April 13, 1944, was the day when two groups of Redhawks assembled at Camp Patrick Henry, Virginia, enroute to their overseas destination. The camp, with a capacity of up to 35,000 transient personnel, was positioned close to the Hampton Roads Port of embarkation, through which over one million personnel boarded ships bound for overseas locations. Most troops passing through Camp Patrick Henry and Hampton roads went to Europe, but some, like the 35PRS, shipped elsewhere.

The namesake of the camp, Patrick Henry (1736 - 1799), Founding father, patriot and orator from Virginia.  He is remembered for his famous 1775 speech, in which he said:  "Is life so dear, or peace so sweet, as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery? Forbid it, Almighty God! I know not what course others may take; but as for me, Give me Liberty, or give me Death!"

The namesake of the camp, Patrick Henry (1736 – 1799), Founding Father, patriot and orator from Virginia. He is remembered for his famous 1775 speech, in which he said: “Is life so dear, or peace so sweet, as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery? Forbid it, Almighty God! I know not what course others may take; but as for me, Give me Liberty, or give me Death!”

Camp Patrick Henry was about 1,700 acres in size, and featured the usual amenities, such as post office, movie theaters, multiple recreation halls, service clubs, chapel, libraries, telephone exchange, as well as rail connectivity to Hampton Roads port. In 1943-44, nearly 750,000 personnel passed through the camp enroute overseas.

Headquarters of Camp Patrick Henry, set in the woods of Virginia near Hampton Roads, a major port of embarkation during World War II (Wikipedia)

Headquarters of Camp Patrick Henry, set in the woods of Virginia near Hampton Roads, a major port of embarkation during World War II (Wikipedia)

After arriving at Camp Patrick Henry, the men of the 35PRS were to spend a “…busy week of outfitting and indoctrination…” before boarding ships for overseas duty. As for what this busy week consisted of, the history from another Army aviation-related unit offers a glimpse: “…processing and preparation at Camp Patrick Henry included being issued a new gas mask and training on all aspects of loading and unloading ships – including abandon ship drill.”

Colonel (then 2nd Lt.) Sterling E. Barrow shared a few recollections of this time at Camp Patrick Henry, remembering how squadron members were kept busy packing and unpacking their footlockers and B4 bags, as it seemed the load lists of what they were required or allowed to take changed on them every other day. Troops ensured they had or were issued all the required immunizations and assorted military kit, such as leggings, web belts, first aid kits, etc. Complete sets of uniforms were packed too, winter and summer, for the numbers and types authorized and/or directed.

The usual military calisthenics were part of the camp experience, along with trips to the Post Exchange to acquire whatever creature comforts one could get as the deployed location would be limited in amenities. At some point all the footlockers were gathered up and taken away with their contents to be loaded as cargo. Col. Barrow remembers next seeing his footlocker in China, and thus lived off the contents of his B4 bag until then.

Map of the service facilities available to military personnel at Camp Patrick Henry, Virginia, during World War II (Wikipedia)

Map of the service facilities available to military personnel at Camp Patrick Henry, Virginia, during World War II (Wikipedia)

In addition to the logistical activity there were hours and hours of lectures on the cultures in other countries. Because the men were not informed of their destination, the briefings included many different countries and cultures, like on France, Italy and North Africa. Even the commander, Major McChristy, did not know of the squadron’s destination at this time. Soldiers were not allowed off post in this time, unless the commander permitted, and nobody asked.

The Camp Patrick Henry experience was the last Stateside stop before the 35PRS headed overseas, and some information on that will be in a future posting.

 

References

Patrick Henry entry on Wikipedia, at:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Patrick_Henry

Camp Patrick Henry entry on Wikipedia, at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Camp_Patrick_Henry

The 801st Engineer Aviation Battalion, Shipping out – By train and ship to the Azores, at: http://www.skydozer.com/Shipping1.html

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