Army base in Orangetown got troops ready for D-Day invasion, change the shape of the town for generations
BY BILL DEMAREST
PIERMONT – For most people who visit the Piermont Pier, it’s a great place to fish, walk the dog or just admire the natural beauty of the Hudson River and the adjacent Piermont Marsh from its unique vantage point a mile into the river
For Piermont Mayor Christopher Sanders, the pier is a symbol of courage and heroism to remind us of the millions of Americans who sacrificed their youth to defend the nation.
Sanders made the link between the pier and the continuing efforts of that nation’s armed forces at a special ceremony on the pier to dedicate a new monument in honor of the 70th anniversary of Camp Shanks, a World War II army base in Orangetown that served as the point of embarkation for 1.3 million G.I.s – including the troops who took part in the D-Day invasion at Normandy.
“They don’t march down to ships anymore like they did right here on the pier,” Saunders told a group of more than 50 people gathered for the dedication ceremony. “But our soldiers still have the same dedication today.”
During its years of operation during World War II, the sprawling Camp Shanks – ranging from Blauvelt to Tappan – was the place where U.S. troops were prepared to be shipped overseas. Some boarded trains to take them to ships, while others got on ships that docked at the Piermont Pier. The camp, located on what was mostly farm land before the war, would have a lasting impact on Rockland County.
After the war, the base became Shanks Village, affordable housing for returning G.I.s and their families. However, there are few traces left today of the sprawling facility that contained more than 2,500 buildings. In September 1942, 130 Orangeburg families learned from the government that their homes and farms would be taken for construction of Camp Shanks and by early 1943 the camp was completed.
Jerry Donnellan, a Vietnam War veteran who is director of Rockland County’s Veterans Services Agency, organized the effort to place a monument on the Piermont Pier to recognize the 70th anniversary of the construction of Camp Shanks. The new monument is located in a small, star-shaped park near the eastern end of the pier that also contains an earlier monument to the troops who passed through Camp Shanks.
“It’s important to remember the men who came through here and their sacrifice,” said Donnellan, who is also curator of the Camp Shanks Museum in Orangeburg. Donnellan, with the help of Tilcon New York in West Nyack and a crew from the Orangetown Highway Department placed the new monument on the Piermont Pier in June. However, the dedication ceremony took place at 6:30 p.m. on Wednesday, Aug. 14.
The ceremony included veterans from Piermont and Nyack as well as members of the Nam Knights of America Hudson Valley Chapter, an honor guard composed of volunteer firefighters from Tappan, local officials and Orangetown poet laureate Rose Marie Raccioppi – who wrote the poem that is on the new memorial.
Orangetown Town Supervisor Any Stewart the 70th anniversary of Camp Shanks has inspired the town to celebrate the history of Camp Shanks and its impact on the community in a variety of ways.
In addition to the new monument on the Piermont Pier, celebrations include:
– Sept. 22: A screening of “Til Then: A Journey Through War War II Love Letters” at Greenbush Auditorium, 20 Greenbush Road, Orangeburg, located behind the Orangeburg Library and next door to the Camps Shanks Museum. A reception with the filmmaker, Victor Del Regno – the son of a World War II Navy Seabee – will be held in the Camp Shanks Museum and letter writing supplies will be available to write letters to current US soldiers serving overseas. The screens is set for noon.
– Nov. 3: The Children of Camp Shanks Village, a reunion of adults who were the children of families at Shanks Village. The program highlights life for families at Shanks during the war and in the post-war years. The program runs from 1 to 3 p.m. at Orangetown’s DePew House Museum, 196 Chief Bill Harris Way (Blaisdell Road), Orangeburg. RSVP at 845-398-1302.
– Nov. 10: Veterans Day event at the Walkway of Heroes Park, Lester Drive and Independence Avenue, Orangeburg, 10 to 11:30 a.m.
– Camp Shanks patch: The Orangetown Supervisor’s Office has created a commemorative reproduction of the Camp Shanks military transport unit patch. It is available to youths who visit two or more of the Shanks memorial sites and/or attend two or more of the programs planned. Sites include: Shanks Museum, Walkway of Heroes, Piermont Pier, Lobby of Town Hall, Orangetown Museum. Patches are available from the Supervisor’s Office with submission of a one page statement answering the question, “What will you tell your friends about Camp Shanks?” More info: 845-359-5100 or email@example.com.