Hometown History: Fort Gordon

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Fort Gordon, GA (WJBF)- Since November 11th is Veteran’s Day, it’s only natural that we take a look at Fort Gordon for this month’s Hometown History.

The base began in Augusta under the name Camp Gordon in 1941 as a training camp during World War II. It was named after John Brown Gordon, a Confederate General who later became Governor of Georgia and a United States Senator.

Two divisions that trained there went on to be key parts of the war effort.

“I think 4th Infantry Division did land in Normandy,” said Jeffery W. Foley, Brigadier General, US Army, Retired and former Commanding General at Fort Gordon.

The 10th Armored Division, which went on to serve as part of the third Army under General George Patton, also trained at Camp Gordon.

Before the war, it became apparent that training camps would need to be set up all over the US and many cities and towns campaigned for one.

Fort Gordon Cyber Historian, Scott Anderson said one Augustan in particular was relentless in his pursuit of getting a camp.

“And here in Augusta, there was a local member of the Chamber of Commerce named Lester Moody, and he lobbied very earnestly for Augusta to receive one of these camps. And so finally, the good news happened in 1941, the summer of 1941 that Augusta would get a new training camp,” explained Anderson.

More than 400 land owners sold around 60,000 acres of land for the new camp.

After the war, Camp Gordon became an internment camp for German Nazi and Italian prisoners of war.

“A lot of the German soldiers, based on the conditions they had been living in over in Europe, felt like coming here to Camp Gordon was… one person actually said it was like heaven, compared to have been living in hell,” Anderson said.

The POWs were low level soldiers in the German and Italian Armies. While they were at Fort Gordon, they had jobs assigned to them.

Several times, while on work detail in Augusta, a prisoner would stray. One knocked on a door and was invited in for tea until the guard showed up. Another woman, wasn’t so kind.

“There was another occasion where one of these prisoners escaped…walked away from his work detail, and a woman who was home alone sees this prisoner in her back yard,” said Anderson. “She retrieves her husband’s pistol, goes outside and kinda waves it at him and actually chases him back to his work detail. And gives the guards a good scolding for having let this prisoner move away or get away from their work detail.”

Of the more than 2,000 POWs at Camp Gordon, 21 Germans and one Italian died there and are buried in a cemetery on post. Each year Fort Gordon leaders gather for a ceremony to remember them.

In 1948, the Military Police School and the Signal Corp Training Center were moved to Camp Gordon, saving it from its first potential closure.

Jeffery Foley is a retired Brigadier General and former Commanding General at Fort Gordon. He said the base has always had one important mission.

“So it has always, since the MP School was here, it’s always been a training base, for basic training and then advanced training for young soldiers pursuing a skill, either MPs or Signal,” he explained.

Camp Gordon became Fort Gordon in 1956 and then in 1974 it became the home to the Army’s Signal Corp School.

Amy Tuschen, Executive Director of the Fort Gordon Historical Museum Society, told me that her family has a special connection to the post.

“My dad was also a signal officer. He came through in the early 60’s at Fort Gordon at the time through the Signal Officer Basic Course. I also was in the Signal Corp for 8 years and I went through in the early 90’s. And now my son in law who met my daughter while he was attending the basic course here at Fort Gordon almost 4 years ago,” she smiled.

The Army established its Cyber Branch and Cyber School at Fort Gordon in 2014. After years of worry about the installation because closed, the new Cyber presence has secured Fort Gordon’s future.

Anderson said that the Cyber Center’s name– Fortitude Hall– has an interesting story.

“Fortitude Hall was the name of one of the military deception operations leading up to the D Day invasion. And so, keeping the Germans guessing as to where we were going to land…Hitler didn’t know we were going to land at Normandy, we were trying to keep them guessing. So, Operation Fortitude was the name of that campaign.”

Fort Gordon’s name will soon be changed because of a congressional directive in January of 2021 to rename all military installations named for Confederate Generals.

Foley said the name of Chamberlain Avenue– the main street through the fort– is named after a Union medal of honor recipient, in an effort by former Commanding General Ted Rogers, to balance the scales.

“General John Gordon was the Confederate general who was chosen by General Lee to provide the surrender to the Union. General Grant chose General Joshua Chamberlain to receive the surrender from General John Gordon,” explained Foley. “So, I think it was a very clear effort by General Rogers to get a Union Medal of Honor recipient namesake on this installation.”

One of the most well known buildings on Fort Gordon is Dwight D. Eisenhower Hospital. President Eisenhower actually visited Fort Gordon and received his final review–or military parade.

“Before JFK becomes president, Eisenhower, before his term ends, this is the location here at Fort Gordon, where President Eisenhower receives, is the last place he will ever view, like a military review,” said Anderson.

President Eisenhower made his farewell address to the Army here, saying in part:

“This is the last review that I shall ever receive in my life. I have been part of such ceremonies during this half-century. None has been more meaningful than this one. It gives me a chance, through you, to say goodbye to the Army–an Army that has had all these years not only my admiration and affection but my deep feeling of confidence that in such bodies as this, and in your sister services, the United States has a shield that no enemy dare attack or attempt to break down.”

Another famous name has a connection to Fort Gordon is pro golfer, Arnold Palmer. The term Arnie’s Army was first coined at the 1959 Master’s Tournament by an announcer who noticed a large number of soldiers in uniform surrounding Palmer.

“Soldiers from Fort Gordon, in uniform, and I read this in the books, used to carry the sign, you know that says Arnold Palmer and whoever else and what their score was. And they would follow him around on every hole. The Army used to have soldiers doing that. And after that, when Arnie started winning, there would be more soldiers following him,” Foley said.

Fort Gordon was once home to the Signal Corp Museum. It had to close its doors at the beginning of 2021 and the artifacts such as two Oscars and part of the Berlin wall are currently being stored in Alabama.

Foley said the museum’s board of advisors is working to bring those items back to the CSRA.

“We’ve got a building identified and we’re in the process of raising the capital campaign. We want to keep it here.”

Tuschen, who has a primary role in the work to reopen the museum, said the cost to buy the building outright is more than $4.5 million.

The building’s owner has agreed to discount the building and Tuschen thinks that raising at least $3 million would allow them to move forward with the purchase.

“The Army has agreed to move the items back here and they would actually work with us and absorb a lot of the cost of modifying the building to make sure it’s ready for the museum,” she explained.

Over the years, Fort Gordon has been at risk of being shut down by the government, but always managed to stay off the closure list. The first time was around 1948, but the MP and Signal Corp training schools kept it open.

Foley believes, in large part, the people of Augusta are the reason for that.

“I think there’s some DNA. I think there’s some heart and soul, not only about James Brown, but some heart and soul about the department of defense and the United States. The Nation. And I think there’s some heart and soul about caring for the troops. And I think they all valued what the fort has provided to the community.”

If you are interested in making a donation to help reopen the Signal Corp Museum or in more information about it, CLICK HERE.

Hey, Fort Gordon! That’s just part of your Hometown History.

Photojournalist: Regynal Mckie.

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