Watervliet Arsenal: Forging steel and families of strength
July 7, 2009
- The feeling some get working at the Arsenal transcends a feeling of passion, it is a sense of family and tradition.
- From machinists' palm grease, sweat, and blood that they have shed through the years at the Arsenal their spirit remains forever.
- The Arsenal is more than a job to many, it is a family tradition.
When the last machine is turned off each day there is an eerie sense that all is not done at the historic Watervliet Arsenal.
Among the buildings that some date back to the 1800s, are machines that have felt the touch of hundreds, if not thousands, of machinists. Many of those machinists are no longer alive today in a natural sense. But from machinists' palm grease, sweat, and blood that they have shed through the years some say their spirit remains each day, each night, and maybe, forever.
Walking through the old production bays that still manufacture cannon, howitzer, and mortar tubes for today's military, one quickly gets a sense that there is something more than the cold machinery that is waiting for its next turn at drilling, milling, or grinding steel.
The feeling is hard to measure, but something is definitely there.
Supporting our nation's warfighters in every conflict since the War of 1812 has been the honor and duty of everyone who has ever worked at the Arsenal. More than just a job to most workers, it has also been a passion.
To others, the feeling they get working at the Arsenal transcends a feeling of passion, it is a sense of family and tradition.
The terms "family and tradition" often coincide and conjure up immediate feelings of warmth and comfort. Hard to measure the effect that "family" has on an individual, but most would say it is powerful.
Among today's Arsenal workforce are sons and daughters, grandsons and granddaughters, and even great grandsons of those who have toiled in the machine shops.
The Frament family is now in their third generation of workers with Allison Frament being the newest member of the Frament clan to work at the Arsenal.
Allison, a time and leave clerk in the Operations Directorate, said her first taste of the Arsenal came when she was 10-years old during a "Bring your daughter to work day."
"My dad brought me to work and showed me where my grandmother worked as a machine tool operator and I thought that was the coolest thing in the world," said Allison. "When other grandmothers were sitting around the house, my grandmother was drilling steel."
Allison's father, Al, who is an industrial management specialist, and her aunt, Joann Kellogg, lead environmental protection specialist, began their careers at the Arsenal similar to Allison's experience.
Al said his earliest memory of coming to the Arsenal was when his mother and father brought the family to an Armed Forces Day event when he was a teenager.
Al's parents, Rose, who according to Al was a better machine operator than him prior to his completing the apprenticeship program, and Ralph, who was a quality control specialist, set the standard for family members who would follow in their footsteps.
According to Al, his parents were well known on the Arsenal and therefore, he felt a certain duty to his parents to do well to maintain the family's good reputation.
Regarding Al's claim to being a better machine operator than his mother, this was questioned by his sister, Joann, but that is a story for another day.
For Joann, her first recollection of visiting the Arsenal was when her parents brought her to a family day event. She was 10-years old at the time.
According to Joann, her parents talked about the Arsenal every day. So when she visited the Arsenal for the first time it was as if she already knew the commander and many of the machinists. Something as simple as a family day had left such an indelible mark on Joann that working at the Arsenal was always in the back of her mind.
Years ago, thousands of family members and the local community would visit the Arsenal during family days that were often tied to Armed Forces Day. During these events, families would tour through the production facilities to see where their parents, grandparents, and neighbors worked.
Another family tradition is with the O'Connor family. William "Bill" O'Connor served in World War II with the U.S. Army and fought in the Battle of the Bulge. When the war ended in 1945, Bill left the Army to begin a new life, as well as to recover from injuries sustained in combat.
The Arsenal during World War II was one of the largest employers in the New York Capital District. At one time during the war, nearly 10,000 personnel worked at the Arsenal.
So when Bill arrived at his home in Troy, N.Y., he found that many of his family members and neighbors worked at the Arsenal. Therefore, it was a logical decision for him to do the same. Bill worked from 1945 to 1967 at the Arsenal as an electrician.
His son, Tim O'Connor, who is a mechanical engineering technician for the Army's BenAfAt Laboratories at the Arsenal, said he recalls how his dad used to bring him to work with him on weekends, as well as how much he and his family looked forward to family days at the Arsenal.
"If my dad had to work overtime, he would bring me in and have me sit in Building 108. And on paydays, my mother and I would meet my dad at the gate to collect his paycheck. But, probably my most favorable memory is that of the family days that we used to attend each year," said Tim.
Today, Tim works in the Stereolithography Lab for BenAfAt and has worked at the Arsenal for 27 years.
Jerry Russell, who works on the Arsenal Security Law Enforcement team, is a fourth generation family member.
Jerry said two of his great grandparents worked in the Arsenal production bays during World War II. An interesting twist is that while his great grandparents worked in production, his grandfather, who was a Soldier, served on the Arsenal.
"I believe my grandfather used to be a cook at the Arsenal until he blew something up in the mess hall. After that, he did other duties as assigned," said Jerry.
Jerry added that his father worked at the Arsenal in the 1980s, but just for a short duration.
Jerry enlisted in the U.S. Army after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. After three deployments to the Middle East, Jerry joined the Arsenal workforce in 2007.
A sense of family and tradition is woven into the fabric that has made the Arsenal great for nearly 200 years and will always be present in such places as the machine shops, the guard posts, and the rotary forge. Not a haunting, but a calling.
So, if you ever are walking through the Arsenal when most have gone home for the day, that cold shiver that may go up your spine may not be due to the weather. Just maybe, all is not done when the machines are turned off or when the flag is lowered. The longer one works at the Arsenal, the more they know that all is not done when the day is done.