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Fort Custer

Camp Claiborne

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Cactus Patch

Fort Custer
Augusta, Michigan


...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 basic training.

LOCATION: Fort Custer Training Center, 2501 26th Street, Augusta, Michigan 49012-9205 Telephone (616) 731-4383 (6 miles west of Battle Creek)

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 cemetery.

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 region.

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.



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.


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