The History of Camp Bowie
by Lorene Bishop
Camp Bowie, located in Central Texas, was a military training center during World War II. The campsite was one and one half miles south and southwest of the city limits of Brownwood, Texas. During the years of 1940-1946 it grew to be one of the largest training centers in Texas, through which a quarter of a million men passed.
In 1940, the war situation in Europe caused the U. S. Congress to determine that it was time to strengthen the defense system. President Franklin D. Roosevelt was given the power to mobilize the National Guard units. The 36th Division of the Texas National Guard unit arrived at Camp Bowie in mid-December for their year's training. Before the year of training ended, war had been declared.
On September 19, 1940 the War Department announced that a camp would be built at Brownwood. Work began at the campsite on September 27, 1940. The Camp was the first major defense project in the state and there was no scarcity of labor when the building work began. At one time more than 15,000 men were employed on the project.
The land was to be leased from the land owners but this proved to be unsatisfactory. On October 1, 1942 the War Department became the owner of 123,000 acres of land in Brown and Mills Counties. The original plan was for a 2,000 acre campsite, 8,000 acres for the infantry training, 28,000 acres for maneuvers grounds and 23,000 acres for artillery range. Before the War ended the campsite encompassed 5,000 acres, and approximately 118,000 acres was used as the training grounds.
When someone mentions the construction of Camp Bowie, one event will be mentioned in the course of the conversation, the rains that fell from October, 1940 to June, 1941. The official rain totaled 19.50 inches. With the sixty miles of dirt roads built and the laying of utilities lines along these roads the soil became very soft. The slow rain that fell over a period of days resulted in the camp grounds being very muddy. "Camp Gooie", so named by the workers, was an appropriate name for the Camp Bowie.
The expansion of Bowie began in 1940 and lasted until 1945. The Pyramidal tents were the vogue the first year and a half. At one time there were 6,072 pyramidal and 910 wall tents at Bowie. Each cabin or tent was the home of five enlisted men.
While the living quarters were being built, larger buildings were going up all over the campsite. On March 1, 1941, it was reported that 213 mess halls and 224 bathhouses had been built. The men enjoyed sports and entertainment at the 22 recreation centers. There was one post exchange with 27 branches, three libraries, one 18 hole golf course, a veterinary clinic, three dental clinics and two Red Cross buildings. When completed, the hospital could take care of 2,000 patients. The fourteen chapels broke the monotony of the buildings with the steeples reaching toward the sky. There were numerous other buildings constructed at the campsite.
Atop the highest and most Olympian hill in Camp Bowie was the Headquarters. Krueger Hill was the hub of the Camp's activities. General Walter Krueger, formerly the commander of the VIII Corps, was stationed on the hill and his home was built nearby the headquarters. The hill was named for the man who led the Sixth Army in the Pacific.
There were five commanders at Bowie. Brigadier-General K.L. Berry commanded from November 18 to December 14, 1940 and again from July 29, 1941 to October 25, 1941. Major-General Claude V. Birkhead commanded from December 14, 1941 to July 29, 1941. Colonel Frank E. Bonney took command on November 18, 1941 and left the Camp June 20, 1944. Colonel Alfred G. Brown took command on June 10, 1944 and stayed until January 11, 1946. Colonel K. F. Hunt took command on January 1946 and remained until the Camp closed on October 1, 1946.
The original plan was a temporary training camp for the 36th Texas National Guard Division. When War was declared the plans changed. Many of the men stationed at Camp Bowie were from Brown and the adjacent counties, arriving in mid-December and departing for Camp Blanding, Florida on February 15, 1942. Soldiers of the Texas Division splashed ashore on the beaches of Salerno on September 9, 1943, to become the first allied soldiers to crack Hitler's Europe fortress from the west. According to the Camp Bowie Blade, printed on September 14, 1946, the Division suffered 27,343 casualties, including 3,974 killed, 19,052 wounded and 4,317 missing in action. The official figures were 19,466 casualties, including 3,717 killed in action, 12,685 wounded and 3,064 missing in action.
Finally, in December 1945 the 36th came home as a unit to be discharged. The Division was demobilized on Christmas Day.
There were eight divisions trained at Bowie, and many other battalions, regiments, and companies came for a short time to use the training grounds. Medical companies, MP companies, and others were here to learn how to survive during the War. During the War Days at least 30,000 men were at Bowie for training and at one time the population was 60,000 men.
Living quarters for these men and their families was a problem. Men stayed at the camp, lived off the campsite or in tents out in the training grounds. Every available room in Brown County and surrounding counties were rented to the men's families.
The first Women's Army Corps, officially arrived on November 16, 1943 to take over jobs to free the men for overseas duties.
There were two prisons in Bowie. The Rehabilitation Center that restored men back to duty and the German Prisoner of War Camp.
The Rehabilitation Center was opened on December 1, 1942. From that date until 1946 there were 2,294 men restored back to active duty. Only 12 percent could not be restored.
The first German Prisoners of War arrived at Bowie in August of 1943. Most of the men were members of Field Marshall Erwin Rommell's one proud Afrika Corps. When they got settled at Camp Bowie the 2,700 men were well behaved. The men worked at jobs on the Camp and became day laborers for the farmers and ranchers in Central Texas. They raised their own vegetables and had their own burial grounds near the Jordan Springs Cemetery.
Dogs were another resident of the Camp. They were loved and well fed by the men. The Camp Veterinarians rounded them up once a year to register and vaccinate them. Flea baths came more often.
On October 1, 1946 the U. S. Flag came down for the last time. On August 1, 1946 the War Department notified Texas members of Congress that the Camp had been declared "surplus". The Civilian War Assets Administration was to take charge and began the distribution of the land and buildings.
Today, 1997, there are few things at the Campsite to remind us of the Camp Bowie Days. The campsite has become a medical center, complete with a hospital and other medical buildings. Many industries have built in the area. The site has become a place where people can gather to enjoy entertainments at the parks, the municipal swimming pool, and the football and baseball sports complex. There are now homes and businesses in the area.
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