Saturday, August 23, 2014
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History of Fort McClellan 1917-1999 
Fort McClellan has a proud and fascinating history which dates back to the Spanish-American War. The seeds of military life were fostered during the first World War and raised to maturity during World War II. The Choccolocco foothills, part of the Appalachian Mountain chain, surrounds the post. A spur ridge of the Choccolocco foothills crosses the main post from north to south. The ridge first attracted military interest during the Spanish-American War, when the mountains were discovered to form an excellent background for artillery firing.

The War Department formally established Camp McClellan on July 18, 1917. The camp was named in honor of Major General George B. McClellan, General-in-Chief of the U.S. Army from 1861 to 1862. McClellan was also the Governor of New Jersey from 1878-1881. Although it is unusual for a Southern fort to be named for a Northern general, there are strong indications that McClellan's name was a logical choice. Camp McClellan was a mobilization camp used to quickly train men for WWII. General McClellan is credited with the quick training and mobilization of the Army of the Potomac during the Civil War. Most of the first soldiers arriving at the camp were from the North. In fact, the first group to train at Camp McClellan were from McClellan's home state of New Jersey.

The newly activated 29th National Guard Division from the Mid-Atlantic states, commanded by Major General Charles G. Morton, arrived in August 1917. Two months later there were more than 27,000 men training at the camp. The 29th went to France in June 1918 and suffered almost 6,000 casualties in the Meuse-Argonne offensive. Morton Road, near Baker Gate, is named in honor of MG Morton.

Camp McClellan was redesignated Fort McClellan, a permanent post, on July 1, 1929. New construction began immediately and the post grew rapidly. The 27th Division arrived from New York during October 1940. One of the first units to depart for combat in WWII, the 27th had orders to report overseas 12 days after the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor. The Division fought in the Marshall and Gilbert islands, Saipan, Guam and the Philippines, and was later on occupational duty in Japan. A reunion took place here in the summer of 1980, bringing many old soldiers back to where they first smelled gun powder and heard taps.

A 3,000 capacity Prison Internment Camp for prisoners of war was built during 1943 when Fort McClellan became the temporary home for many captured enemy soldiers. Their artistry talents are preserved in Remington Hall, formerly the Fort McClellan Officers Club. While held here, many POWs painted murals on the walls of Remington Hall, depicting memories of their homeland. A memorial cemetery located near the western corner of the post is the final resting place for 26 German and 3 Italian prisoners of war who died during captivity.

Nearly 500,000 men were trained at Fort McClellan during WWII, including a company of Japanese-Americans who helped familiarize American troops with methods used by Japanese soldiers. Many individuals and units trained here received the highest military honors and decorations during the war.

During 1943, the Branch Immaterial Replacement Training Center at Fort McClellan was replaced by the Infantry Replacement Training Center, which trained recruits in basic soldiering skills. When the war ended, the center trained soldiers for occupation duty until November 1946, when the fort became a recruit training center. The Recruit Training Center was inactivated and the number of soldiers on post dwindled rapidly after the war. The installation was placed on inactive status on June 30, 1947. Only a small maintenance crew remained on the post. Plans were made during 1950 to again use the area for National Guard training. The replacement training center for the Chemical Corps was activated during 1951, with Fort McClellan as its permanent home. In 1962, the name of the activity was changed from the Chemical Corps School to the U.S. Army Chemical Center and School, until it was disestablished in 1973. The Women's Army Corps School was founded at Fort McClellan on September 25, 1952. Approximately two years later, official ceremonies were conducted to establish the post as the first permanent home of the U.S. Women's Army Corps Center. Fort McClellan remained its home until the Corps was disestablished and its flag retired in 1977. Participating in the final ceremony was Major General Mary E. Clarke, the last director of the Women's Army Corps and destined to later become the Commanding General of Fort McClellan, the first female officer ever to command a major Army installation. Another activity, the U.S. Army Combat Developments Command Chemical Biological-Radiological Agency, moved to Fort McClellan in 1962. It was later disestablished along with the Chemical School in 1973. To meet the requirement for the Vietnam War, an Advanced Individual Training Infantry Brigade was activated in 1966. With the mission change, the fort was renamed the U.S. Army School/Training Center and Fort McClellan. Due to continued force reductions in Vietnam, the brigade was deactivated in April 1970, after training more than 30,000 men. Official ceremonies were held July 11, 1975, marking the move of the U.S. Army Military Police School from Fort Gordon, Georgia. A major reorganization of the post began in the fall of 1976 and was completed on May 13, 1977, when the colors of the Women's Army Corps Center and School were retired during ceremonies on Marshall Parade Field. After reestablishment in December, 1979, the U.S. Army Chemical School relocated here from Aberdeen, Maryland, and joined the Military Police School and the Training Brigade to make Fort McClellan the only military installation in the United States with three major missions. Fort McClellan has been 'home' for an average military population of about 10,000 people, including about 5,000 who are permanently assigned and employed about 1,500 civilians. In 1995 the Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) Commission voted to permanently close Fort McClellan. The official closing ceremony ending Fort McClellan's illustrious past was held on 20 May, 1999. At the time of closure, Fort McClellan was home to the U.S. Army Chemical School, the U.S. Army Military Police School, the Training Brigade, and the Department of Defense Polygraph Institute. The Chemical School, Military Police School, and the Training Brigade relocated to Fort Leonardwood, Missouri, integrating with their Engineer School to form the U.S. Army Maneuver Support Center (MANSCEN). The DoD Polygraph Institute relocated to Fort Jackson, South Carolina. The history of Fort McClellan extends beyond this military presence. Prior to the Army's arrival, farmers and tenants, shopkeepers and manufacturers shaped the landscape on this stretch of the north Alabama hillside. Their legacy is still present on the post and witnessed by historic cemeteries, old home sites, the remains of iron furnaces, and other tangible pieces of the past.
 


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