The Camp Atterbury Veterans Memorial was dedicated in August 1992 to mark the 50th anniversary of Camp Atterbury, a military camp built to train soldiers. It serves to honor the loyalty and bravery of the men and women who were trained, deployed, or de-mobilized at the camp. From the beginning, the Camp has lived up to its motto “Preparamus'' or “We are ready.”
As World War II raged in Europe and Asia, the United States Army began building new bases throughout the country as part of its preparations. Plans for the base in Indiana were first announced in April of 1941. Initially, there was resistance to the government’s purchase of over 40,000 acres in Indiana which would include the loss of the communities of Pisgah and Kansas. However, the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941 accelerated plans for the base and community support. Construction began in February of 1942 and it was officially opened in June. The base was named for William Atterbury, who was born in New Albany, Indiana. He served as president of the Pennsylvania Railroad before joining the Army as a Brigadier General to head up railroad transport for the American army in Europe during World War I.
Atterbury was instrumental in supplying well-trained and expertly prepared troops for the Allied forces, who fought against Germany and Japan. Over one hundred units consisting of nearly 275,000 men received their military training under the direction of the Army’s Fifth Service Command. Wakeman Hospital, one of the largest military hospitals in the country, specialized in burn treatments and neurological injuries. The base also housed a Prisoner of War camp for German and Italian POWs. Four major units were trained at Atterbury:
- The 83rd Infantry “Thunderbolt” Division – helped to liberate Langenstein, a subcamp of the Buchenwald concentration camp in April 1945.
- The 92nd Infantry “Buffalo Soldiers” Division – was one of only two all African American divisions to fight in WWI and WWII. Their nickname is reminiscent of African American soldiers who volunteered for duty in the American West in the late 1860s, and the four similarly named regiments that fought in the regular U.S. Army in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.
- The 30th Infantry “Old Hickory” Division – named to honor Andrew Jackson, the surviving members of Old Hickory were presented in July 2020 with the Presidential Unit Citation for extraordinary heroism at the Battle of Mortain, France, in 1944.
- The 106th Infantry “Golden Lion” Division – was the last large divisional unit to train at Atterbury during WWII. In December 1944 they were assigned to a “quiet” sector in St. Vith, France, but then became involved in a horrific German attack, later called the “Battle of the Bulge,” experiencing major losses.
The 1560th Service Command Unit, part of the 5th Service Command, staffed Camp Atterbury from 1942 to 1946. They were responsible for teaching academic and military fundamentals to the men assigned to this unit. They aimed to give each trainee the equivalent of a fourth-grade education, as well as educating them on the Army and military protocols. In the Fall of 1944 with Allied forces making significant gains, Camp Atterbury activated a Separation Center to help soldiers returning to life at home after completing their service. Averaging nearly 3000 per day, the Center out-processed almost 561,000 soldiers over the next seven months.
While the base is best known for its military history, it also played a role in the canning industry. With so many American men enlisted and were drafted into the military, there was a shortage of workers in fields and canning factories. To help ease the shortage, a national program made prisoners of war available for agricultural work under strict supervision. The POW work program was a huge relief to Johnson County farmers and canneries, who were under pressure to produce food for the war effort in the midst of the labor crisis. The idea faced resistance, however, from those who feared the POWs as “the hated enemy.” Stokely Foods Inc., for example, printed in a 1944 advertisement “WE PREFER LOCAL LABOR.” Prisoners, not given an option to participate as “free” labor, contributed to the canning industry and indirectly to the war effort.
After World War II, Camp activity mirrored U.S. involvement in various wars and conflicts. Parts of the Camp were dismantled in 1946, but reactivated in August 1950 in support of U.S. involvement in the Korean War. Several major units received their training at Atterbury:
- The 28th Infantry “Keystone” Division – nicknamed for its origin in Pennsylvania (the Keystone state), it was also called the “Bloody Bucket” due to its red insignia. The 28th was the first major unit to train at the reactivated Camp.
- The 31st Infantry “Dixie” Division – originally a unit formed from men from the deep south for service in WWI and WWII, the Dixie Division was reactivated after hostilities broke out in Korea. Their assignment was to conduct training missions for units slated for deployment. Their own deployment was cancelled when the cease fire was arranged before they could be deployed.
In 1954, Camp Atterbury was once again deactivated. Four years later, the Indiana Air National Guard took over operations of the air-to-ground gunnery range. In the late 1960s parts of the Camp were subdivided and deeded to the US Department of Natural Resources. In 1969, the Indiana National Guard assumed oversight of a majority of the rest of the Camp. The Camp continued to provide support to the Guard and its missions during the Vietnam War, Operation Desert Shield, and the Gulf War’s Operation Desert Storm. Today Camp Atterbury, along with the Muscatatuck Training Center is nationally recognized as a major training and mobilization site for individual, collective and joint military operations.
The grounds of Camp Atterbury Veterans Memorial and outdoor museum hosts a tribute to POWs and MIAs, and to all the civilians who supported the military during World War II and the Korean Conflict. Additionally, you can view military equipment including an M1 Abrams tank, a UH-1 helicopter, an M4 Sherman tank and several artillery pieces. Across Highway 252 in the Welcome Center is an indoor museum, which features artifacts and displays arranged in a timeline format, allowing you to wander year-by-year through the history of the Camp. Both museums and the Veterans Memorial are outside of the main gate of Camp Atterbury and easily accessible to the public.