Entering the Army Through Camp Upton

Site of Camp Upton, purple, and Babe’s hometown of Mount Kisco, N.Y., in red.

Babe was born on Oct. 9, 1924, so the day he wrote this postcard to his parents, he would have been 18 years old. It is the earliest correspondence I have from Babe’s service in the military. I assume there should have been intake documents, draft papers or whatnot; I haven’t found them yet.

It also makes sense that it was his earliest correspondence, from Camp Upton, which sat on what is now the site of the government’s Brookhaven National Laboratory toward the eastern side of Long Island, N.Y. The map locates the site of Camp Upton, as well as Babe’s hometown in Mount Kisco, just north of New York City in Westchester County.

The laboratory is one of 10 overseen by the U.S. Department of Energy and “conducts research in the physical, biomedical, and environmental sciences, as well as in energy technologies and national security.”

Before it was a lab, however, it was Camp Upton, a major induction center for draftees during World War I between 1917 and 1920, and again during World War II, from 1940 to 1946. According to the history of the camp on the Brookhaven website, it was originally built to house 40,000 troops and at its peak included 1,400 buildings.

As far as I’m concerned, those first two cards, including this one on March 1, 1943, were largely unremarkable, with these exceptions:

First, right off the bat, they show a young man who was devoted enough to his parents that he even wrote to say he had nothing to say. It was obviously a different era, when phone calls were not routine and letter-writing was still the primary way people kept in touch. So, in that respect, we’re off to the races.

Second, in that first card, he says he is enjoying himself. It foreshadows a theme that will run throughout the letters Babe wrote: He liked the military. He seemed to sincerely enjoy his life in the army. Oh, one other thing about that first letter. Did you notice that they’re addressed to his parents, in Mount Kisco, N.Y.? No street address?

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