The residents of Harlem have always had a very special way of receiving and entertaining travelers who enter the gates of the village. Its called Southern hospitality!
During the years between 1917 and 1919, Harlem was host to many young men stationed at Camp Hancock. The camp was located near Augusta, approximately where Daniel Field is today. These men were in the Army during World War I. A great number were in the 28th Division from Pennsylvania.
The people of Harlem welcomed these young men with open arms, and they were treated as family members. My grandmother and grandfather always entertained them on a daily basis and the door was opened at all times; it was never locked, everyone came and departed as they pleased. Even though there were eight in the family seated at the table at meal time, there was always room for more.
The troop trains would pass through Harlem, and the soldiers would be standing in the doorways and leaning out of the windows waving and yelling to those they saw sitting on porches and on the street. The folks would smile and wave back to them.
The holidays were a joy to share. As long as Camp Hancock was in existence, Harlem was home to many.
When the soldiers received orders to transfer, the families were saddened. Some went to the battlefields in France and would correspond with their Harlem "families."
Sometimes the letters would stop coming and there was a feeling that it meant bad news. A letter would then come from a buddy telling of a death on the battlefield. Other letters would be news that the soldiers were wounded and recuperating in hospitals in France or England.
When World War I was over, some of these men made their home in Harlem and married some of the local ladies.
Some years later, when Camp Gordon came into existence and World War II began, once again the folks in Harlem gave them the same warm welcome as they did the soldiers from Camp Hancock many years earlier.
The Army ambulances housed in Camp Hancock in 1917 got the job done even though there is little comparison between them and modern ambulances. The ambulance pictured shows two ladies on the front seat. These women are Josephine Hagerstrom, my fathers mother, and a friend who was visiting from Pennsylvania.
The pennant from Camp Hancock also is very much appreciated as a souvenir my father sent to his sister 85 years ago.
Even though Camp Hancock wasnt in Harlem, it played a role in the history of our town. More people should know about the facility, and about the men who so proudly served their country in World War I.
(Bette Sargent is a Harlem historian.)
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