2018-09-06 / Front Page

Tour ex-military sites from computer, phone

BY ROBERT BERCZUK


Soldiers raise the flag at Fort Greble in July 1924. The long military tradition of showing reverence to the flag by raising it every morning and lowering it every evening still is done at military installations today. Soldiers raise the flag at Fort Greble in July 1924. The long military tradition of showing reverence to the flag by raising it every morning and lowering it every evening still is done at military installations today. The tiny Ocean State has played a large role in history, from the American Revolution to the filming of “Amistad.”

To showcase this heritage, the Rhode Island Council for the Humanities has partnered with historians across the state to tell these stories. Rhode Tour is a joint initiative with Brown University that uses mapping technology, sound, photos and videos to depict the 1,200 square miles from Westerly to Woonsocket.

With 233 stories that shape 23 tours, the website and app is ideal for armchair history buffs. One of these tours, titled “Jamestown Forts: Rhode Island’s First Line of Defense,” was curated by the Jamestown Historical Society. It showcases five locations that were installed on Conanicut, Dutch and Gould islands.


LEFT: Jamestown resident Mary Miner finds a torpedo on Gould Island in 1944. Thousands of torpedoes were tested from the island’s firing pier during the war; some sank into the seabed and others ran aground. LEFT: Jamestown resident Mary Miner finds a torpedo on Gould Island in 1944. Thousands of torpedoes were tested from the island’s firing pier during the war; some sank into the seabed and others ran aground. The society already had been discussing an app for these sites, but the cost was prohibitive, according to member Stephanie Amerigian, project leader. That’s when the statewide venture called.

“We thought it was a great opportunity to participate,” she said.

Because the society has curated past exhibits on local military installations, its members knew which sites would spark the most interest.

“We picked out the ones that had the most interesting personal twists on them from a Jamestown perspective,” Amerigian said.

Camp Bailey and racism


BELOW: The U.S. Army School Center at Fort Getty is where intelligence officers compiled lists of anti-Nazi POWs and set up an administrator’s school, as well as a police school at nearby Fort Wetherill. Officers were dispersed across the country to different POW camps to screen potential candidates that would become students. BELOW: The U.S. Army School Center at Fort Getty is where intelligence officers compiled lists of anti-Nazi POWs and set up an administrator’s school, as well as a police school at nearby Fort Wetherill. Officers were dispersed across the country to different POW camps to screen potential candidates that would become students. Because Southern cruisers were causing havoc in the unprotected West Passage of Narragansett Bay, the Dutch Island fort Camp Bailey was built in fall 1863 to combat Confederate fleets during the Civil War.

Discrimination against black soldiers at the time throughout the Union Army, including having their pay deducted for worthless items, wasn’t rectified until testimonies of soldiers. Among the soldiers who testified for the U.S. House of Representatives in 1864 were privates Calvin Bailey, George Gordon and John Dorsey from Camp Bailey.


ABOVE: A recruiting poster from 1863 tries to entice former slaves and free black men to join the Union Army. Recruitment of “colored” regiments began and the Bureau of Colored Troops was formed to facilitate the recruitment of these soldiers to fight for the Union. ABOVE: A recruiting poster from 1863 tries to entice former slaves and free black men to join the Union Army. Recruitment of “colored” regiments began and the Bureau of Colored Troops was formed to facilitate the recruitment of these soldiers to fight for the Union. “They were enticed to join the military and fight for the Union because they’d be freed as slaves or they’d get money,” Amerigian said. “A lot of times that didn’t follow through.”

POWs at Fort Getty

Attracting thousands of tourists annually, few of these Fort Getty visitors realize the stone posts at its entrance were built by German prisoners of war encamped there in 1945.

In 1945, the U.S. Army approved numerous “re-education schools” throughout the nation for German POWs. The classes included English, American and German history, and stressed democracy as a way of life.


LEFT: The Harbor Entrance Command Post at Camp Burnside in 1970, the only building left after the deactivation of the fort. Beavertail became a transmitter site as part of the Naval Radio Station Newport, and many residents remember the countless radio towers covering the area. LEFT: The Harbor Entrance Command Post at Camp Burnside in 1970, the only building left after the deactivation of the fort. Beavertail became a transmitter site as part of the Naval Radio Station Newport, and many residents remember the countless radio towers covering the area. The prisoners were taught by teachers from first-rate universities. Promising to support Americans in Germany after repatriation, these POWs were anxious to be part of the program because they anticipated a quicker return to Europe and their families.

While there is an Army account of this period, these stories are enhanced by first-hand accounts and oral histories from Jamestowners who lived during World War II and knew about the camp, Amerigian said.

Gould Island torpedoes

Off Conanicut Island’s eastern shore lies Gould Island, the smallest of the three islands that incorporate Jamestown. Named for Thomas Gould, who purchased the island in 1657 to use as farmland, it passed through several private owners until 1918. With the threat of war looming, that’s when Congress seized the land to store and test torpedoes.

“What was there before and what it turned into are completely different worlds of personal wealth to military installations,” Amerigian said.

Throughout the 1940s, torpedoes were developed on Gould Island. Biplanes, tasked with retrieving them, followed the missiles launched from the piers. No system is perfect, however, and Jamestown witnesses distinctively remember hearing torpedoes washing ashore.

Radio hub at Fort Burnside

The U.S. Army established Fort Burnside in December 1941, and the 185-acre camp occupied the entire Beavertail peninsula. Prior to World War II, it became part of the nation’s strategic Harbor Entrance Control Post built to protect U.S. coastlines.

Additional structures were built to maintain top-secret equipment with advanced radar. Renamed the Naval Radio Station Newport in 1945, 25 radio antennas were built in the next two decades, making Beavertail a U.S. Navy communications hub.

“It was supposed to be designed as a farmhouse so the enemy wouldn’t know we had surveillance equipment in there,” Amerigian said. “It was a very important strategic area for the war effort.”

Dutch Island’s Fort Greble

Named for John T. Greble, the first U.S. Military Academy graduate to die in the Civil War, it was established in 1897 as part of the state’s coastal defense system.

“It was part of an effort by the defense department to protect the coast,” Amerigian said. “It was just a giant, giant effort. When you look at it today, it’s hardly noticeable except for a few structures still there.”

The roofless fortifications were built with reinforced concrete walls protected by sloped earthworks with large-caliber breechloading artillery and mortar batteries. Eventually built were barracks for more than 300 men, homes for officers, a hospital, two docks, a tennis court, a commissary, a bowling alley, a post office and a bakery.

Two batteries at Fort Greble remained armed at the beginning of World War II but were considered obsolete by 1942.

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