Long-time New Rochelle resident and veteran James Murphy recalls with pride the day the City of New Rochelle restored to a place of honor a forgotten part of New Rochelle's role in The Great War, a commemorative plaque now installed in the City Hall main entrance. The plaque was a gift to the City from grateful American soldiers, many of whom never returned from war.
According to the official history of Fort Slocum, during World War I, between December 10th and 20th 1917, the City of New Rochelle was deluged with young men seeking to enlist to fight in the Great War in Europe. Fort Slocum on David's Island in New Rochelle was "designated as the recruit examining and reception point for for all of New England, New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania. When the army announced that no volunteer enlistments would be accepted for the army after December 15th, 1917", a flood of prospective inductees descended on New Rochelle. Thousands of men, told to pack light, suffered bitter cold weather with no place to stay and no way to get to David's Island.
This is the story of how New Rochelleans rallied to support these men, averting a catastrophe, and how those men, in turn, thanked New Rochelle by presenting a bronze commemorative plaque which reads:
This tablet is erected by the volunteers of the National Army in grateful appreciation of the kindly welcome and hospitality extended by the people of New Rochelle from December 10th to 20th, 1917. Coming in such numbers that the Recruiting station at Fort Slocum could not provide accommodation for them, these thousands of men found food and shelter in the homes and public buildings of the city while awaiting reception into the service of the nation.
The plaque was originally installed at the New Rochelle Public Library in 1919. When the library was closed the plaque was put into storage. Through the efforts of Murphy and former New Rochelle Mayor Len Paduano this bit of New Rochelle history was given back to the people of New Rochelle.
The restoration of the plaque given to New Rochelle by those men began during a conversation between then-Mayor Len Paduano and American Legion Post 8 Adjutant James J. Murphy III during Memorial Day exercises at City Hall in 1984.
Letter from American Legion New Rochelle Post 8 to New Rochelle Mayor Len Paduano, 1984
Honorable Leonard C. Paduano
City of New Rochelle
515 North Avenue
New Rochelle, NY 10801
30 May 1984
Dear Mr. Mayor,
I most appreciated the opportunity to talk with you prior to Memorial Day exercises at City Hall. As you requested, I have enclosed background information pertaining to the old plaque given to the city by army enlistees from the New England states during World War I. I am sure you will find it as fascinating as I did. It is hoped that the plaque might be properly cleaned and mounted at City Hall with appropriate dedication ceremonies as befits its historical importance to our local history.
Also enclosed is a copy of a letter I sent to David Kendig with regards to the old artillery piece on Davids Island, which the Legion is interested in examining and discussing possible removal to a place of public view.
Your interest and comments on both matters will be greatly appreciated.
J.J. Murphy, III
A Brief History of Fort Slocum (1962), Alan Pickard
"the greatest crisis that New Rochelle and Fort Slocum experienced during World War I came between December 10th and 20th 1917. Fort Slocum had been designated the recruit examining and reception point for for all of New England, New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania as has been previously mentioned; consequently, when the news came that no volunteer enlistments would be accepted. far the army after December 15th, 1917 applicants began to flood into Fort Slocum. The first indication that this flood was about to turn into a deluge came at 4:p.m. on Monday, December lOth when the Superintendent of the Westchester Electric Railroad Company received a telegram from the United States Recruiting station in Boston which stated that a special train with 500 applicants on board was on the way to New Rochelle. Actually, this train did not arrive until the following day however, every train that stopped at New Rochelle dropped off from 40 to 150 men.
The evening of December lOth was miserable. The temperature. was about ten degrees above zero and the wind was a gale force. The large government ferryboat was temporarily laid up and the water was too rough far the small boats to navigate. By 7:p.m. about 700 men who were able to cross to Fort Slocum had congregated in the area of Neptune Dock. Many of them poorly clad and at least half were without overcoats, for the recruiting offices had told them to bring as few civilian clothes with them as possible.
The Commanding Officer at Fort Slocum, Colonel H. P. Kingsbury had received no instructions to make any special preparations and had no information as to any unusual influx of men. Furthermore , Colonel Kingsbury told the railroad superintendent that with the facilities available at Fort Slocum he did not know how he could accommodate the flood of applicants. On the evening of 10 December, Colonel Kingsbury' inability to care for the applicants became apparent since it was impossible for the ferry to convey them to the Fort. As the number of men grew one organization and church after another threw open its buildings and every available means was brought into play to provide food for the men. Storekeepers were routed from their beds and bakeries were stripped of their goods. Ultimately, everyone was fed although perhaps the meals were not perfectly balanced.
The crowd of applicants in New Rochelle grew in spite of constant shipments to the Fort. On Wednesday morning came the news that no men could be received at Fort Slocum after 10:00 a.m. that day because the Island was so crowded even though men were being shipped forward as rapidly as possible.
The situation in New Rochelle was now critical...About 4,000 men were billeted in a city whose 1910 population was 28,867. The city authorities were fearful of the possibilities and requested the saloon-keepers not to sell alcoholic beverages to any of the applicants. For the most part saloons went along with this request and there was little trouble. During the day the men were relatively free but at night they were housed in large groups together at the request of Colonel Kingsbury who did not want them scattered any more than was absolutely necessary.
On Thursday evening, 13 December, it began to snow and by 10:00 p.m. the trolley system ceased 'to operate. Thus, throughout the entire critical day of the 14th of December there was no transportation in the city. On the 14th also came word from Fort Slocum that only those men actually at Fort Slocum would be allowed to enlist while those who were, in New Rochelle would be returned to their homes. In addition to having little clothing, many of these men had no money to pay their fare home•. The situation had all the earmarks of becoming ugly. A hurried phone call from the Mayor of New Rochelle to the Governor of New York resulted in an Executive Order banning the sale of alcoholic beverage in the city. A committee of citizens commandeered a horse and sleigh for the trip to Neptune Dock from whence they journeyed to Fort Slocum to plead with the Post Commander to countermand the order. Colonel Kingsbury received the delegation but told them that there was nothing he could do. Fortunately word soon came from Washington that all those men actually in New Rochelle would be allowed to enlist and crisis passed. This same period was also one of crisis at Fort Slocum not only because of the huge influx of men but also because the huge influx of men but also because of the huge influx of men but also because the harbor froze which not only restricted the movement of men but seriously reduced supplies
to the island. The fuel situation at one point was critical and for a period the supply of anthracite was exhausted and bituminous coal and wood had to be substituted.
The reaction of the recruits tot he citizens of New Rochelle was one of extreme gratitude and a number of memorials and plaques were presented. The most famous of these was conceived by Richard R. Pavlick of Boston who immediately began soliciting contributions from the men. He would not accept more than ten cents from any individual so that all could participate equally. By December 17th he had collected almost $500.00. A Bronze tablet was purchased With this fund and erected an a wall of the New Rochelle Public Library where it was dedicated on March 15, 1919.
The Inscription an the tablet reads as follows:
"This tablet is erected by the volunteers of the National Army in grateful appreciation of the kindly welcome and hospitality extended by the people of New Rochelle from December 10th to 20th, 1917. Coming in such numbers that the Recruiting station at Fort Slocum could not provide accommodation for them, these thousands of men found food and shelter in the homes and public buildings of the city while awaiting reception into the service of the nation."
Material extracted from Alan Pickard's: "A Brief History of Fort· Slocum. II 1962. The Papers of the American History Club of New Rochelle. and "New Rochelle's Part in The Great War."
James J. Murphy 111
New Rochelle Post 8
112 North Avenue
New Rochelle, New York
A short History of The American Legion and New Rochelle Post No. 8
It was in January 1919 that a wounded Theodore Roosevelt Jr. met another officer, at General Headquarters in Paris named George A. White. The two discussed the declining state of the Army's morale and, during the course of the conversation, the wounded Lt. Colonel Roosevelt suggested a remedy - he would organize a Veterans' organization, an organization originating in the A.E.F. (American Expeditionary Forces) transported to the United States and including all who honorably served the nation. As George White later stated, "There can be no question as to the fatherhood of the idea or as to the initiator of the chain of circumstances which led to the formation of The American Legion - the honor is Theodore Roosevelt's." Lt. Col. Roosevelt was the officer who led the first Battalion of the 26th United States Infantry in its attack at Soissons during World War I. Two decades later, Brig. General Teddy Roosevelt Jr. was to .be on the beaches of Normandy during the D-Day invasion; leading his troops ashore.
The Paris caucus held on 15 March 1919 lasted three days. Here were laid the foundations and here was adopted the name of the new organization, The American Legion. Back home in the U.S. caucus was called for the 8th of May at St. Louis and, like the Paris event, lasted through three tumultuous days. Roosevelt was the temporary chairman, but to his everlasting credit, refused to be named permanent chairman. This action on his part did much if not more than his original dream to make The American Legion a reality and a success. Suffice to say that at St. Louis was written and at Minneapolis adopted the wonderful preamble to the constitution under which the American Legion has worked and grown and prospered, which was acknowledged,then, and is recognized now as clear cut a statement of American principle as has ever been written.
About the time a Committee of 40 veterans in New Rochelle started its work in May of 1919, the American Legion was started on New York State, and the Committee Immediately applied for a temporary charter. No one has ever understood why the charter was not numbered even lower than No. 8, for New Rochelle was almost the first to make formal application. This committee then issued a call for a meeting at the Soldiers' and Sailors' Club (the old YMCA) for the 20th of may 1919, to which ail interested in the new organization were invited. This meeting endorsed the action of the committee in applying for a charter in The American Legion. It was also voted to stage a big rally on 27 May to which all returned veterans would be invited. At this meeting it was hoped to have some of the leaders of The American Legion present to outline the new organization. The question of the name for the new Post was discussed and it was quickly decided to call it "New Rochelle", thereby avoIding any charges of favoritism and hard feelings which might have been caused through the selection of the name of a particular deceased veteran (sixty New Rochelle men made the Supreme Sacrifice during World War I). All those from New Rochelle who had given their lives in the 'War were thought of and honored in giving the new Post the City's name. 12 June 1919 was set as the date of a meeting to perfect organization of the New Rochelle Post of The American Legion. At this meeting, Post No. 8's first Commander, Harry M. Scobie, was elected. A reporter from The New Rochelle Daily Star, covering the first meeting, happily predicted that: "Judqinq from the spirit shown at the meeting the Legion is bound to be a successful organization from the start ... The American Legion was incorporated by Act of Congress on 16 September 1919. Another important addition to the new Post was made by the organization of a unit of The American Legion Auxiliary . 'Through its almost eighty year existence, Post 8's Auxiliary composed of wives, mothers end sisters of members has proven itself as most valued and respected of the Post's integral parts. Post 8's color guard and firing squad for ceremonial purposes was started in 1933.
Post No.8 has been an ally and advocate for veterans since its founding.