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Camp Grant Gallery Four

The Liberty Theater was built by the government as a way of giving the soldiers in  training at the camp wholesome entertainment. The theater was one of the largest  in the nation  and could accommodate 4,500 men. Fifteen other theaters would be  constructed at the other army bases, most with a seating capacity of around 3,000. Above is a view of the Liberty Theater sign advertising the latest attraction with the Y. W. C. A. Hostess House in the distance.

The first play to grace the theater stage was the comedy, "Turn to the Right" as it  had ran 443 performances in New York and 319 performances in Chicago and is  now playing to crowded houses on tour. It was not by chance that this play was  picked as it was a play full of laughter and heartthrobs, about American invention  and success, home and Mother.

They would have minstrel shows, stars of the Grand Opera, lecturers of national  repute, musicians, artists had the opportunity to appear at the theater, regular vaudeville shows of the finest acts from the big time circuit and also some  of the latest movies of the day. Big name orchestras as well as popular singers and boxing matches would be featured on the stage of the theater. On occasion a talented bunch of  musicians at the camp took the stage.

The theater auditorium was a remarkable 130 feet wide and the floor built with an  ascending pitch that gave an exceptional line of vision for the audiences. There  was also the possibility that this theater included a balcony.

A close up view of the Liberty Theater stage at Camp Grant. The theater stage was large enough to stage and hold the scenery of a Broadway production with sufficent lighting and dressing rooms for any play.

In the history of the world, never before had such an enormous effort been undertaken to ensure the morale of the fighting men as was the case with the Liberty Theater.

A professional stage manager was placed in charge and working staff was composed of enlisted men from which technical and stage hands were chosen. Standard prices of twenty five to fifty cents was charged at all performances in the  belief that the overwhelming attendance in the large theater would pay for the  enormous expenditure involved with the War Department assuming responsibility  for any loss. Even at these prices many soldiers were not able to afford the price  to attend the shows. Pictured above was the ticket window of the Liberty Theater.

Smilage books were created which were books of coupons, bought by the public  and sent to the men in the camp. The coupons had a value of five cents apiece. These coupons could be exchanged at the Liberty Theater for admission and seat  tickets. A  Smilage book would let the soldier get into the theater three or four times  before it was used up.

The theater building had five entrances and fifteen exits and was so constructed as to be easily emptied in case of fire, in the case of the Liberty Theater, no major fire ever occurred.

Pictured above was the Orchestra of the Liberty Theater at Camp Grant

In the postcard above you can see a bunch of soldiers playing musical instruments and dancing with the ladies

In the postcard above you can see a bunch of soldiers playing musical instruments and dancing with the ladies

The occasional bi-plane would visit Camp Grant during World War One and use a portion of the parade grounds to take off and land. In 1927 while the camp was occupied by the Illinois National Guard the 108 Aero Squadron was based at the camp. There were plans to build two runways in 1938 but the plan never materialized.

In January of 1918 Camp Grant was hit with three blizzards which cut off the camp from all outside communication. No mail could make it in or out of the camp, no trains to Rockford or Chicago could run, with temperatures below zero and gusty winds most of the time. Shown above are soldiers shoveling lots of snow.

The soldiers did not let the brutal Northern Illinois weather stop them from enjoying activities as they built ski ramps, toboggan slides, played ice hockey and practiced curling. Blizzards occurred on January 6, 11-12 and on the 23rd of 1918.

Soldiers at Camp Grant engaging in a friendly snowball fight

No matter the weather the duty of a soldier was never done, here the men were standing in mess line in the field

Here is a close up view of the field kitchens on this cold and blustery day out on maneuvers in the field

Camp Grant held reviews of the soldiers on a regular basis and the entire division staged the first great field maneuver, review and parade on record in 1918. Here we see the soldiers assembled on the parade grounds.

On July 4, 1918, Rockford had a tremendous military pageant, with the 86th Division, consisting of twenty eight thousand soldiers through downtown Rockford in front of 100,000 spectators. As the parade reached downtown, the tail end of the soldiers on parade was just leaving Camp Grant.

Early on the morning of November 11, 1918 Rockford was awakened by the sound of steam whistles signaling that an armistice had been signed between Germany and the Allied powers. Soon the streets were alive with exulting, boisterous crowds. Men, women, and children, laughing, shouting, even weeping in the hysteria of their joy and relief. Automobile horns, bells and factory whistles added to the general din. Pots and pans, wash tubs and boilers, garbage cans, tin horns, and every metallic object that could be converted into a noisemaker were pressed into service to increased the tumult. Bonfires spotted the city. Traffic became hopelessly snarled, but nobody tried to interfere with the most spontaneous carnival of joy and thanksgiving the city had ever known.

In the afternoon, a more formal celebration was held with all the city's bands, two military bands from the camp, civic and patriotic organizations and 5,000 men representing the camp participated. Schools and factories were closed, as thousands cheered the ending of the war. Almost immediately, Camp Grant was selected as a demobilization center for thirteen Midwestern states. Army records show that more than 250,000 soldiers, including the 86th Division, received their discharges there. Demobilization activities continued well into 1919.

Soldiers marching through downtown Rockford on Armistice Day

The front page of the Four O'Clock Edition of the Rockford Morning Star on Monday November 11, 1918.

Camp Grant was closed as a U.S. Army facility in 1921 and almost all of the Camp Grant buildings were dismantled and auctioned off. The Illinois National Guard would occupy the grounds beginning in 1924 although the federal government retained Camp Grant as permanent reservation. See next page for more information.

The camp buildings were disposed of in a variety of creative ways.

The Illinois National Gaurd Years

Camp Grant was originally built in 1917 and dismantled in 1921. In May 1923  the offer to sell the camp by the US War Department was accepted by Illinois National Guard, although the purchase could be revoked at any time should the War Department decide to do so.

In 1924 Camp Grant was used as a training ground for the Illinois National Guard. The state had erected 176 buildings, a pistol and machine gun range and a 37 millimeter range for the use of the 7,000 to 9,000 national guardsmen who annually trained for two weeks at Camp Grant. The guardsmen lived in tents on the base.

The Civilian Conservation Corps stationed approximately 1,100 men put out of work by the Great Depression at Camp Grant. Six companies were stationed at the camp for nine months in 1933, and one company from April, 1934, to November, 1935. They did much to enhance the appearance of the grounds. The banks of the Rock and Kishwaukee rivers were improved. One hundred thousand trees were transplanted and extensive landscaping undertaken. Cabins, shelters, and picnic areas were constructed. In 1936 some 250 resident members of a Works Progress Administration transient center then located in the camp, continued the work of the Civilian Conservation Corps.

The "Bell Bowl" at Camp Grant, a natural amphitheater was named after the first commander of the 33rd Division of the Illinois National Guard, Major General George Bell, Jr.

On August 17, 1925 10,000 troops would gather at Camp Grant. There was a parade from the camp through the streets of Rockford, this was the biggest military demonstration of the state’s troops since World War One. Major General Milton J. Foreman, commander of the 33rd Division, spoke to the troops that day.

In this picture the Illinois National Guard was marching north on Main Street. On the left side can be seen the Ziock / Amerock and Tapco Buildings. On the right were located the Williamson Ford dealership and garage and in the distance can be seen the Chicago & Northwestern passenger station just beyond the railroad overpass. In September 1935 the Illinois National Guard ends use of the Camp Grant facilities. In 1940 the War Department would once again take control of the camp.

World War Two

With the inauguration of national compulsory military training in October 1940 preparations for the establishment of a Medical Replacement Training Center at Camp Grant began. Camp Grant was designated by the War department as a recruit reception center and as the  location of the first medical replacement center in the Midwest. The camp was immediately transferred back to the federal government by the State of Illinois.

In November 1940, John Griffin & Sons Construction Company of Chicago, began erecting 365 new buildings and rehabilitation of 176 buildings that were built for the National Guard, with 6,000 civilian workers under federal control. 165 of the buildings were barracks for the men. Construction was completed in January 1941 at a cost of nine million dollars and the base itself consisted of 3,349 acres. The eastern half of the camp consisted of rolling terrain that was unusually well suited for field  operations. Visitors were not allowed in camp, unlike it's predecessor, except on rare occasions as a precaution against possible sabotage.

Soldiers arriving at the Chicago, Burlington & Quincy Railroad station by troop trains at the Recruit Reception Center at Camp Grant. Physical exams and medical training for draftees was the main focus, although a good number of personnel went through Camp Grant for their Army basic training.

Camp Grant was designated as the largest reception center of the army in 1941. Recruits were received,  underwent a physical examination and outfitted and their branch of service determined.  The reception  center, was located in an area east of Kishwaukee Street, and was equipped to house 2,500  men at one time, the turn over was around the rate of 12,000 men per month. The recruit averaged about four days at Camp Grant for processing before they were sent on to the other military camps around the country.

Soldiers receiving uniforms at the Reception Recruit Center

According to this Camp Grant postcard the men were issued four handkerchiefs, undershirts, drawers, trousers, shirts, neckties and four pair of socks, two pair of shoes, two caps and one each of the following leggings, gloves, blouse,  overcoat and belt. You Are Judged By Your Appearance - Look Your Best states the sign above the mirror.

Each barrack had its own heating system and was built of a more permanent construction than the barracks of Camp Grant during the first World War days. The buildings themselves are smaller in size than their predecessor.

The barracks had sleeping quarters on the second floor and each barrack contained about sixty three soldiers.

Like its World War One predecessor, the camp was a self contained institution, with a base hospital, water plant, fire department,  sanitation facilities, camp kitchens and mess halls, etc.  Above is the Camp Grant post office.

The medical replacement center was located in the south end of the camp. It was equipped to train 7,500 troops at one time. A permanent staff of 2,500 officers and men were stationed at the camp. Pictured above is a section of the Medical Center barracks. Qualities to be developed in medical training were the same for all members of the United States military forces and their training consisted of a full thirteen to seventeen week period. Facilities constructed by the medical training section included classrooms for the common specialist schools and fixed training aids ranging from rifle and carbine ranges to bayonet courts, gas chambers, obstacle courses, and demonstration areas. the medical training section had to build almost every facility required by the center.

One of the hospital wards at Camp Grant is pictured above. The Camp Grant base hospital occupied the same site as the World War One base hospital did in 1918. Many of the hospital buildings on the base were dedicated to  medical training classrooms. Courses might include dental, ophthalmology, surgery, emergency medical care, etc

Every member of a medical unit received basic military training such as individual  defense, individual protection, dismounted drill, military courtesy, technical training  including special training and instruction, tactical training covering logistical  movements, operations, field exercises and functions of medical installations.

The soldiers would keep their weapons clean, oiled and ready for use on a moments notice

Officers received additional training for field duty incorporating  administration, training methods, field hygiene, sanitation, first aid  supply, military law, combat principles, field orders, standing operating procedures, map reading & sketching, field fortifications, interpretation of aerial photographs, etc. pictured above soldiers are doing hurdles.

Setting up exercises to toughen up the soldiers physically

It is estimated that 100,000 medical corpsmen were trained at the camp.  In addition to the training programs of the  Medical Department, medical units participated in practice marches, maneuvers, and such training as conducted by the rest of the army to which they were assigned to or of which they were an integral part. Soldiers above were participating in gas mask defense maneuvers out in the field.

The soldiers were required to apply their newly acquired skills under field and simulated war conditions,  the soldier was moved into the field and lived under field conditions, such as the emergency first aid drill above.  At times, however, the climate made training difficult; the temperature varied from 20 degrees below zero in winter to as much as 104 degrees above in summer, and between December and March, snow and cold weather made meaningful outdoor training a near impossibility.

Shown above is a bivouac in the training field, a bivouac was a military encampment made with tents or improvised shelters, usually without shelter or protection from enemy fire. Continued on next page.

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