SCOTT T. STURKOL Public Affairs Staff
Seventy-eight years ago, in November 1944, Second Lieutenant Harry Baker boarded a train from Chicago and northwest with the rest of his 500-man artillery battery to deploy to Europe from the Camp McCoy.
For Baker, the deployment out of McCoy on a snowy day in late November just after Thanksgiving most likely shed light on the reality of where he was headed overseas.
“We trained right after Thanksgiving that year and headed east through Chicago,” he wrote in a memoir called “Reminiscence” in 2000 at the age of 80. “Two nights later we arrived at Camp Miles Standish on Cape Cod, Mass. – a staging depot where units were housed until the expedition was available at the Boston Navy Yard. Two days later we We were transferred to the dock and boarded a Liberty ship…built solely to transport troops, usually in convoy.
Baker, now 102, is a retired Army lieutenant colonel and currently resides in Pewaukee, Wisconsin, and is a native of Milwaukee. During World War II he was an artillery officer in Battery C, 302nd Field Artillery Battalion, 76th Infantry Division. His path to service time with McCoy was like many others – a war was calling him.
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Baker said he graduated from Riverside High School in Milwaukee in 1939. “Then after a summer working at the Cudahy Packing Company slaughterhouse, I went to East Lansing, Michigan, to enroll at Michigan State College,” he wrote in his memoir. “The date was September 1, and coincidentally on that date Adolf Hitler’s German army began the invasion of Poland.”
And Camp McCoy at that time was still primarily a camp consisting of buildings on what is now the same area as the South Post housing area. These were largely spaces of tents, wooden buildings, railroad tracks, and artillery and training ranges. Like Baker’s military life, everything would change in just a few years.
In December 1941, specifically December 7, 1941, Baker was taking military science classes as part of his college coursework, and the woman who would become his wife of 78 years – Patricia – was also taking classes at Michigan State. since the fall of 1940. But that day too, Baker wrote about what he and Pat had learned.
“In December 1941, on a Sunday, we went to the movies in East Lansing, and coming out of the theater in the dark, we met newsboys shouting “extra, extra” about the Pearl Harbor bombing. looked at each other and said, ‘Where is Pearl Harbor?’ We went to Union Universitaire and over coffee we heard the radio describing the event late into the night.The next day the whole campus seemed to have matured overnight at the prospect of the war – authenticating this event in 1939, when Hitler invaded Poland.
Soon after, Baker competed for Advanced ROTC and was eventually accepted into the Artillery. He stated in his memoirs that many men who frequented the state of Michigan for a time went to Canada and joined the Canadian Air Force. But that quickly changed.
“One fine morning in April 1943, we were told to form rows in the demonstration room,” his memoir states. He said his major said, “It’s voluntary for those of you who agree and mandatory for those of you who don’t. We’re leaving for Detroit tomorrow morning to be inducted into the US Army.
Baker said instantly that he and his ROTC classmates had all been commissioned corporals and by June 1943 they were on the move.
“We were dispatched in June 1943 to Fort Custer, Mich. for distribution of equipment, clothing, and preparation for basic training camp,” Baker wrote. “The details were only two or three days, and then we got on a troop train to Camp McCoy, Wisconsin, assigned guns, and started training as infantry.”
Once at Camp McCoy, Baker’s training for war began. He wrote about his first stay at McCoy in 1943 in his memoirs.
“One of the first days there, a new young lieutenant decided we’d be toughened up if we hiked 20 miles – ending with an obstacle course,” Baker wrote. “It was to his loss since our shoes were only a few days old and had not yet been broken in. Blisters and foot problems sent many men to the infirmary. The lieutenant was sent overseas to an infantry unit as punishment.
“We trained for a month before we got a city pass,” Baker said, “continuing through the July heat, we toughened up and trained again the first week of August (1943) to Fort Sill, Okla., for Army Gunnery School.”
Baker trained at Fort Sill, earned his second lieutenant’s bars, and in early 1944 received military orders back to Camp McCoy to serve with the 302nd Field Artillery Battalion. In the meantime, Baker was able to return to Wisconsin and marry Patricia on December 10, 1943 in Milwaukee. It was a beautiful memory for him.
“What a great deal – candlelit aisles at St. Mark’s, beautiful bride in white, I was in my newly acquired uniform, and Father Stimpson did us a very solid and memorable service,” Baker wrote.
And Baker described his new job at Camp McCoy in early 1944.
“In addition to being a battery officer, I was selected to be Brig’s aide-de-camp. Gen. Henry C. Evans, commander of division artillery at his headquarters,” Baker said. “The duty there, other than assisting him in personal, social and military affairs, was the time-consuming representation of the general before special and general courts-martial, of which there were many.”
But prior to Baker’s first or second arrival at Camp McCoy, the installation itself underwent a transformation in 1942 while Baker was still in training. In February 1942, the United States War Department announced the construction of a cantonment area, called “New Camp”, which is still today the cantonment area of Fort McCoy.
In early 1942, the new campground consisted of scrub oaks, jack pines and wild grasses. More than 1,500 buildings were constructed by more than 8,000 workers, which took nine months at a cost of $30 million (about $545 million). today). The triangular portion of the cantonment area, or “triad”, was designed to allow troop units to live and train effectively under one headquarters.
“The most memorable part of the whole operation was the wonderful cooperation of everyone in the surrounding communities,” Lt. Col. DC Lamoreaux, the area’s construction engineer in 1942, said in a local news article. “They (the community) have contributed immensely to the success of the camp.”
Similarly, an article in the August 28, 1942, edition of The Real McCoy newspaper also covered the opening of “New Camp McCoy” as announced by the camp commandant at the time, Col. George M. MacMullin. “Huge isn’t the name for it,” the article reads. “The camp is larger than most towns in the territory, and the training plans, according to Colonel MacMullin, will bring in more soldiers than there are civilians in several of the neighboring communities.”
“They were really good accommodations,” Baker said. “It was nice to have warm rooms and hot showers.
When Baker first stayed at “New Camp” in 1943, most of the buildings were less than a year old. Baker also mentioned a pet peeve about queuing for the mess in winter when he returned in early 1944.
One of his not-so-cherished memories was “being lined up for the mess and those damn coal furnaces were putting soot on a uniform. Try to stay in uniform with the charcoal flakes on your uniform that came out of those…kitchens.
As busy as Baker probably was throughout 1944, when June 6, 1944 took place – the D-Day invasion of France – he said “everything seemed to change that day”.
“The tiring training and repetition turned out to require even more acceleration,” he writes. “Heightened security at the station, stringent pass orders, and orders from Washington came quickly to prepare the port of embarkation, readiness, and plans. My dear wife arrived soon after, a graduate of Michigan State, and I left the barracks to house us in Sparta as I had planned, but further afield in a town called West Salem.
From June to November 1944, Baker’s unit and the rest of the 76th Infantry Division which was at Camp McCoy continued to prepare for deployment, and by Christmas 1944 they had all arrived in Europe.
Baker continued to fight in the Battle of the Bulge and many other battles until 1945.
He was one of tens of thousands of soldiers who trained, processed and passed through Camp McCoy during World War II.
He returned home to his wife in August 1945. And as he put it: “Wonderful to see my darling daughter again after too long a separation. … How lucky to be reunited.
After World War II, Baker served in the Army Reserve where he retired in 1980 at his current rank.