My Heart Hurts for Fort Monmouth
Fort Closing a Hard Pill to Swallow.
It’s been a long while now since it was announced that Fort Monmouth would be closed. Funny how we hear something; we see the something beginning to happen; we’re witness on almost a daily basis to the dismantling; and yet, although we can intellectually accept what is happening, in the deep recess of our mind, and certainly our hearts, we keep thinkin’…’Naw, this just isn’t going to really happen’.
So now it’s happened - they turn out the lights today.
To say that the Fort has been a pivotal part of my life and my family’s would be a gross understatement. I was first introduced to the Fort in the late 1940s. As a very young child I attended nursery school on Fort Monmouth in a wood barracks converted for dependant use. Over the years as my Dad was assigned here and there all over the world we would move with him when we could and fortunately we always came back to the Fort here in Monmouth County. When my Dad was deployed to Korea during the war we stayed here close to the services that the Fort would provide to military dependants. The same when he served in Vietnam. My Mom was a constant in her voluntary involvement with organizations on the Fort.
My younger brother and I would walk, even as very young children, from the east gate to the west gate (and sometimes beyond out to Gibbs Hall) unattended – this was our place, our Fort, we knew every nook and cranny like the back of our hands. When the plaques started going up on the Avenue of Memories we would memorize the names and ranks and where the soldiers originally came from. We would stand in front of the plaques and salute in our own little ceremony to honor these heroes.
I made my First Communion in the old wooden chapel and can remember when the new brick chapel was built – so big by comparison. The huge field house, the bowling alley, all the ‘new and modern’ conveniences that came over the years – they were great but in my mind’s eye it will be the Fort as it was in the 1950s and 60s – not so very fancy; with much more open space – a huge playground for all of us who were proud to be called, ‘Army Brats’.
I still recall standing under a trellis covered with roses that was positioned in between the quarters on Officer’s Row and receiving a wonderful ‘first kiss’ from a young soldier from Georgia – wow, was that a long time ago.
My own children knew the Fort as my brothers and I had and they loved going to the Fort for those special Armed Forces Day open houses. They would climb over the tanks and the planes and helicopters on display, especially the boys. The boys were grown men and they would still go with ‘Grandpa’ to these festivities – loving every minute.
All of our ‘special events’ – celebrations for first communions; confirmations; graduations; and even my daughter’s wedding were held at Gibbs Hall Officer’s Club. My Dad was so pleased to see his granddaughter dance as a married woman for the first time on the very floor where he had swung his own bride of many years at numerous New Year’s Eve celebrations.
After my Dad retired my parents were a vital force at the Fort for all of their days. They had a circle of retired military friends that cared deeply about their Country and held true to their commitment to support and defend the U. S. of A. to the end. And in the end my parents, in turn, lay in the chapel on the Fort as we celebrated their lives and bid them farewell.
So the lights go out today. Yes, they can do that. Yet, I will hold these wonderful memories of Fort Monmouth in my heart for as long as I live. I will share stories of my life on the Fort as I know my children will. Hopefully the grandchildren will remember these tales and many years from now someone will still be able to hear of the Halloween night that Grandma and a contingent of her friends ran screaming in costume down the middle of Greely Field; candy falling out of their ‘Trick or Treat’ bags, with several MPs in hot pursuit; all the while laughing and hooting so hard they could hardly catch their breath.
Oh, what a night.
C.M. McLoughlin, a writer and editor from New Jersey and New York, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.