...After Aubert had arrived at Fort Custer, his mother (Aurore),
Shirley, his sister (Therese) and Therese’s husband (Bob Perry) drove
in the cold winter to Fort Custer to visit. Shirley and Aurore rode in
the back seat with a blanket on their legs to keep warm. It was just a
one day visit and the four of them returned to Detroit that night.
In a postcard to Shirley, dated December 4, 1942, Aubert wrote:
“Hello Darling - Army life O.K. so far. Been shoveling snow. Lots
of it. Eating like a pig. Don’t write yet. If I wasn’t lonesome for
you, wouldn’t mind being here. I love you very much. As soon as I’m
shipped out I’ll send regular address. Love, Whitie”
He stayed there only five days and then, as one of the 3,845 men
assembled at Fort Custer, traveled by train to Camp Claiborne, LA, for
LOCATION: Fort Custer Training Center, 2501 26th Street, Augusta,
Michigan 49012-9205 Telephone (616) 731-4383 (6 miles west of Battle
SIGNIFICANCE: On 1 December 1942, then-Private Aubert F. Seguin began
the first five days of his military active duty at Fort Custer before
being sent south as part of a group of 3,845 men, for basic training at
Camp Claiborne, LA. At the time he was there, snow was on the ground and
soldiers were detailed to shovel snow.
HISTORY: Fort Custer was named after Major General George Armstrong
Custer (1839 - 1876), a native of the State of Michigan.
The original Camp Custer was built on 130 parcels of land, mainly
small farms leased to the government by the local Chamber of Commerce.
After a two-year grace period, the Army was allowed to buy it for about
$98 an acre. The construction of the camp started in July 1917 and in a
short five months, there were 2,000 buildings ready to accept some
36,000 men. The 85th Infantry Division was organized and trained here
under the guidance of Major General Joseph Dickman. The 85th left the
329th Infantry Regiment in Europe after the Armistice. The Polar Bear
Regiment is the only American unit to fight on Russian soil with the
multi-national North Russia Expeditionary Force in 1918. The first
"doughboys" moved into camp from the cities and towns of
Michigan and Wisconsin to be molded into fighting men. During World War
I, some 90,000 of these soldiers passed through Camp Custer. Many of
them made a return visit following the Armistice of 1918. It became a
post-war demobilization base for 100,000 men.
On 10 May 1923, an executive order wtransferred 675 acres of this
valuable land to the Veterans Administration. On the property was built
the Battle Creek Veterans Administration Hospital which was completed in
1924. At one time, about 200 acres of the site was farmed by staff and
patients from the hospital. It was considered good occupational therapy
and helped the hospital be reasonably self-sufficient. During this early
period, many pine trees were planted. Today, they represent an
attractive cathedral-like feature in the northeast corner of the
On 17 August 1940, General George C. Marshall, Army Chief of Staff,
transmitted orders from the Secretary of the Army making the area a
permanent military installation and the post's name was officially
changed to Fort Custer. After acquiring an additional 6,166 acres, the
Army set about building a new camp. More than 700 new buildings were
constructed to replace some of the deteriorated World War I structures.
The first division-size unit to train in the new "fort" was
the famed 5th Infantry Division, better known as the "Red
Diamond" Division. They completed training here in 1941 and were
shipped to Iceland until going into battle in Europe. Later, Fort Custer
became headquarters of the Provost Marshall General's 350th Military
Police escort guard and processing center for prisoners of war. There
are 26 German POWs buried in the old post cemetery.
In June 1953, Fort Custer was made an inactive base as far as
training of Army troops was concerned. During the Korean War, there was
a brief flurry of activity with the setting up of anti-aircraft
artillery units. These units, however, were later moved to permanent
sites near Chicago, IL, and Detroit, MI, to protect the Great Lakes
The qualities of Fort Custer as a training site are still recognized
by reserve components. Both the Army Reserve and the Michigan National
Guard use portions of the base for weekend training. The Michigan
Military Academy, also located here, prepares the Army Reservists for
commissioning as officers.
ACKNOWLEDGEMENT: Appreciation is extended to Major General Vernon J.
Andrews, State of Michigan Army National Guard.
FORT CUSTER NATIONAL CEMETERY
LOCATION: Fort Custer National Cemetery, 15501 Dickman Road, Augusta,
Michigan 49012 Telephone: (616) 731-4164
INFORMATION: Fort Custer National Cemetery is the only national
cemetery located in the State of Michigan. It is one of the 114 National
Cemeteries under the jurisdiction of the Department of Veterans Affairs
for the purpose of interring service men and women and authorized
dependents. The U.S. Army cooperated in the transfer of 770 acres of
land to the Veterans Administration in February 1981. On 23 September
1984, Fort Custer National Cemetery was formally dedicated as a regional
cemetery with space and facilities to handle 10,000 burials. That first
fiscal year saw 278 burials. On 11 November 1986, an unknown soldier
from the Civil War was disinterred from the Grand Rapids, MI, area and
reinterred at Fort Custer National Cemetery to afford him the
recognition for his service to our nation and burial with fellow
comrades. Since its 1984 dedication, Fort Custer National Cemetery has
grown in character and has developed in ways not envisioned at its
dedication. The most powerful and visual evidence of that is the Avenue
of Flags, made possible by private donations. Another feature is the
Fort Custer National Cemetery Honor Guard. Nearly 100 uniformed
volunteers willingly give of their time each week to insure that every
veteran interred at Fort Custer has the tribute of free military honors.
With the aid of donated golf carts, handicapped and elderly visitors are
helped to gravesites.
"The Forgotten Twenty-Six": From 1943 to 1946, Fort Custer
housed several German Prisoner of War camps. Many of the 4,000 prisoners
worked on farms and in vineyards in the area. In Section B of Fort
Custer National Cemetery, once part of the Post Cemetery of Fort Custer,
there are 26 German graves. Sixteen of the men were killed or died as a
result of an accident on 31 October 1944 when a truck, returning German
prisoners of war from a work detail to their POW camp at Fort Custer,
collided with a train at an unguarded railroad crossing at Blissfield,
MI. The other ten died of natural causes while prisoners of war.
POSTSCRIPT: It is poetic that Corporal Aubert F. Seguin, whose
military active duty began at Fort Custer on 1 December 1942, returned
for "Taps" at the same installation on 20 September 1994. He
rests in Section 8.
ACKNOWLEDGEMENT: Appreciation is extended to Mr. Robert E. Poe,
Director, Fort Custer National Cemetery.