Camp MacArthur

Ten weeks after the United States declared war on Germany in 1917, Waco was chosen as the site for a military training camp. The United States initially lacked the military manpower needed to fight in the war and needed to rapidly increase the number enrolled in the armed forces. Cooperation between Waco businessmen and the federal government allowed construction to begin on a troop training complex on July 20, 1917. Spread out on 10,700 acres of cotton fields and blackland farms, the military camp cost five million dollars to construct.

The site was named for Lt. Gen. Arthur MacArthur, a Medal of Honor recipient who served in the Civil War and the Spanish-American War. Eighteen thousand troops arrived to begin their training in September of 1917. These National Guardsmen, primarily from Wisconsin and Michigan, boosted the Waco population, stimulating economic growth for the city. Though Camp MacArthur possessed the capacity to hold around forty-five thousand troops, no more than twenty-eight thousand resided at the Waco training compound.

The camp consisted of administration offices, a tent city, a base hospital, and a number of other military buildings. Loretta Johnston, a nurse at the hospital in 1918, described the base as “very pleasing to the eye” and the hospital as a “pleasant place for [the] sick and convalescent soldiers.” Johnston also wrote of a recreation hall in the hospital which housed parties and dances for the nurses and officers on weekends.

The troops from Wisconsin and Michigan formed the Thirty-Second Infantry Division of the National Guard. After receiving basic training in Waco, these troops joined the American Expeditionary Forces near Langres, France, on February 24, 1918, where they received more training and ultimately became a front line unit.

After the deployment of the Thirty-Second Infantry Division, Camp MacArthur became an infantry replacement and training camp, as well as an officer school. Recruits from Texas, Arkansas, Missouri, and New Mexico arrived in Waco to receive their training until the camp became a demobilization center following the armistice of November 11, 1918.

The military center affected Waco in a number of ways. The population boost stimulated a period of economic prosperity which continued until the Great Depression. After the war’s conclusion, many soldiers returned to Waco. Even the annual fair held at the Texas Cotton Palace came to reflect the military presence in Waco. The Cotton Palace Exposition of 1917 catered heavily to soldiers, including exhibits such as a bullet-ridden German biplane. Additionally, the US Army’s insistence upon decreasing distractions for soldiers led to the closing of Waco’s red-light district known as “The Reservation.”

Camp MacArthur officially closed on March 7, 1919, and the land it formally encompassed was incorporated into the city of Waco. Portions of the materials from the camp were then used to construct a portion of the US-Mexican border; others were used to build houses in the Edgefield neighborhood in Waco.

Images

Thirty-Second Infantry Division Officers

Thirty-Second Infantry Division Officers

At the end of 1917, the War Department determined the Thirty-Second Infantry Division at Camp MacArthur to be more advanced in their training than any other division in the US. They left in January of 1918 for France, where they served with distinction until the end of the war. | Source: Image courtesy of the Texas Collection, Baylor University | Creator: Fred R. Gildersleeve View File Details Page

Camp MacArthur Base Hospital

Camp MacArthur Base Hospital

The base hospital met the needs of sick and wounded soldiers throughout World War I. It also served a crucial role in caring for the sick during the 1918 outbreak of Spanish Influenza in Waco. | Source: Image courtesy of the Texas Collection, Baylor University View File Details Page

Red Cross Convalescent House

Red Cross Convalescent House

The Red Cross built convalescent houses in conjunction with hospitals on military bases in order to provide recreation and amusement for injured and convalescent soldiers. Though staffed by Red Cross personnel, the base commander remained in charge of the convalescent house. | Source: Image courtesy of the Texas Collection, Baylor University View File Details Page

Camp MacArthur Library

Camp MacArthur Library

The American Library Association provided access to free books, magazines, and newspapers from the home front for US troops in America, France, and a few other locations. It also established libraries such as the one pictured in this postcard from Camp MacArthur for soldiers in training camps, hospitals, and convalescent houses. | Source: Image courtesy of the Texas Collection, Baylor University View File Details Page

The "Y" is for You

The "Y" is for You

Propaganda posters played a crucial role in the US war effort. Messages such as the one pasted on the wall behind army men in line to drink water inspired citizens to enlist and support their country. | Source: Image courtesy of the Texas Collection, Baylor University | Creator: Fred R. Gildersleeve View File Details Page

A Sea of Canvas

A Sea of Canvas

The tent city campsite stretched across 1,377 acres and housed a total of approximately thirty-five thousand men from all over the country between 1917 and 1919. | Source: Image courtesy of the Texas Collection, Baylor University View File Details Page

General Hartman

General Hartman

From his desk at Camp MacArthur, General Hartman was responsible for managing the paperwork for men arriving from all areas of the country. | Source: Image courtesy of the Texas Collection, Baylor University | Creator: Fred R. Gildersleeve View File Details Page

On the March

On the March

Troops at Camp MacArthur were composed of “weekend warriors” from a variety of different National Guard units. For many of these men, Camp MacArthur became their home away from home. | Source: Image courtesy of the Texas Collection, Baylor University | Creator: Fred R. Gildersleeve View File Details Page

Fourth-Issue Liberty Bonds

Fourth-Issue Liberty Bonds

The US government sold liberty bonds during World War I in order to fund the war effort. Buying bonds became associated with fulfilling one's patriotic duty. Here, Camp MacArthur soldiers are pictured after buying fourth-issue Liberty Loan Bonds. | Source: Image courtesy of the Texas Collection, Baylor University | Creator: Fred R. Gildersleeve View File Details Page

Audio

Tent Cities

Eb Bowles Morrow describes the tents at Camp MacArthur. | Source: Morrow, Eb Bowles, interviewed by Kari Vanhoozer, June 30, 1997, in Waco, Texas. Baylor University Institute for Oral History, Waco, TX. View the full interview View File Details Page

Memories of Camp MacArthur

Mary Kemendo Sendón remembers her family hosting soldiers from Camp MacArthur for Thanksgiving and Christmas and on other occasions. | Source: Sendón, Mary Kemendo, interviewed by Lois E. Myers, January 13, 1994, in Waco, Texas. Baylor University Institute for Oral History, Waco, TX. View the full interview View File Details Page

Soldiers Bring Business

Mary Kemendo Sendón speaks of how soldiers would come to her father's store to have their boots taken care of and the impact of their residence in Waco. | Source: Sendón, Mary Kemendo, interviewed by Lois E. Myers, January 11, 1994, in Waco, Texas. Baylor University Institute for Oral History, Waco, TX. View the full interview View File Details Page

Officer's Club

Grace Hasseltine Jenkins Kee tells of some of the activities and dances the soldiers partook in. | Source: Kee, Grace Hasseltine Jenkins, interviewed by Margaret Miller, May 13, 1980, in Waco, Texas. Baylor University Institute for Oral History, Waco, TX. View the full interview View File Details Page

Training at Camp MacArthur

Francis L. Pittillo describes his training experience as a soldier at Camp MacArthur. | Source: Pittillo, Francis L., interviewed by Gary W. Hill and Thomas L. Charlton, August 6, 1974, in Waco, Texas. Baylor University Institute for Oral History, Waco, TX. View the full interview View File Details Page

Cite this Page:

Amanda Sawyer, “Camp MacArthur,” Waco History, accessed July 26, 2017, http://wacohistory.org/items/show/48.

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