Town remembers past as Army training camp
Butner Mayor Tom Lane grew up in the town that was once Camp Butner, a U.S. Army training camp during World War II. He welcomed the crowd at the town of Butner’s Memorial Day ceremony held Monday morning in Gazebo Park.
“Fifty thousand troops trained here for the second World War – 7,000 did not come home,” Lane said. “Our statue stands as a remembrance for all those who served and especially those who gave their all,” he said.
The statue behind Lane is a focal point of the park on Central Avenue. At the base of the statute of a soldier who appears as if in motion, the plaque reads: “Dedicated to the brave men and women from across America who passed this way in defense of our nation’s freedom.” Town residents dedicated the statute in 1992.
Lane said that Memorial Day was an opportunity to “renew in our hearts, dedication to all those who served and all those who died.” He looked out across the street to the Butner Town Hall, which was once camp headquarters.
“Butner has specifically played a major role in the history of our country,” Lane said, noting that troops trained there for the final push of WWII. There is still a rifle range used by the National Guard and troops from Fort Bragg. An old Camp Butner site, Building 71, will be renovated for a Veterans Leadership Council of North Carolina-Cares program for homeless veterans. The state grant to refurbish the building was announced during the ceremony Monday.
At the end of the ceremony, Butner Councilman Terry Turner invited those in attendance to see an exhibit of Camp Butner as it was in 1942, on display in the Town Hall.
“This was founded as a military town,” said Turner after the ceremony, adding that it was built so fast that they would “come in on dirt streets and leave on paved ones.”
Built in three months from March 15 to June 15, 1942, Camp Butner included 40,000 acres. More than 40,000 servicemen and women came through for training beginning Aug. 4, 1942. Italian and German prisoners-of-war were also held at Camp Butner during the war. The camp officially closed in 1947, and the town of Butner was incorporated in 2007.
Jon Emery is among about a dozen of mostly retired National Guard or Army veterans who have led the effort for a Camp Butner Museum. In Town Hall, Emery showed a long table of items including dog tags, pillow cases, photographs and mortar rounds that are just part of what they have already accumulated for the museum.
Emery was a mortarman in the Army for eight years and moved to Butner from New York five years ago.
“This is my home now. I wanted to be part of it,” Emery said.
About four years ago, he attended the Butner Memorial Day ceremony and met a Guardsman who was starting up the museum. They have an old WWII building on B Street for the future museum, but it sits on state-owned land so the process has been slow, he said. The museum is part of the nonprofit Camp Butner Society. Items in storage include 900 dog tags, uniforms and even paintings by German POWs.
U.S. Marine Corps veteran C.W. Godwyn has lived in Butner since 1951. He grew up in Durham and served in the Marines in the Pacific Theater during World War II. He moved to Butner for work, opening a dry cleaning plant there. He comes to all the Memorial Day services “to remember the men who didn’t make it.”
Godwyn said that because of how Butner was founded, all the residents were from somewhere else.
“Everybody came here to work. Being from somewhere else, we became a closer family. We started off from scratch,” he said.
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