Fort Devens Museum

Handbook Shows Devens' Legacy as a Training Center

August 13, 2004

By C. David Gordon,
Copyright Nashoba Publications

DEVENS — The eventual home for the Devens Historical Museum is at least one of three red cinderblock buildings that formed part of a prisoner of war camp during World War II and, before that, served as a Citizens' Military Training Camp (CMTC). Less information has surfaced about the CMTC operation in the 1920s and '30s at Devens than about the POW camp from 1944-46.

Citizens' military training camps at various locations around the country as well as at Camp Devens got their direct start following World War I. After Congress considered briefly the idea of universal compulsory military training, it drew up a compromise bill with a provision to provide for such a summer training program. Young men ages 17 to 24 could participate voluntarily, with no obligation to serve as a member of the armed forces.

The CMTC was seen as one way to prepare the country for national defense. At the same time, the camps fostered good citizenship and character building.

A recent acquisition for the Devens museum is a small booklet about the camp. It was published "with the idea of assisting the student in becoming acquainted with camp life and regulations which will govern, in part, his life and conduct while here." This CMTC handbook was distributed to students, as these civilians were to be called, for the August 1924 camp.

The booklet notes that members of the National Guard, the Organized Reserve and the ROTC also were trained at Camp Devens by members of the regular Army. Camp Devens had become "a training center for troops of the New England states, which comprise the First Corps Area." The commanding general of Camp Devens at the time was Brig. Gen. Malvern-Hill Barnum, for whom Barnum Road was named.

High on the list of rules and regulations stated in the handbook is the requirement to keep the booklet in good condition with its identification page properly filled out. The original owner of this copy was Charles P. Genaitis from Gardner, a basic student assigned to 1st Battalion, 5th Regiment, with serial numbers for a rifle and bayonet issued to him duly noted. Although he probably was in an infantry unit, CMTC training came as well for others in cavalry, field artillery, engineering or signal corps.

To date, nothing is known about Genaitis. On blank pages at the back of the handbook are scrawled names of a few fellow students from Vermont, New Hampshire, Connecticut and Maine; notes on scheduled events; lists of numbers; and the names of two writers, Joseph Conrad and perhaps the writer of fiction set in Cape Cod, Joseph Lincoln.

All students were expected to "take the prescribed oath [of allegiance to country] upon their admission to camp." They were apprised of a camp day which would begin with first call at 6 a.m., include a training day ending with first call for retreat at 5:15 p.m., supper at 6, and "Taps" at 10 p.m. One regulation was for being "properly undressed and in bed at Taps."

The required service uniform included "olive drab shirt and black tie" with a coat "for ceremonies and social occasions unless otherwise prescribed." The service hat had a red, white and blue cord. As a basic-course student, Genaitis would wear a red collar ornament on both the left and right sides of his collar.

Students could qualify for medals offered by the Citizens' Military Training Camp Association, the organization created by graduates of prototype training corps camps organized before WWI. The association, which had a branch office at Camp Devens listed in the handbook, generally "promoted, protected and fought for CMTC" in the decades before WWII, as Donald M. Kingston wrote in the Autumn 1997 issue of Relevance, "the quarterly journal of the Great War Society."

Another award indicated in the manual: "Mr. Herman J. Ruth, better known as 'Babe' Ruth, of the New York 'Yankees,' is offering, through Mr. Christy J. Walsh of New York City, an autographed ball and bat to the outstanding student athlete in this CMTC. The manner in which this athlete is to be chosen will be announced at a later date."

The manual indicates the amusements and recreation possibilities available, from swimming, outdoor and indoor baseball, volleyball and track to the recreation hall and post exchange. Camp Devens also had a Visitors' House. Although "lunch counter, drinking water, phone booths, and an information bureau" were offered there, the manual states, "students unaccompanied by visitors should use the Recreation House as much as possible."

On religion, the handbook states that attendance is "not compulsory" at services, "but students are expected to observe the usual customs they practice at home."