Piecing Together Babe’s Last Stops Before He Went to North Africa

Wooden bunkhouses at the Shenango Personnel Replacement Depot. Courtesy of Camp Reynolds and ACW Productions.

Babe’s last letter appears to be his last from basic training at Camp Wheeler, where thousands of young men were prepared as replacements for troops overseas. In that letter, he writes that he expected “to be out of here in two or three days.” He wrote that letter on June 4, 1943.

The next few letters are from his next two stops before he went overseas himself, to North Africa. But the letters themselves are opaque about his whereabouts. They have no postmark, they are censored, and he’s apparently not allowed to write about where he went.

Only later — in a letter from the War Department to my grandmother on Oct. 8, 1946 — did she learn that her son left Camp Wheeler for training in Transfer, Pa. That’s the location of what was called the Shenango Personnel Replacement Depot. The site was also known as Camp Reynolds, according to one Pennsylvania history site:

Needing a central camp for replacement soldiers heading for Europe, the federal government chose the site because of the proximity of two major railroads, and purchased thirty-five farms totaling more than 3,300 acres. An army of civilian workers then descended on the site and began erecting wooden barracks, headquarters, hospitals, warehouses, and other related structures. Designed to last only three years, the buildings housed more than a million soldiers en route to East Coast ports; most troops were at the camp for a week or less.

Based on accounts I’ve read from servicemen elsewhere, I presume Babe left Shenango for Camp Shanks in Orangeburg, N.Y. That appears to be one port of departure for soldiers shipped across the ocean.

According to its museum website, Camp Shanks was…

…the largest point of embarkation for soldiers headed for the front lines in North Africa and Europe during World War II, including the landing forces for the D-Day invasion. Opened in 1942, Camp Shanks contained 1,500 barracks, mess halls, theaters, a hospital, and other buildings where some 1.5 million G.I.s (approximately 40,000 a month) were issued combat equipment and underwent final inspections before shipping overseas. Most soldiers spent eight to 12 days at the self supporting complex dubbed “Last Stop, U.S.A.”

A. Macon, Ga., Camp Wheeler; B. Transfer, Pa.; C. Orangeburg, N.Y.

But the truth is, I have no idea where Babe set sail. (UPDATE: New information on this post). Babe’s last stateside letter appears to have been written on July 7, 1943, as you will see. The War Department letter to my grandmother says Babe left the United States on July 14, 1943, and arrived in North Africa seven days later. He never got a pass to visit home before going overseas, so the last time he saw his family, I presume, was the day he reported for duty on Feb. 26, 1943.

We can guesstimate that he spent his last 38 days in the United States riding trains between Camp Wheeler and Transfer, Pa.; riding trains from Transfer to his port of departure; and biding his time at two camps in between. It was light duty, apparently. In a letter he writes on June 19, 1943, he says “this place is a soldiers’ haven for rest.” That was nearly a month before he sailed for North Africa, so I’m guessing he wrote those words from Shenango.

Babe narrowly missed being present for some national news at the Shenango Personnel Replacement Depot. On July 11, three days before Babe left the country, a race riot of some sort occurred at the camp that resulted in the death of one black soldier and left six others wounded. According to an early Associated Press account in the Pittsburgh Sun-Telegraph:

One Negro soldier was killed and six others were wounded in an encounter between white and Negro soldiers at Camp Shenango last night, the Army press relations office announced today. A statement said: “Friction between white and colored troops which developed at Shenango Personnel Replacement Depot Sunday evening resulted in the death of one colored soldier and the wounding of six others. All the men are being treated at the station hospital.”

The article placed the blame at the time at the feet of the black soldiers, but noted that a board of inquiry had been appointed. The article used words such as “row” and “encounter.” Later accounts refer to it as a “riot,” and it was apparently not the only one during that period as black and white soldiers confronted the inequities between them based on their race. I may try to explore this topic in more detail later.

9 thoughts on “Piecing Together Babe’s Last Stops Before He Went to North Africa

  1. Would you be interested in having scans of “Welcome Soldier: A Pocket Guide to Camp Reynolds”? My father also passed through this replacement depot (albeit over a year later).

    1. Sorry for the belated response; I forgot to ask for notification on follow-up comments on this comment and then I got distracted by work. Assuming the email address on your résumé is correct, I’ll contact you via email and arrange something.

  2. Mrs Barnhill- I am 91 years old and was in Camp Reynolds just 70 years ago, in March, 1944, en route to North Africa. I would be very grateful for a copy of the pocket guide to the camp.

      1. I’m glad we could get you two paired up like this. I hope you get the info you’re looking for, Mr. Pouder, and thank you, Ms. Barnhill, for helping him out. What unit did you end up serving in, Mr. Pouder?

        1. Having problems getting through to Mrs Barnhill. At 91 my grandkids are better at this sort of technology! Could she (and you) email me directly? Camp Reynolds sent me to N. Africa via Newport News. We landed in Oran and were at the Lion Mountain “Repple Depot”.Babe may have gone there too. I missed the previous shipment in which the Liberty Paul Hamilton was torpedoed- 504 Gis drowned. I went to Corsica, then S.France, then in 42 div in Germany and Austria, helped liberate Dachau, etc. Lots more to share with you but I don’t have any recollections of Babe Mauro. Coincidentally, I live in Bedford often shop at Conte’s seafood in Mt Kisco!

          1. Thank you for the information, Mr. Pouder. If you’re OK with it, I can share your email address with Ms. Barnhill.

            I didn’t realize you live in Bedford! Did you know any of the Mauro family in Mt. Kisco? My grandmother was Florence, and her husband was Frank. He died well before I was born. Their children were Babe (who was actually named Frank); Vincent; Robert (Bob) and my mother Rosemarie. My mother was much younger than the boys, so you likely would not have known her if you’d have known any of them.

          2. Mr Greenbaum-
            You are very gracious to let me contact Mrs Barnhill directly. There are, understandably, some personal things that I prefer not to share with the bloggers.
            Conte also had a fish restaurant upcounty at the Amawalk reservoir. I did not know any of the family.
            Mt Kisco/Bedford Hills had a large Italian population and an inordinate number of their sons
            died in service. Last year the B.H. historical society had a WW2 exhibit that I attended and the Bedford newspaper ran an article profiling two of us grizzled old soldiers.
            My memory is sharper than my physical abilities, but the army recollections are keener because when we cleaned out my mother’s house after she died I discovered that she had kept almost all of my letters home. I culled them into a condensed chronological 3 year diary. One of my daughters in law is a graphic designer and doing a professional remake of it.
            I am sure that Babe went through Oran and Lion Mountain; I don’t think there were any other camps in the area. He mentions swimming in Canistel; so did I. I don’t think it was the name of the town, just the beach. It was near Arzeu, I think, which was east of the French navy base at Mers el Kebir.
            When we were in Oran the censors scissored my letters aplenty , but once I got to Corsica I was able to describe the 3 weeks at sea, Oran, living conditions, landscape,the arabs, etc.
            I am hoping some of this may fill in the gaps in Babe’s whereabouts prior to Italy. In fact, I am looking forward to helping in any way. Re Mrs Barnhill, I hope to give her an insight about her father’s Camp Reynolds through my recollections.
            PS Googlemaps has some great aeriel views of Oran harbor, the dock we landed on, the town on its cliff above the sea. Pvt George Pouder

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