I found this story in the archives a few years back and was amazed when I read it. Some of our younger readers may not know who General Douglas MacArthur is, but you will once you get to World War II in History class. It always amazes me to see how Camp ties in with U.S. and/or world history. We sometimes feel secluded and sheltered from the “outside world” when we are at Camp, but in the past 106 years, Camp has rolled on from summer to summer through significant world events including WWI, the Great Depression, WWII, and the Civil Rights Movement. This particular article, as far as I can tell, was written after World War II but took place in the 1920’s at the end of World War I. The author was one of our vintage Camp Directors, Mr. Walter H. Scott. He writes with a style and elegance you don’t see too often these days. I hope you enjoy it as much as I do.
“I wondered what a hero looked like as I was ushered in to see Brigadier General Douglas MacArthur. I was cordially greeted by a man who seemed to fit all the legendary definitions. He was lean, handsome with a strength in his eyes and face that seemed to explain how this thirty-eight year old man covered himself under fire as Commander of the illustrious Rainbow Division in Europe. Some of the dignity of Lee and some of the elegance of Custer combined in this man who now, at the end of the war, had returned to Fort Dix, New Jersey to preside over the dismantling of this distinguished fighting machine.
“As Director of Camp Ockanickon, a YMCA camp I had helped found on Brindle Lake near Camp Dix, I was in dire need of cots, mattresses and camp equipment, the sort of things Army Divisions no longer required after the last shot had been fired.
“General MacArthur listened carefully. He was immediately sympathetic to the needs of the camp and fully aware of the service being performed by the YMCA for young men. He said that all Army surplus by law could only be sold by competitive bids and the highest bid had to be accepted. He, however, believed that something could be arranged but first he called an aide and told me to go with the officer through the warehouses and make a complete list of everything I needed. I was instructed to bring the list back to him and he would see what could be done.
“The immense storage area made me feel like a child in a toy store. Here was everything a struggling young camp needed. There were row on row of cots, mattresses, tents, and cooking equipment sitting in this vast silent building, the debris left over from “the war to end all wars,” “the war to make the world safe for democracy.” Here was the remnant of the support system for men who fought and died in perhaps the last great romantic, idealistic war. What better purpose could there be than to convert these accoutrements of conflict into the service of helping young men in peace. I completed the shopping list and was escorted back to General MacArthur’s office.
“As he looked over my requests he said that he had been grateful to the YMCA for the excellent work they had done with American troops in Europe during the war. Having completed his scanning of the paper he said he felt there was a “legal” way of seeing to it that Camp Ockanickon got the equipment it needed. He suggested that I figure out what the camp could afford to pay for the entire lot. He would then call in several local businessmen who had been bidding on surplus and explain the problem. He was sure he could convince these men to submit lower bids for the same list of equipment so that the YMCA bid would be the highest and by law we would win the “competitive bidding.” He felt the local merchants would be grateful for the influence the YMCA had on their sons and would be more than happy to accidentally miscalculate their bids on the low side. At this point we became conspirators in a wonderful plot to technically defraud the United States Government. The General and I shared the conviction that the eventual benefit in the development of character and leadership in young Americans would repay this country a thousandfold for the innocent deceit of this extra-legal bid rigging. Indeed, one of the boys then in the Camp, Alfred Driscoll, years later became Governor of New Jersey.
“After the details of the nefarious scheme were completed, General MacArthur questioned me about the Camp. He said that he had a son who was camp age, as did several of his officers. He wondered if it would be possible for them to attend the camp. I assured him that we would be delighted to have them. He asked what the cost would be and was astounded when I told him it was seven dollars and fifty cents a week. He thought that was a very small sum indeed but I explained that the YMCA wanted to make the camp available to all youngsters rich or poor. At the low rate that was possible. Poor youngsters could be sponsored by churches, businesses, and friends of the camp. A gift of seven and fifty cents could give a boy a wonderful week. I told him that when I raised money to buy the camp ground I coined the slogan “acres for character” because that was the YMCA’s mission to instill Christian principles in young men. General MacArthur said “the arrangement to get the needed supplies for the camp at a low cost would make him feel better about paying such a low fee for his son’s camp experience.”
“Thus concluded my interview with a man who was destined to be perhaps the most illustrious and controversial United States military man of this century. My son was destined to serve under him in the island-hopping Pacific war eventually landing on Bataan and Corregidor where the General had promised, “I shall return.”
“He was indeed a man of his word. The YMCA bid miraculously turned out to be the highest. One day an army convoy rumbled in the sandy road to the camp and a contingent of soldiers unloaded our treasure-trove and distributed it around the camp where it was needed. As the convoy headed back to Camp Dix throwing up a cloud of dust behind them, I thought this was the end of an interesting cameo in history.
“I was wrong. There was a denouement yet to come and it arrived on the Fourth of July. It was presaged by another cloud of dust on the camp’s entrance road that our own Model-T could not have inspired. A large covered army truck convoyed by several other vehicles loomed into view. A soldier leaned out of the truck window and shouted over the roar of the engines to a gathering group of campers, “We want to see Mr. Scott.” This command sent the youngsters off in all directions in search of me. One breathless lad found me in my office on the second floor of the old farmhouse used as camp headquarters. He blurted out, “Mr. Scott, there are a lot of soldiers with a big truck and they want to see you!”
“As I hurriedly left my office I wondered, had something gone wrong? Had the plot been uncovered? Are they here to repossess all of the purchases we had made? The smile on the sergeant’s face gave me a clue that it was good news not bad. He greeted me and escorted me to the rear of the truck. Several soldiers released the chains to the heavy metal tailgate and it fell with a resounding crash. They parted the canvas cover and my eyes were treated to a strange and magnificent sight. Covering the entire floor of the truck was an immense cake. The men of the convoy carefully removed this amazing feat of baking art and after giving the assembled boys a good look, they carried their sweet burden to the recreation hall. The architecture of the cake deserves a detailed description. It was baked in the Army’s ovens at Camp Dix in two foot by four foot sections. These were arranged on a large platform that was made by joining six standard four feet by eight feet by 3 quarter inch plywood boards thus giving it a solid base. Thirty-six individual cakes were laid side by side making the entire cake twenty four feet long and eight feet wide. It was covered with pale pink strawberry icing edged with dark pink trim. Written across the entire glorious pink expanse were the words, “Happy Fourth of July to the Boys of Camp Ockanickon from the Rainbow Division of the U.S. Army.”
“What are the keys to a man’s character? Perhaps it is these little forgotten vignettes that are never important enough to appear in the pages of history books that open doors to the real man.”
Shared by Brent Birchler
Boys Camp Director