Sing a song of Lanark

Published: Monday, December 23, 2013 at 11:22 AM.

 “When I got there it was really nothing but a sand bed,” said Messer. “The train delivered the lumber and nails and all, and we guarded it. The first barracks they built were for us. It was a 60’ by 20’ wooden building with a sand floor. Unless you found a piece of plywood or something to put under your cot, in the morning, you’d be laying on the ground because the legs of the cot sunk into the sand.

“I never knew a man who liked it there. They called it ‘Hell by the Sea.’ We’d have to go across the river at night, in full gear holding on to a rope. The water would be over your head and there’d be snakes and everything else,” he said.

Camp Gordon Johnston was the first training facility to employ live ammunition and booby-traps and some soldiers died in training, including a group that mistakenly walked off a landing barge into deep water one stormy night.

Westberg said her father worked in the painting department at the camp. She said Area 1 of the camp began at about western edge of the current Lanark Village. This was largely barracks. Area 2 was the area around the old Putnal Service Station on US 98. There were offices, a theatre, a commissary and “nice little shops” selling clothing, jewelry and other personal items.

More than 25,000 soldiers trained at the camp and led the landings at Normandy and in Asia.

In 1946, the camp was deactivated. The Army withdrew, leaving only post office personnel to forward mail. The camp fell into disrepair, was looted and vandalized.


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