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The below story, forwarded to me by fellow Piermonter Bob Samuels, is, as some of you know, of more than "passing interest" to the Merna and Sedlack Families:

Statue to honor Shanks Gis


Camp, Piermont pier were last U.S. stops for 1.3M soldiers

Gerald McKinstry The Journal News, 3/9/05

A group of veterans that plans to erect a memorial to the GIs who passed through the village on their way to the battlefields of World War II is looking to enlist residents' support.

George A. Lynch Jr., commander of Piermont Memorial Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 7462, said his group has raised about a third of the funds needed to build a life-size bronze statue, titled "GIJoe," to honor the soldiers who came through Camp Shanks in Orangeburg and who boarded boats in Piermont to go off to war.


The statue will be placed at the "Last Stop USA" memorial, adjacent to a plaque commemorating soldiers, in Kennedy Memorial Park. Lynch said the project would cost about $75,000 and that he hoped to have it completed by Veterans Day. The VFW got approval from the village Board of Trustees last year to erect the "GI Joe" statue, which depicts a waving soldier in full battle gear.


Lynch, a fourth-generation resident of the village, said the statue would complement the plaque, adding that it was an important piece of history.
"A lot of children today have no idea what went on in World War II and this area," Lynch said. "There's a lot of history here. Sadly enough, it's slipping by."

Lynch, who enlisted in the Navy during World War II when he was 17, said he remembered soldiers marching down to the pier, where they departed to fight in the war.
"They marched right past this," Lynch said during a meeting yesterday at the Piermont Avenue veterans post. "I remember as a kid going down and watching them." {Sparkill resident George A. Lynch Jr., commander of Piermont Memorial VFW Post 7462, says veterans in his post have raised about a third of the amount needed for the statue and need help raising the rest.}

Scott Webber, author of "Camp Shanks 1942-1946" and "Shanks Village 1946-1956," said the pier was used by the Army as a port of embarkment He said more than 1 million soldiers passed through the village on their way to North Africa, England and Normandy.
"We supplied the troops for the Normandy landing," Webber said. "They shipped them overseas and then received them back after the war."

Webber, a Korean War veteran, said the pier was used when the weather permitted and that troops also were sent by train to Hoboken and Jersey City, N.J., during the winter.

Town Historian Mary Cardenas said the 2,000-acre camp trained and processed 1.3 million soldiers — including officers, enlisted men and nurses — during the war. It also was a prisoner of war camp where many Italian and German soldiers were held until being repatriated, Cardenas said. She said the camp, which spanned parts of Blauvelt and Tappan, was built for $45.4 million.

Next week. Lynch and other members of the post will head to Brooklyn for a photo shoot of the statue. StudioEIS (pronounced studio-ice) specializes in making statues and museum figures worldwide and is working with local veterans on the "GI Joe" statue.

The firm has a client list that includes the Smithsonian Institution, National Museum of the American Indian and several presidential libraries. Debra Schwartz, director of projects, said the firm would work closely with the Piermont veterans. "We do a lot of military projects," she said. "We're pretty well versed at this."

Although many soldiers passed through Piermont during the war, some who called it home never returned. "We lost 11 young boys in this little village in World War II," Lynch said. "To me, that's some kind of record."  

How to donate: Donations for the World War II memorial can be made to: Veterans Memorial Association of Piermont Inc., P.O. Box 375, Piermont, NY 10968. Contact:
George A. Lynch Jr., commander, at 845-359-7980.  

Reach Gerald McKinstry at gmckinst@theJournalnews.com or at 845-578-2439.”
 

The Merna's, like many others in Blauvelt, Piermont, and Sparkill, are more than knowledgeable about Camp Shanks because they also "lived" through that historic period in Rockland County history, and in the history of U. S. Army replacements to Europe during W.W. II.

Camp Shanks was constructed while six Merna siblings (Jerry, Bob, Jim, Rich, Tom and sister Vivian) were wards of St. Dominic's Convent in Blauvelt from 1942 until each graduated eighth grade beginning in 1944.  (Oldest brother George, already of high school age in 1942, went right to St. Agnes Home and School for Boys in Sparkill, which he left at age 17 to join the Navy; he was killed in action at age 19 in 1945).  After each graduated from St. Dominic’s, all (except Sister Vivian) were "transferred" to St. Agnes, where they attended Tappan Zee High School (TZHS) in the nearby village of Piermont. 


Camp Shanks was literally built around our Convent grounds in Blauvelt and extended to Orangeburg; the outfield of our ball field ended at the beginning of their fence.  We had many opportunities, authorized and often unauthorized, to meet with many Soldiers before they went to Europe.  We would play softball and baseball on the St. Dominic’s baseball field with the young Army soldiers, many of them less than six or seven years older than us; more appropriately, they would play ball with us since we were little kids not yet graduated from 8th grade. Many of them we "adopted" as pen pals (though they probably thought they were the "adopters"), and we would scrawl notes to them while they were overseas.  Their replies were usually interesting, talking about their duties and how they missed home; far too many of our letters were returned, some unable to keep up with GI’s transfers, others indicating the GI was deceased. I remember specifically writing quite often to one GI who then had his parents writing me as well. 

As mentioned in this Journal News story there were numerous German and Italian Prisoners of War that were shipped back to the U. S. for "incarceration." This would be in the very same barracks used by the departed Camp Shanks troops, where they were held for the duration of the war.  Unlike American prisoners in Italy, Germany and Japan, these Camp Shank’s POW's were treated so well that many of them did not want to go home and a good number of them returned to the U. S. after the war, raising families in the very same areas in which they were formerly imprisoned, which was then being developed as housing developments much along the lines of Levittown in Long Island, NY for returning American Veterans.

At St. Dominic's we talked with some of the POW's through the fence; many were quite friendly.  Brother Jim and I, and probably Brother Bob also, used to "sneak" over to their barracks areas. "Homeland Security"  in those mid-W.W.II days around Camp Shanks was not that inpenetrable, at least for us, and despite all the war fervor during that  era. We’d usually come back with considerable Army paraphernalia the GI's gave us, such as emblems, badges, stripes, etc., including some "rations" and odds 'n ends we "captured" from the huge Army Dump.  Over the years Jim and I have both written articles about Camp Shanks and our experiences of that time, a few of which appeared in the Journal News and other publications.

The forwarded article mentioned “more than 1 million soldiers passed through the village (of Piermont) on their way to North Africa, England and Normandy. One other very young lady, Dot Sedlack, born and raised in Piermont (who would ultimately become my wife), together with her friends and classmates, would wave to many of those same Army troops in truck convoys or marching through the Village en route to the Piermont Pier. For some of these GI’s, they would be the last American girls they would see.  Some of the girls would even row out on the Hudson River to wave them goodbye as the troopships departed.

The proposed life-size “GIJoe” bronze statue to honor those soldiers whose lives changed forever as they came through Camp Shanks, is an excellent idea and tribute not only to them, but for the many Rockland County residents during W.W.II GI’s whose lives became forever entwined with them. 

We intend to make a donation to this very worthy and appropriate cause.

Jerry Merna


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