103d INFANTRY DIVISION WORLD WAR II ASSOCIATION
"Last Stop U.S.A." - Camp Shanks, New York
One thing for certain, Camp Shanks was not like Camp Claiborne, nor was it anything like Camp Howze. Situated just northwest of New York City, NY, a few miles south of the US Military Academy on the banks of the Hudson River, Camp Shanks was the "jumping off" place for all troops headed overseas to fight in World War II. Over the course of the war, Camp Shanks processed nearly 1,500,000 men and women headed overseas. Nearly 75% of those who participated in the D-Day invasion of Normand left the United States from Camp Shanks.
Camp Shanks had one purpose, and that was to process units for embarkation as quickly as possible. This meant handling tremendous numbers of men and massive amounts of equipment. The men of the 103d Infantry Division arrived at Camp Shanks on September 28, 1944. All of a sudden, the curiosity level of the Cactus men reached a peak. Now they paid close attention to those orientation films and lectures. It was no longer simulated training. This was for real. What to do if you are captured by the enemy? What can you say when you are being questioned after your capture? Procedures on loading the ships, everything you ever wanted to know about life boats, life jackets, and life belts. Then there were those lectures on how to climb on the side of the ship using rope ladders.
The food at Camp Shanks was unbelievable. Many figured that those at Camp Shanks knew that really good food would soon be only a dream of those soldiers headed for the front. Here at Camp Shanks, long steam tables laden with fresh fruits, green vegetables, and great salads. All you wanted for breakfast with the KPs shouting, "just say when" and would pile the trays with food until the GI would holler, "when!"
Passes into town were nothing like they had been seen so far. Well, it could be that the Cactus men now had access to the Big Apple, New York City.
Identification with the 103d Infantry Division was removed from uniforms for security reasons. Soon, the word began to filter among the ranks, "The ships are here!" The U.S.S. Henry T. Gibbons was assigned to take the 103d Division Headquarters and Special Troops. The 410th Infantry Division was assigned to the U.S.S. General J. R. Brooke flagship of the 14 ship convoy. The U.S.S. Monticello, a former Italian luxury liner would load the 409th Infantry Regiment at Pier 51, North River Terminal. Part of the 411th would also travel on the Monticello. The rest of the 411th Infantry Regiment, Antitank Company, Service Company, and Cannon Company would travel on the Santa Maria.
On October 5, 1944, the men packed and loaded their respective ships. Early in the morning on October 6, 1944, the ships began to move. Men were allowed on deck just in time to see the passing of the Statue of Liberty. Many of those on board these ships would never see the United States again, they would enter battle and pay the ultimate price for freedom.
Where were they going? No one knew. Rumors flew, but the real truth would not reveal itself until the ships were well underway at sea.
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