down due to technical difficulties.   It is expected to remain down for at least several months.]

Remarks on

the USACE Website Rollout

 

            Good morning.  I have three things to say.

 

            Wow!

 

            What an amazing website.  Bob Sisk has said, and I think he is correct, that Davids’ Island and Fort Slocum may turn out to be THE most well-studied and well-documented post in American history.  This website marks a big step in that direction.  There is nothing like it.  I hope it serves as a benchmark for those seeking to write the history of other posts, and bases.   And I hope it improves as we continue to grow it.

 

            Second, as organizer of the Fort Slocum Alumni and Friends (FSA&F), I would like to thank our members.  They have contributed photos, documents and oral history interviews.   Without their efforts this website would be much poorer.

 

            We are a combination of Alumni  --  those who lived and/or worked on post;  and Friends  --  those who may never have seen the island in its heyday, but only in ruins, and yet have come to love it nonetheless.  Some of our members are present today, and I would like them to stand as I recognize them:

 

  • Rachel Moskowitz wrote her senior thesis at Penn on the Civil War post on Davids’ Island.  She is currently a grad student at NYU.  (And, this semester, learning to read hieroglyphics.  I’m impressed!)
  • Harold Crocker Jr. is the son of  Cpl Harold Crocker Sr.,  an MP who was married on post in the Chapel of St. Sebastian in 1946.  He continues to live in New Rochelle, where he is a teacher and coach.
  •  Two Sp5’s:  Bill Waterhouse, who was with the garrison (1207th ASU) from 1961-1963, during the time of the Cuban Missile Crisis;  and
  • Pat Skelly, son of Maj. Walter Skelly who lived in Quarters 13, 1940-1942.  Pat later joined the Army, leaving also as Sp5, and is now a military historian.  He is also 3rd generation Slocum:  for his grandfather, Pvt. John Skelly of the Coast Artillery, was at Slocum in Feb. 1899.  We know this because he fell through the ice while walking about on the frozen Sound.  (No fear, Pvt. Skelly was rescued, which is why Pat is here today.)
  • And, our trio of M/Sgts, all retired.  Bob Sisk, and
  • Tom Sisk, are sons of 1/Sgt Edgar Sisk, longtime 1/Sgt of the Chaplain School who retired at Slocum in 1958. They lived in Quarters 32B from 1951-1958. Both are Vietnam veterans.
  • Last but not least, M/Sgt retired from the USAF, Gladys (Woodard) Borkowski, known as Woodie.  In the day however she was S/Sgt Gladys Woodard, one of the original WAACs  --  that is, double A, when they were known as “auxiliaries,” before they got military rank and became the WAC in 1943.  In 1943, Woodie conducted the first detachment of 30 WAACs to Slocum from Devens.  She became a drillmaster, and is the sole survivor of 3 drillmasters to record the earliest versions of the famous  Duckworth Chant in 1945 on a V-Disc, from our Raymond Hall on post.  A little later during the opening slide show it is her voice, distinctive Massachusetts accent and all, that you will hear leading troops in marching to that chant. 

 

            As the organizer of FSA&F I would be remiss if I did not register our deep disappointment at having lost our old home.  Perhaps you know the Charles Lamb story about how roast pork was discovered?   A long time ago in China a house burned down.  Inside were some piggies.  A man came by the smouldering rubble and touched one of the pig carcasses.  Ouch!   he said as he cooled his finger in his mouth.  Mmm!  he said and touched it again.  And again.  Eventually humans learned that it was not necessary to burn down the house in order to enjoy the roast pig.

 

            By the same token, I must wonder if really it was necessary to burn down our house in order to savor the roast pig today, our new website.

 

            Third:  sometimes clichés just ARE true.  This website truly was a collaborative effort.  No one person did bring it about, nor could have. 

 

            I might mention only the team from TetraTech who did so much work:

 

  • Sydne Marshall
  • Rob Jacoby
  • Jay Mahar
  • Andru Poole.

 

            Yet there is one person, and also on that team, who in my view went above and beyond the call of duty.  And his efforts deserve to be recognized.  Chris Borstel, would you  join me on stage?

 

            Here are some examples:

  1. Chris put boots on the ground, a lot.  He discovered what was hiding in plain sight.  How many times have we looked at the Rodman gun?  Yet Chris measured it, and found that it was mounted slightly akilter.  Probably due to an effort, during the Cold War, by the Engineers to move its 49,000 pound bulk.  (Not successful.)
  2. During my last Winter collecting expedition, I was pleased to discover 10 photos, ground-level, of the Civil War hospital. Grinning like the Cheshire Cat, was I.  We had never seen any ground-level photos before.  (Then Chris promptly turned around and added 4 more.)
  3. As if his day job did not give him enough to do, about 4-5 weeks ago, at a weekend swap meet in Jersey, Chris discovered a Slocum postcard.  Now I thought I had seen ALL the Slocum postcards  --  and there are a LOT of them!  --  but this one I had never seen.  It is very rare, probably a limited edition.   Chris & Bob Sisk & Carl Wenberg & I have hashed it over, we are about 90% sure that this represents the unique photo of the  Combat Platoon hastily organized, in the wake of Pearl Harbor, to repel boarders (whether Wehrmacht  paratroops or Westchester fifth columnists).   You will see this photo later in the presentation.

 

            And so, if anyone deserves to be designated an honorary Alumnus of Ft. Slocum, it is Chris Borstel.  Accordingly, I am happy to present him with this certificate.   (It is a facsimile of a graduation certificate from Ft. Slocum in 1945.)

 

            And with that, I will turn over the podium to Greg Goepfert.

 

________________________________________________________________________   

 

            A few comments on the proceedings:

 

            1.  Woodie is a true pioneer.  Pat Skelly has graciously volunteered to post the press release prepared for her appearance on his website.  Col. John Boulé Jr., head of the New York District, USACE, came by toward the end of the ceremony and personally thanked her for her service.  Very nice.  (I have sent him a thank-you on our behalf.)

 

            2.  As it turns out later in the day, though not in time to be recognized in the ceremony, we enrolled two new alumni, also current New Rochelle residents, who worked as civilian employees on post:   Rose Ann Hunt, who worked in the Information School 1956-1958, and Fran Spallone, who worked with QM Consolidated Property, 1956-1959.  And when I returned to check email, we added yet another alumna that same day, Nancy Shewchuck Buchanan, daughter of M/Sgt Joseph Shewchuk who ran the mess hall intermittently, 1951-1962, and whose family had quarters on post, 1951-1955. 

 

            Not surprisingly, because for Ft. Slocum, the hits just seem to keep on coming!  For administrative purposes, we had to call a halt to the initial phase of the website, just to get it out there on-line as a finished product.   But any halt is bound to be arbitrary.  I never cease to be amazed at what is just beyond the bend.  After 6 years the FSA&F has accumulated more than 10,000 items;  sometimes there is a gusher, sometimes a trickle, but never yet has the stream of new information and new members dried up.

 

            On the subject of civilian employees, it has been said that the NCO corps is the backbone of the Army.  One more cliché which turns out to be true.   What also often goes unsung, though it is also true, is that the DAC’s (Department of the Army Civilians) play a critical role. Like many others, Fort Slocum has been simultaneously post, and village.   A true village has village elders, who remain and who embody the collective wisdom and knowledge.  But in a post, all uniformed members (including the leaders) rotate through constantly.   The civilians remain long-term.  Consequently, unlike a true village, it is the civilians (entirely outside the structure of rank) whose continuous experience embodies the ongoing knowledge.  Therefore, the civilians are likely to have lots of knowledge that the uniformed transients, even the post leadership, will not. They are the village elders. They know where the bodies are buried.   It is all too easy to ignore them.   Me, I hope that we can enlist many more, because if we can, what they have to tell us will give us some very important and very new information about a period that the rest of us may think we know all too well.

 

            3.  There has been some discussion on Facebook about how few photos made the cut, and how we can add to the site.  I don’t quite know how to answer the latter.  I would note two things:  first, it will be a year before any changes will appear on-line;  second (unlike Facebook, this site, or the other sites) the new site is controlled by a committee (and so changes will not be instantaneous).  I have been part of the old committee (USACE, the one that put the site together in the first place).  They have no further responsibility, and about the composition or the process of the new committee (Westchester County)  that will manage it and grow it, no one really knows.  I’ll keep looking!  But in the meantime, Rivka’s advice is good, if we want to post photos, all the other sites (Facebook, Harold’s, etc.) are a better bet.  (This depends of course on their capacity;  for my own site, I am already up to the limit, but I suspect sites like Flickr which are devoted to photos might be more accommodating.)

 

            Here’s one way to look at the relative dearth of photos to date on the new website.  You could look at a three-year old and say, gee, dumb kid can hardly speak and has almost no vocabulary.    This would miss the point that the child has neurologically a “deep structure” for language acquisition and use, and eventually will grow by leaps and bounds (which the young of no other species, lacking such a structure, will ever do).  By analogy, the most important part of the new website is that it has the capacity to grow.  Content can be added later.

 

            Also, you will notice, it is internally searchable.  On the one hand, it would be nice to have ready access to 10,000 images and documents;  on the other hand it would be a headache, were these not well-organized.  A single picture will be interesting for a number of reasons (the 5 people who are in it, the year it was taken, the buildings it shows, etc.).  It will take time to index these properly, but the structure of the website is already set up to handle this.

 

Website Wins Award

 

            The Greater Hudson Heritage Association has given one of its 2010 Awards for Excellence to the USACE website.   The Fort Slocum Alumni and Friends  --  we are the source of many of the historical resources included in the website  --  is named among the recipients.

 

http://www.greaterhudson.org/Programs/Annual_Meeting/Awards_for_Exellence/awards_for_exellence.html

     At Ft Slocum, in May 1944, Pvt Willie Lee Duckworth Sr., on detached service from Ft Kilmer with the Provisional Training Center, devised a marching cadence which soon became famous as The Duckworth Chant, aka Sound Off, and which is the basis for the modern-day Jody Call.  (See the Slocum Features page for more on this.)
     In 2010 Georgia named its State Road 242 in Washington Co., GA, near Duckworth's home:  the Willie Lee Duckworth Sr. Highway.  On Veterans' Day,  Thursday Nov. 11 at 13:00 hours, a memorial marker was dedicated on the grounds of the county courthouse.      A photo has been posted on the Ft. Slocum Facebook page.

Current as of 23 Feb. 2012. 

     We are down to only five indoor cats and about two outdoor cats.  There is Merton (a Russian Blue, born around Halloween 2008).   He is named after my friend Robert King Merton (1910-2003), a well-known ailurophile.   Also Riley, a tawny rescue born probably around Halloween 2009.   Riley has yet to grow into his ears, while Merton likes to destroy paper (chewing cardboard boxes like a dog, shredding wallpaper on his way up the drapes).  So now we call them Lynx und Wrex.  One outdoor cat, The Miau, gave birth to MiMi;  joined soon in the driveway by twins of unknown provenance, Lily and Rose. (All three black.  Our Familiars.   Hard to tell them apart, collectively they go by:   The Panthers.)   Lady Jane Grey (more like a butternut grey Confederate uniform), like The Miau, decided she would abandon the feral life for free cat food;   she brought her 3 kittens, but they had a different take on feral and in any case have made themselves scarce. 
 
       The back yard is a bit emptier now;  on 14 April 2009 we had to put down our Shih Tzu/Maltese mix, Stanzi, due to advanced breast cancer.   Daisy, our 2nd Dalmatian, and Bollinger, our Greyhound/Chow/? mix  (the spitting image of Bart Simpson's dog Santa's Little Helper,  only MUCH larger  -- a great coursing dog) remain to keep away the Bad Folks.  Along, of course, with little Hans, the mini-miniature Dachshund (Kaninchen Teckel) who has been with us since 2005.  (He can finish them off at the ankles.)  (Which sublime, which ridiculous?)
 
      Spencer, a Dalmatian among cats and something like 12 years old, disappeared in the summer of 2010.
 
     And the passing of a living link to Fort Slocum  --  sort of.  Griffin (aka The Mighty Hunter, scourge of all rodents; and a few small dogs) died on Thursday 24 January 2008, aged about 15.  He was too young to have been born on post!  But he was a gift in 1993 from SFC Arley & Wilma Griffin, old friends of our family from Slocum days.  When we left in 1960, we gave them our cocker spaniel, Victor, who in turn had been given to us by Col. Edward Donahue, commandant of the Chaplain School, when he left in 1957.  Victor's parents were also Slocum dogs (though pure cocker spaniel, he was nonetheless  the miscengenated offspring of Twinkle, owned by Col. Brown the post CO, and Khaki, owned by M/Sgt Polk, 1/Sgt of the Information School).  Chap. Donahue's generosity meant that Victor got to remain on his island, from which he loved to go swimming in the Sound.   It was a good place for dogs, mostly.
 
     Sometimes dogs were mascots.  There is an early 20th c. postcard with Mikey the dog in front of the hospital.  Presumably he stayed, watching the steady parade of four-legs rotate on and off post.  In 1945 the WAC Detachment had Pvt. Snoop;  who, along with their cat named Satan (destroyer of nylons, er, GI rayons), they hoped would disappear into someone's barracks bag.
 
     What to do with dogs when leaving post has always been a problem.  CWO Olley's family got their beloved Boxer mix Duke when his previous owners were transferred.  Collies were popular:  the Hollenwegers, possibly the Nippers, the Castagnetos, and the Huchthausens had them (possibly the same dog?).  Poodles were also popular;  several families had them, including M/Sgt John Shutak and his wife June (former Miss England, 1947).    In WWII Col. Walter McCord's dog Spike got to stay on post with 1/Sgt William Everitt when McCord was transferred to Brooklyn Army Base. 
 
     Perhaps the most elaborate dog story involved Chink (sorry, I just report the news), described as a Hong Kong dog brought back by Sgt. Louis Paris of the 8th Inf. after the Boxer Rebellion.  Reportedly Chink knew how to salute on command.  When asked his opinion of privates and corporals, he was friendly;  of sergeants, he licked his master's face;  of lieutenants and captains, he growled and barked.   When the 8th was transferred in 1906, pets (of all species) were taken over to the Battery to be boarded with soldiers on other posts in the NY Harbor;  Chink himself went over to Ft Hancock, supposedly for only two years (but the 8th remained in the Philippines for many years after).
 
     When Victor moved in with the Griffins, I hope he steered clear of Sgt. French's cat, who lived right next door.  Max O. ("Maxo") French, 1/Sgt of the Nike battery, had a fierce cat as territorial as any dog.   One day a hapless dog crossed the line into French's yard;  his cat leaped off the porch & mauled the dog.  Turns out, the dog belonged to the post C.O. who was furious:  just imagine!  An NCO cat, assaulting an officer's dog!   But the Colonel was powerless to do anything;  for the Nike battery was not under the garrison.
 
     Today, of course,  Sgt. French’s cat is gone. So is the manicured yard he defended. So is the post, the orderly little village that sheltered us. For now, there’s but a dog in the manger, and so far he’s not budging.

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