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NEWS | July 18, 2014

Camp Dix: 95 years of Army heritage

By Stephen G. Melly Army Support Activity Fort Dix

On the morning of June 1, 1917, Capt. George W. Mulheron and a group of 19 soldiers from Company C of the Twenty Sixth New Jersey Engineers arrived in the village of Wrightstown, N. J. Welcomed with thunder, lightning and rain, the pioneering soldiers were armed with the mission to establish a camp dedicated to training U.S. Army Soldiers for "The Great War". Inclusive of men from New Jersey, Delaware and northern New York, the training camp was to be created according to official standards and specifications, and built with accumulated knowledge of current engineering science. Maj. Harry C. Williams with Fifteenth Artillery supervised the work as the Constructing Quartermaster for the War Department.

Establishment at the Wrightstown area was due to its proximity to major ports of embarkation and supply routes. Wrightstown is 32 miles from Philadelphia, 18 miles from Trenton and close to the major international port of New York City. Pennsylvania Railroad trains stopped nearby, with connections directly available to the cantonment.
Wrightstown is surrounded by fertile farming areas of New Jersey, which provided local fresh food.

The soil in the Wrightstown area is a mixture of clay, sand and gravel, excellent for building, and also absorbs rain quickly.

The cantonment originally consisted of 5,000 acres and an adjacent rifle range on leased property. Farmers received yearly rental fees for their land and were compensated for crops provided.

Originally named Camp 13, Camp Dix was one of 13 camps established to train soldiers for World War One.

The name changed to Camp Dix on July 18, 1917, to honor of the Civil War Veteran, Maj. Gen. John Adams Dix. It has been said that he, while in the position of Secretary of the Treasury, issued the famous order at New Orleans: "If anyone attempts to pull down the American Flag, shoot him on the spot." Dix was a veteran of the War of 1812 and the Civil War. He was a United States Senator, Secretary of the Treasury and Governor of New York. He was born in New Hampshire and studied law. He died in 1879.

Camp Dix consisted of 1665 buildings composed of 143 different types, including barracks, tool houses, lavatories, officer quarters, store house, barns, medical building, guard houses, a refrigerating plant, bakery, cooking school, a building to house public utilities and a theater.

Dedicated employees slept in barns, corn cribs and at the side of hay stacks until adequate quarters were built. College graduates, school teachers, newspaper men, professors and craftsmen joined the force to build Camp Dix. They received 60 cents an hour for 8 hours work, 90 cents an hour for overtime and $1.20 an hour for double time. Electricians and plumbers received 62-1/2 cents an hour. More than eleven thousand men assisted in building Camp Dix. Workmen were housed in new barrack buildings as fast as they were constructed. Immense cafeterias capable of seating 1500 men at a time were established. Meals were served at 15 cents and eventually 35 cents per person.

On Aug. 16, Maj. W.C. Dayton and the Third Battalion of the Fifteenth New York Colored Infantry arrived and were detailed to prevent theft, keep order and maintain strict regulations. Soldiers from the Des Moines Training School for Colored Officers arrived and served in various commands.

Maj. W. Cole Davis became the commander of the base hospital and strictly enforced sanitary regulations as the camp sanitary inspector. The Hospital was heated by 1,800 radiators, capable of using up to 50 tons of coal fuel per day.

The Sixty-Sixth Motor Truck Company arrived at Camp Dix with three and a half ton trucks. Rumor is that the trucks were temporarily lost in the corn fields of southern New Jersey. Additional motor truck companies arrived to distribute coal and bread to all parts of the camp.

A Knights of Columbus Auditorium was established, The Liberty Theater, a Red Cross building, YMCA and a YWCA.

The Young Women's Christian Association building was established to provide temporary resting for mothers, wives, sisters, and sweethearts who had the occasion to visit a member of the camp. A cafeteria was provided, and meals were available.
The YMCA building with a seating capacity of more than 3000 also housed a clubroom, a library, pianos, athletic equipment and writing material for the troops.

The Liberty Theatre provided the best vaudeville headline entertainment available at a nominal fee.

A 200,000 gallon steel water tower was built, pumping water from New Lisbon, N.J. three miles away. Under the direction of Captain C.C. Clarke, the steam turbine pumps processed 1000 gallons per minute. Artesian wells located on the bank of the Rancocas Creek, originating in the pine and cedar woods of NJ produced clean water.

By 1917, every street and barrack building at Camp Dix was illuminated by electricity brought in from Burlington by a 13,200 volt high tension current. On December 15, 1917, the electric lights illuminating Camp Dix numbered 34,250.

Camp Dix served as a staging and training center during WWI and WWII. After the armistice the Camp served as a demobilization center for Active Army, Army Reserve and National Guard Units.

On March 8, 1939, the installation became a permanent US Army Post, and the name was changed from Camp Dix to Fort Dix.

On July 15, 1947, Fort Dix became a Basic Training Center. In 1956, Fort Dix became "The United States Army Training Center, Infantry" in 1978, the first female recruits entered basic training at Fort Dix.

In 1988, Fort Dix ended its "Active Army" training Mission, and began a new mission of mobilizing, deploying, and demobilizing reserve components, providing training areas for Army Reserve and National Guard Soldiers.

As many as 15,000 soldiers have trained at Fort Dix on weekends.

On Oct. 1, 2009, Fort Dix was transformed into the United States Army Support Activity Fort Dix. The 31,000 acres of Fort Dix were consolidated with Naval Air Engineering Station Lakehurst, McGuire Air Force Base to become Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst.

Army Support Activity Fort Dix continues to support and conduct Reserve Component Training, Mobilization and Demobilization operations as one of the largest mobilization sites in the nation and a major training center for the Northeastern United States for Army Reserve and National Guard soldiers. Army Support Activity Fort Dix continues to plan and execute Army directed mission support and to operate a Joint Mobilization site.