Camp Shanks, New York

   Camp Shanks, located in Orangeburg, Rockland County, New York (aka "Last Stop U.S.A."), was the final stateside stop for 1.3 million soldiers who were processed through this staging area and prepared for departure from Piermont Pier to the European Theater of Operations. Units bound for France were shipped overseas from a pier, approximately four miles away, where a monument marks their embarkation. Units bound for England were transported to the New York Port of Embarkation (NYPE).
Barracks at Camp Shanks (click to enlarge).
   On the evening of 25 September 1942, over 300 Orangeburg residents met at the Orangeburg School (now the city library) to learn that their homes, lots, and farms (amounting to approximately 2,040 acres west of the museum) were being seized for the immediate construction of a military camp. One hundred thirty families lost their homes. If the United States was to transport troops and equipment to Europe, it had to expand its military facilities around New York City. Colonel Drew C. Eberson, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, was the Chief Engineer during constuction. Camp Shanks was a rush job, completed between September 1942 and May 1943 at a cost of $44,391,335. Charges of corruption, petty theft, and disorderly behavior by workmen plagued the project. In June 1946, a federal grand jury cleared the military and the contractors of charges of graft, but acknowledged major problems among some of the labor unions, primarily consisting of a gigantic kickback system. Camp Shanks officially opened on 4 January 1944 under the command of Colonel Kenna G. Eastman. The barracks in which the transient soldiers lived measured 20' x 100', and consisted of two rows of bunks and three coal-burning pot-belly stoves which provided the limited heat. Two WAC detachments, consisting of over 400 women, were assigned to the camp, and filled positions ranging from clerk to mechanic to warehouse staff to armorer. Their freedom of movement on the installation was restricted. Camp Shanks comprised one of three staging areas on the eastern seaboard. The other two, Fort Hamilton, Brooklyn, NY, and Camp Kilmer, New Brunswick, NJ, when combined with Camp Shanks, made the area the largest staging area in the world. One of the primary functions as a staging area was to ensure each soldier and WAC left the U.S. fully equipped before crossing the Atlantic.
   The final field inspection at Camp Shanks identified any problems, made any necessary repairs, and replaced anything which could not be repaired. At the beginning of the war, no large depots existed in England from which soldiers could get their equipment. They carried their essentials with them in their backpacks or barracks bags. During the second half of 1944, Camp Shanks was sending tens of thousands of troops overseas. Staging peaked in October 1944, when 78,354 troops arrived while 85,805 troops departed. By the end of November 1944, all staging areas in the U.S. stopped their final field inspections. Shortages and replacements could be handled from supply depots in England. When the soldiers were notified that they were on "Alert" status, they knew they would be shipping out within twelve hours. The soldiers removed their division sleeve patches, and their helmets were chalked with a letter and a number, indicating the proper marching order from the camp to the train and the railroad car to ride in. It was a short train ride to the New Jersey docks at Weehawken, and a harbor boat ferried troops to a waiting troopship. One source also advised that other troops marched the four miles from the camp to the Piermont Pier, where they boarded troopships. (Piermont Pier was originally the terminus for a ferry that took New York City – bound train travelers across the river to pick up the train again in Dobbs Ferry before completing their journey to the city. Before that, the mile-long pier was originally built to enable the freight cars of the Erie Railroad to load and unload onto steam boats which plied the Hudson River between Albany and New York City in the mid-eighteenth century. During the war, the pier was taken over by the U.S. Government, extended and improved, and used as a principal embarkation point of soldiers heading to Europe. 40,000 U.S. troops per month, including many Hudson Valley residents, passed across the pier where ships were able to dock in deep water. Piermont became known as the "Last Stop USA." After the war was won, over half a million men returned home across the same pier, first setting foot back in the U.S. out in the middle of the Hudson River at the end of the pier.)
The ferry terminal at Weekhawken, New Jersey during WW II.
Soldiers arriving here from Camp Shanks by train or on foot would transfer to ferries to Manhattan, and board troopships bound for England.   Note the two ocean liners along the west side piers in the background, just above the hoist mechanisms for freight barges at the water’s edge. They are Cunard’s Queen Elizabeth at Pier 90 on the left, and the French Line’s Normandie at Pier 88 on the right. They were the two largest ships in the world. The only other ship of comparable size was the Queen Mary, but she had already departed New York for Singapore and Australia. The photo dates between 21 March 1940 (when the Mary sailed) and 12 November 1940 (when the Elizabeth sailed). Both returned to New York in 1942 to begin serving as troopships to Europe, but by then the Normandie had burned and capsized at her pier. This is an historic photo, one of few taken from across the Hudson that shows the Elizabeth and the Normandie in New York during that eight-month period in WW II.


This is another historic photo, showing the three largest ships in the world together on Manhattan’s west side. To the left at Pier 88 (12th Ave and 48th St) is the French Line’s Normandie; in the center at Pier 90 (12th Ave at 50th St) is Cunard’s Queen Mary; and on the right is Cunard’s Queen Elizabeth. The photo was taken during a brief two-week period between 7 March 1940 when the Elizabeth arrived on her secret maiden voyage from Scotland, and 21 March 1940 when the Mary sailed for Singapore and Australia. Both Queens returned to New York in 1942 to start serving as troopships to Europe. In 1943 the Mary set a record that still stands—carrying 16,683 soldiers east across the Atlantic, the most people in history to sail in a ship at one time.

   Camp Shanks also housed 1,200 Italian and 800 German prisoners of war between April 1945 and January 1946, with the first Germans arriving in June 1945. At the close of the war, 290,000 POWs passed through Camp Shanks as they were processed for return to their native countries. The last German to leave was on 22 July 1946. Camp Shanks closed in July 1946.

After the war became Shanks Village, an emergency housing project for student veterans, until 1956. All that remains today is the Camp Shanks Museum and Monument. The monument is located at Independence Avenue & Lowe Lane off Western Highway, Tappan, NY. The museum is located on South Greenbush Road near the intersection of Routes 303 and 340 and is open on weekends.




Camp Shanks Monument, 1999

Camp Shanks Marker, 1999

Entrance to Camp Shanks Museum, 1999

Camp Shanks Museum Building, 1999


Museum poster showing U.S. Divisions that were staged
at Camp Shanks prior to shipping out to the ETO



*This information made available by John Coleman