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Camp Gordon Plan

"There are thousands and thousands of foreign-speaking soldiers in our army camps, and thousands more will arrive with the coming draft. We know what to do with them now, how to weed out the tares from the wheat, how to reach the best in the heart of the alien soldier and develop it, how to loosen his tongue and to teach him the principles of American citizenship. And we know, too, that he will respond to such treatment. We know that this so-called “Camp Gordon Plan” is the one which will add thousands and thousands of virile, efficient soldiers to our armies on the battle lines."

- Capt. Edward R. Padgett, October 1918

Military officials in camps across the United States were shocked when they discovered that a large percentage of incoming recruits were illiterate. According to the General Staff, almost 25 percent of incoming American draftees “were unable to read the Constitution of the United States or a newspaper, or to write a letter in English to the folks at home.” (1) To complicate the issues of illiteracy, communication (both verbal and written) issues varied due to the hundreds of thousands of foreign-born soldiers from forty-six different nations that could not proficiently speak, write, or understand the English language. In fact, during the first draft of 76,545 foreign-born soldiers, Capt. Edward R. Padgett of the General Staff reported that approximately 100 of these draftees understood basic commands in the English language “necessary to make them first-class fighting men.” (2) To make matters worse, military officials also discovered that the morale of foreign-born soldiers dipped to extremely low levels due to the variety of language barriers and through the “neglect and ignorance” of the training camp officers. (3)

Foreign-Speaking Soldier Subsection (FSS)

  • To combat the issues faced by the War Department, they responded with an extensive study and evaluation of foreign-born soldiers. To do this, military officials used “bureaucratic organizational skills” that identified both “environmental and situational factors” as the main causes of foreign-born soldiers’ difficulties. The War Department also assigned professional experts to analyze and evaluate the difficulties faced by foreign-born soldiers within the United States armed forces.
  • These experts “interviewed immigrant soldiers, compiled statistical data, implemented new management techniques, and developed rational, pragmatic solutions” in the hopes of lessening the burden faced by foreign-born soldiers. Military officials would then use this data to educate camp commanders across the armed forces. These commanders would then return to their respective camps to implement strategies developed by the War Department to assimilate these soldiers into the armed forces. (4)
  • In January 1918, the War Department created the Foreign-speaking Soldier Subsection (FSS) to “assist in the training of immigrant soldiers.” From the creation of the FSS in January 1918 until May, 1918, the FSS was led by D. Chauncy Brewer, a Bostonian lawyer and president of the North American Civic League for Immigrants (NACL). Brewer and the FSS reported to the Military Intelligence Section under Maj. Ralph Van Deman.
  • Brewer extensively focused on “reorganizing immigrant troops, establishing English education classes, and organizing counterpropaganda material.” (5)  First, Brewer had to identify the conditions that the foreign-born soldiers were experiencing within the training camps. Brewer hired Lt. Stanislaw A. Gutowski to the FSS staff. Gutowski was known for speaking “many languages, and…specialized on the problem of the foreigner.” (6) In December 1917, Gutowski was sent to Camp Devens, Massachusetts to report on the conditions of the Slavic soldiers within the camp. He reported the following:

"After I was through a very pathetic scene took place. The Poles, with tears in their eyes, with utmost confidence and sincerity, began to ask different questions and explain their hard position in the Army. They have had no chance to speak, to tell their troubles since the time they were put in the rank. Their officers could not understand their language, while the noncommissioned officers could understand neither their language nor their psychology; the result of which was that after three months’ training, wasting time and energy, most of the men had learned absolutely nothing." (7)

  • Originally, the FSS desired for immigrants to be “ethnically mixed” in companies accompanied by translators. However, it quickly became clear that forty-six ethnic groups mixed into multiple companies would create language barriers that could not be met for the number of available interpreters.
  • Instead, Gutowski decided to organize immigrant soldiers into ethnic-specific companies. However, the War Department worried that this type of arrangement would encourage ethnic “clannishness.” Gutowski argued that this situation was a “temporary solution” to an “emergency situation.” (8)
  • First, Gutowski appointed Lieutenant Swietlik, a Polish immigrant who spoke Polish, Bohemian, French, and some German and Spanish, as the assistant intelligence officer in charge of all foreigners in the division. Second, Gutowski hand-selected foreign-born soldiers from the varying nationalities to become interpreters for each brigade, regiment, battalion, and company. (9)

REORGANIZING IMMIGRANT SOLDIERS

  • In a report to FSS on February 1, 1918, Gutowski proclaimed that his reorganization tactics were a “complete success.” Non-English foreign-born soldiers were now grouped together with an interpreter of the same nationality who acted as a median between immigrant soldiers and their commanding officers. (10)
  • Originally, the FSS believed that it was efficient to promote bilingual soldiers from within the immigrant rank-and-file troops to serve as interpreters. However, as time progressed the FSS decided trained, qualified foreign-born and foreign-speaking soldiers as commissioned and noncommissioned officers represented a more efficient system.
  • This new system served two purposes: 1) it would end the need for interpreters and 2) it would improve morale of foreign-born soldiers by promoting foreign-born soldiers from within the ranks.
  • However, internal strife existed amongst the officials of the FSS. In April, 1918, Brewer began to express his frustration with Major Van Deman, his direct superior officer. Brewer believed that Van Deman exerted too many resources on espionage and counterpropaganda work and not enough resources on raising the morale of immigrant soldiers.
  • Gutowski agreed with Brewer by stating: “One intelligent man well-grounded in human psychology, and the spirit of Democracy, of American Polish, Russian, or Bohemian descent can successfully get control of 1,000 enlisted foreigners and do more in the line of correct information in regard to them, than 100 secret service men.” (11)
  • Despite the efforts of Brewer to convince Van Deman to focus on increasing troop morale, he resigned in June, 1918. In response to Brewer resigning, the War Department placed the FSS under the newly created Military Morale Section (MMS) within the Military Intelligence Division (MID). Captain George B. Perkins spearheaded the operations at the MMS while Lieutenant Herbert A. Horgan took control of the FSS. Ironically, the FSS changed its mission to “stimulating and maintaining the morale of the army, not only as a whole but with special references to the various races,” as Brewer had suggested before resigning. (12)
  • The newly reorganized FSS began its mission by responding to a request from Captain Eugene C. Bryan, an intelligence officer at Camp Gordon, Georgia, for assistance concerning issues with non-English speaking soldiers. Camp Gordon was designed to provide a three-month training course before sending soldiers overseas at a rate of 10,000 soldiers a month.
  • However, this process was ineffective at educating foreign-born soldiers (up to 75 percent) who could not read, speak, and write in English. Captain Bryan also noticed a variety of issues within the ranks of foreign-born soldiers.
  • First, he noticed that the spirituality of the soldiers was suffering. He noted that foreign-born Catholic soldiers experienced the worst of the diminishing spirituality since they have not attended confession in months and dreaded that they would end up in hell if killed in action without confessing their sins.
  • Second, he also noticed the extreme lack of communication between English and non-English soldiers. Due to their lack of English language skills, these foreign-born soldiers were assigned to “pick and shovel” work to keep them preoccupied. An FSS officer reported that these soldiers had already experienced military service in their native homelands, and they saw the opportunity to serve in the United States armed forces as a “chance to fight not only the battles of their adopted country but likewise opportunity to avenge some of the wrongs perpetrated upon their own countrymen in the past by the unholy Hun, the treacherous Austrian and the ‘unspeakable Turk.’ They had come into camp ready to fight, not to lie around and grow discontented and lazy as part of a badly discipline rabble.” (13)

ETHNIC-SPECIFIC COMPANIES

  • Camp Gordon, inhabited by thousands of foreign-born soldiers, represented the ideal location for the FSS to conduct educational and morale raising programs. Lt. Gutowski and Lt. Eugene C. Weisz, an Italian-born officer fluent in seven languages, conducted 976 interviews with immigrant soldiers with the ultimate goal of identifying and solving issues faced by these soldiers. Gutowski classified these immigrant soldiers by their “language, nationality, education, military experience, and willingness to fight for the United States.”
  • After classifying the men, Gutowski then rearranged the soldiers into one of three groups: “development battalions, labor battalions, and noncombatant battalions.” Disloyal and enemy aliens were sent into the labor battalion. Soldiers physically unfit but proficient in a trade were also sent to the noncombatant battalion. All other soldiers were placed into the development battalion. (14)
  • Gutowski and his staff began to organize the foreign-born soldiers into ethnic companies with their language as a commonality. The FSS staff would then appoint ethnic soldiers as officers to their respective ethnic company. This allowed soldiers to communicate effectively with their superior officers throughout their training experience.
  • The FSS staff also conducted English classes, social activities, and special religious services that accommodated each group of ethnic soldiers. (15) Captain Bryan reported that the morale within the immigrant soldiers had dramatically increased. In fact, Bryan reported that before the FSS staff arrived, all the immigrant soldiers had refused to go overseas.
  • However, a month after the implementation of the “Camp Gordon Plan,” 85% of the immigrant soldiers “expressed their willingness to fight in Europe.” This statistic would later rise to 92 percent (Captain Bryan noted that the remaining 8% of soldiers refused to fight in Europe due to fear of fighting their relatives). (16)
  • Due to the resounding success of the Camp Gordon Plan, the FSS increased Gutowski’s staff and began to branch out into other army training camps. Secretary of War Baker rapidly developed the “Camp Gordon Plan” by ordering commanding officers at thirty-five training camps to classify ethnic troops for reorganization.
  • Horgan’s FSS staff developed and distributed instructions for the development and implementation of “Foreign Legion” training companies so that the “Camp Gordon Plan” could be reproduced across training camps within the United States. (17)  The instructions distributed by the FSS provided the following guidelines:
    1. Training companies should be formed by native tongue
    2. Qualified foreign-speaking soldiers should be trained as commission and noncommissioned officers to promote the growth of the company
    3. A “board of foreign-speaking officers” should be created to investigate alleged “supposed disloyalty” amongst the soldiers
    4. An intensive study program in conversational English and military terms should be created to promote communication skills
    5. Camps should provide ethnic entertainment and host prominent ethnic speakers to help raise the morale of the soldiers (18)

CAMP GORDON PLAN

  • During the next several months, the FSS began implementing the Camp Gordon Plan in fifteen army camps including: Camp Meade (Maryland), Camp Devens (Massachusetts), Camp Upton (New York), Camp Dix (New Jersey), Camp Lee (Virginia), Camp Custer (Michigan), Camp Grant (Illinois), Camp Dodge (Iowa), Camp Cody (New Mexico), Camp McClellan (Alabama), Camp Sherman (Ohio), Camp Taylor (Kentucky), and Camps Wadsworth, Sevier, and Jackson (South Carolina). (19)
  • The Camp Gordon Plan was deployed in both Camp Meade, Maryland, and Camp Devens, Massachusetts, soon after the success at Camp Gordon. Camp Meade utilized the Camp Gordon Plan as a median to “promote the efficiency of development battalions.”
  • The success of reorganization at Camp Meade allowed the camp to create “Foreign Legion” companies comprised of multiple ethnically segregated companies, based on their native language. (20)
  • Camp Devens instituted a similar reorganizational program using the Camp Gordon Plan as their foundation. They categorized foreign-born soldiers into the following categories: Slavic (mostly Russians and Poles), Italian, Greek/Albanian, and Syrian/Armenian units. (21)
  • Over time, Gutowski boasted that his staff had reorganized over 10,000 ethnic soldiers at Camp Devens into “Foreign Legion Companies.” According to the FSS, ethnic soldiers displayed top physical shape within ten days, and the morale of the soldiers had increased “100%.” (22)
  • By the autumn in 1918, Brig. Gen. Marlborough Churchill, the new head of the Military Intelligence Division, inquired about the status of the ethnic soldier training program happening at Camp Gordon.
  • The officer’s report categorized ethnic soldiers into the following categories: “alien enemies (including the name of thirty-five German and Austrian soldiers), allied enemy aliens (including the names of ninety-five Turkish, Syrian, and Bulgarian soldiers), allies (including the name of 692 Italian, English, Canadians, Greeks, Montenegrins, Portuguese, Scots, Armenians, Irish, Lithuanians, French, Persians, Polish Russians, Poles, and Russians), and neutral (including the names of thirty Mexicans, Swedes, Norwegians, Romanians, Dutch, Swiss, and Danes).” Of all the ethnic groups, the Italians and Russians represented the two largest groups of ethnic soldiers. (23)
  • Despite the War Department’s attempts to promote the success story at Camp Gordon while promoting a positive image of ethnic soldiers, many ethnic stereotypes were displayed in wartime popular press in combination with the “100 percent Americanization” movement.
  • Popular civilian songs reminded immigrants that they should never “Bite the Hand that Feeds Them.” For example, the famous song “When Tony Goes Over the Top” displays the courage and bravery of ethnic soldiers that fought overseas for the United States, but the song itself was plagued with stereotyping:

"Hey! You know Tony the Barber who shaves and cuts’a the hair.
He said ska-booch, to his mariooch. He’s gonna fight “Over There.”
Hey! You know Tony could shave you. He’d cut you from ear to ear----
I just got a letter from Tony and this is what I hear.
When Tony goes over the top.
He no think of the barber shop, he grab-a-da gun and chas-a-da hun.
And make-e all run like a long-of-a-gun.
You can bet your life he’ll never stop.
When Tony goes over the top.
Keep your eyes on the fighting wop…
With a rope of spa-gett and a big a-sti-lette. He’ll make-a the German sweat
When Tony goes over the top." (24)

  • In a report detailing the success of the Camp Gordon Plan, the FSS boasted that it was able to create efficient soldiers out of immigrants in only three months. The report stated that “it seemed that from this melting pot could be poured only a conglomerate mass of humanity, confused by a babel of tongues.”
  • However, thanks to effective reorganization of immigrant soldiers by using the Camp Gordon Plan, the report argued that “out of the melting pot of America’s admixture of races is being poured a new American trained and ready to make the world safe for Democracy, to tear the bloody hand of the Hun from the throat of civilization.” (25)

CONCLUSIONS

During World War I, the United States military faced a serious obstacle concerning the diversity of their soldiers when almost a half-million immigrant soldiers reported to army training camps across the country. Because these soldiers spoke a variety of different languages, communication problems between soldiers and their superior officers soon followed. Due to issues in communication, immigrant soldiers were unable to express their needs and quickly became frustrated and confused. To resolve these issues, the War Department created the FSS in an attempt to create ethnic fighting forces by educating and increasing the morale of these soldiers. The end result of their attempt was the successful Camp Gordon Plan which incorporated ideas of “civilian scientific-management techniques including psychological and statistical studies, new managerial studies, and a reliance on professional experts.” The War Department continuously bragged about the success of the Camp Gordon Plan through the publication of memos, journals, and national newspapers. (26)


1. “Eradicating Illiteracy in the Army,” Infantry Journal 17, no. 4 (Oct., 1920): 353; Willis Fletcher Johnson, “Students at Camp Upton,” North American Review 211 (Jan., 1920): 47; Frederick Harris, Service with Fighting Men: An Account of the Work of the American Young Men’s Christian Association in the World War, vol. I, p. 344.

2. Padgett, “Camp Gordon Plan,” p. 334; “Making Americans of Alien Soldiers: By Method Known as Camp Gordon Plan,” Trench and Camp, Camp Devens, no. 16 (Sept. 25, 1918); John, “Students at Camp Upton,” p. 47. The number of immigrants in the military after the first draft (76,545) comes from Bruce W. Bidwell, History of the Military Intelligence Division, Department of the Army General Staff: 1775-1941, p. 185. 

3. “Making Americans of Alien Soldiers,” Trench and Camp, Camp Devens, no. 16 (Sept. 25, 1918); “Foreign Legion’ Companies,” pp. 252-54; “Camp Gordon Plan,” pp. 334-40; “Foreign-Speaking Officers,” Infantry Journal 15, no. 5 (Nov., 1918): 436; “The Camp Gordon Plan,” p. 437; William Howard Taft, Service with Fighting Men: An Account of the Work of American Young Men’s Christian Association in the World War, vol. I, p. 344. 

4. Brig. Gen. Marlborough Churchill [hereafter Churchill], director, Military Intelligence Division, to Intelligence Officer, Camp Beauregard, Louisiana, Nov. 6, 1918, 10565-562, MID-WDGS; Churchill, memorandum for the Chief of Staff, “Extract from Confidential Bulletin No. 17,” July 17, 1918, 10565-414/I, MID-WDGS. The military used the term “races” when referring to the various ethnic and racial groups.

5. Col. R. H. Van Deman [hereafter Van Deman.], chief, Military Intelligence Branch to Mr. John J. Coss, State War and Navy Building, Mar. 6, 1918, 10565-III/4, MID-WDGS; John Hingham, Strangers in the Land: Patterns of American Nativism 1860-1925, pp. 236-39. 

6. Discussed later in extract from M.I. 3 Bulletin 17, “Foreign Legion’ Companies,” July 15, 1918: Foreign-speaking Soldier Subsection, “Camp Gordon Plan.” Sept. 7, 1918, CTCA 40824, WDGSS RG 165, N.A.

7. Lt. Stanislaw A. Gutowski [hereafter Gutowski]. “Report on the Observations in Camp Devens, Massachusetts,” Dec. 28, 1917, CTCA 15667, WDGSS, p. I.

8. “Officers from Various Camps to Meade to Observe and Assist with Development Battalions,” Sept. 6, 1918, 10565-525/6, MID-WDGS.

9. Gutowski to D. Chauncy Brewer [hereafter Brewer], Feb. 1, 1918, 10564-17/4, MID-WDGS; Lt. F. Swielik, assistant acting division intelligence officer, to Chief, Military Intelligence Section, Mar. 4, 1918, 10564-26/I, MID-WDGS.

10. Gutowski to Brewer, Feb. 1, 1918; Major Crawford, acting intelligence officer, to Van Deman, Jan. 24, 1918, 10565-85, MID-WDGS.

11. Gutowski, “Report on the Observations in Camp Devens.”

12. Capt. George B. Perkins [hereafter Perkins] and Lt. Herbert A. Horgan [hereafter Horgan] to Camp Commanders, Aug. 9, 1918, 80-55/I, MID-WDGS; Bidwell, Military Intelligence Division, p. 185; Churchill to Camp Commanders, Oct. 22, 1918, 10564-587/4, MID-WDGS.

13. Extract from M.I. 3 Bulletin 17, “Foreign Legion’ Companies,” July 15, 1918; “Foreign-Speaking Officers,” p. 436: Padgett, “Camp Gordon Plan,” p. 334.

14. Gutowski to Perkins, Aug. 7, 1918, 10565-559/7, MID-WDGS; extract from M.I. 3 Bulletin 17, “Foreign Legion’ Companies,” July 15. 1918; Churchill to Chief of Staff, Camp Meade, Maryland, Aug. 14, 1918, 10565-495/7, MID-WDGS: “Foreign-Speaking Officers,” p. 436.

15. E.G. Moyer, intelligence officer, Camp Gordon, George, to Acting Director, Military Intelligence Division, “Report on Past Activities,” Jan. 23, 1919, 1055-515/21, MID-WDGS; extract from M.I. 3 Bulletin 17, “Foreign Legion’ Companies,” July 15, 1918; Churchill, “Extract from Confidential Bulletin No. 17,” July 17, 1918; “Foreign-Speaking Officers,” p. 436.

16. Capt. Eugene C. Bryan, intelligence officer, Camp Gordon, Georgia, to Perkins, MID memorandum 10930-22/I, July 22, 1918, MID-WDGS; Perkins to Capt. Ernest J. Hall, intelligence officer, Camp Devens, Massachusetts, Aug. 6, 1918, 10565-512/3, MID-WDGS; Churchill, memorandum for the Chief of Staff, Aug. 6, 1918, 10565-515, MID-WDGS.

17. Churchill, memorandum for the Adjutant General of the Army from the War Department, Aug. 31, 1918, 10565-465, MID-WDGS.

18. Ibid.

19. Horgan, memorandum for Captain Hale, Aug. 27, 1918, 10565-559/12, MID-WDGS; Perkins and Horgan to intelligence officer, Camp MacArthur, Texas, Sept. 4, 1918, 10565-520/I, MID-WDGS.

20. Perkins to Chief of Staff, Camp Meade, Maryland, Aug. 14, 1918, 10565-495/7, MID-WDGS; Brig. Gen. Henry Jervey, assistant chief of staff, memorandum for the Chief, Military Intelligence Branch, Aug. 26, 1918, 10565-414/37, MID-WDGS; Churchill to Major Dearing, Camp Meade, Maryland, Sept. 10, 1918, 10435-77, MID-WDGS; memorandum, Oct. 17, 1918, 10565-446, MID-WDGS; War Department, Special Order No. 225 [enclosure], Sept. 25, 1918, 10565-472, MID-WDGS.

21. Horgan, memorandum for Captain Hale, Aug. 27, 1918, 10565-559/12, MID-WDGS; Intelligence Officer, auxiliary units, Camp Devens, Massachusetts, to Chief, Military Intelligence Branch, July 22, 1918, 10565-414/9, MID-WDGS; Perkins to Intelligence Officer, Camp Devens, Massachusetts, Aug. 20, 1918, 10565-512/12, MID-WDGS; Churchill to Chief of Staff, Camp Devens, Massachusetts, (telegram) Aug. 23, 1918, 10565-512/8, MID-WDGS; Intelligence Officer, auxiliary units, Camp Devens, Massachusetts, to Chief, Military Intelligence Branch, July 22, 191, 10565-414/9, MID-WDGS.

22. Horgan, memorandum for Captain Hale, Aug. 27, 1918, 10565-559/12, MID-WDGS; Perkins to Intelligence Officer, Camp Upton, New York, Aug. 8, 1918, 10565-523/3, MID-WDGS.

23. “Report of Aliens at Camp Gordon, Georgia,” Oct. 15, 1918. 10565-515/11, MID-WDGS; Churchill to Intelligence Officer, Camp Gordon, Georgia, Nov. 1, 1918, 10565-515/18, MID-WDGS.

24. Words by Billy Frisch and Archie Fletcher, music by Alex Mar, “When Tony Goes Over the Top,” 1918.

25. “Camp Gordon Plan,” Foreign-Speaking Soldier Sub-section, Sept. 7, 1918, CTCA 40824, WDGSS RG 165, N.A.

26. Weibe, Search for Order, p. viii; Churchill, “Extract from Confidential Bulletin No. 17,” July 17, 1918; Padgett, “Camp Gordon Plan” p. 335; “The Camp Gordon Plan,” p. 437; “Foreign Legion’ Companies,” pp. 252-53. 

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