Updated: Nov 9
In the same location that transformed "Young Boots" into able-bodied sailors for the United States Navy at the onset of WWII, now stands a memorial museum built by veterans who were once "Sampson Sailors" themselves.
With the end of the war, the naval training station closed in May 1946. It was then converted to a college. Sampson College served to educate returning military personnel through the GI Bill. During the Korean War, the United States Air Force took over the base for use as a basic training facility for airmen. Records show that 411,000 sailors were trained at the naval training station and 350,000 airman passed through the facility until its closing in November 1956. In 1960, land was transferred to New York State for use as a state park. Sampson State Park, which opened in 1963, encompasses just over 2,000 acres along the shore of Seneca Lake. In 1987, a naval veterans organization formed and a museum was built by veterans and volunteers in what was originally the Brig. The Air Force portion was added in 1997. The museum houses artifacts from the original naval training station, and both Navy and Air Force exhibits, inside and out, including a 45 ft periscope from the USS Benjamin Franklin (SSBN-640) where visitors can view a 360 degree view of Sampson State Park. Just a few miles south of the park is a veterans memorial cemetery, established in July 2011. Earlier this year New York State assumed ownership of the cemetery and Sampson Memorial Veterans Cemetery became NY State Veterans Cemetery - Finger Lakes.
My Dad, John P. Whiteman, spent 12 weeks at Sampson Naval Training Station. When he arrived in November 1942, much of the base was still being built. He wrote about being at Sampson and what it was like in many of his letters. These are included in a previous blog post entitled Sampson Naval Training Station, NY 1942.
Below is a photograph of the Bluejackets' Manual 1940, considered "the Bible" issued to new navy recruits when entering boot camp. This photograph is of the book my Dad had among his possessions. Apparently this book belonged to a crew mate, Donald Wesley Shipp. It was issued at the US Naval Training Center in Bainbridge, MD. I don't know what happened to my Dad's book. Perhaps the Shipp family has it.
The book was interesting to flip through. Absolutely everything a new recruit needed to know about the navy, seamanship and expected behavior while training to be "future leaders of men". One entry listed under the heading Important Points, I thought was particularly amusing. This is the actual entry.
Men are profane usually because they lack education and need profane words to express themselves forcibly or because they are naturally evil-minded. In either case men using profane or filthy language have something lacking for development into leaders of men, and they advertise this fact loudly every time they open their mouths. Profanity is not allowed and causes trouble to the man who uses it. One captain of a ship which was cruising in Central American waters noticed that some men in ordinary conversation were calling each other by the vilest of names in loud voices with no regard for anyone. He issued an order whereby the profane man was to be put on the report for profanity and the man who was called the vile name was to be put on the report for actually being what he had been called if he failed to take exception to it. The first case of two men being put on the report in accordance with this order caused a sensation. The man who was profane got many hours of extra duty, but the man who calmly took the vile name got a court-martial and had to prove his innocence. Several black eyes were noticed after this, but in a week or so profanity had practically stopped.
All of the return addresses on the letters Jack sent home from Sampson say USNTS, Sampson, NY. Sampson was not actually a town but the training station was considered its own entity and had its own address. It was named Sampson for Rear Admiral William T. Sampson, who was born in Palmyra, NY.
Below is a clipping about Rear Admiral William T. Sampson from the December 11, 1942 edition of the Sampson News, one of two editions Jack sent home to his family.
My husband and I visited the Sampson Memorial Museum this summer. I was able to find my Dad's records in the library and spent a lot of time exploring this wonderful museum. In the library, I found this Report of Changes documenting when he arrived and when he was transferred to a receiving station in Philadelphia on Feb 27, 1943. Although there are binders full of group company photos, unfortunately, because he was among the first to arrive for training, there doesn't seem to be any photos for the groups that arrived in 1942. I have to assume it was because they were still in the early stages of this monumental undertaking.
I was very proud to spend time there and to know this was part of my Dad's story. He was at Sampson at a crucial time in American history. The museum is preserving that history. It's a place of honor. And now he's there again, looking just as he did when he first arrived back in 1942. Only this time, on the wall of the museum in the company of other "Sampson Sailors".