Fort Rucker traces Army roots to early 1940s
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FORT RUCKER, Ala. (October 24, 2013) -- Fort Rucker covers about 63,100 acres of southeast Alabama countryside in an area known as the Wiregrass, and though the post is relatively small compared to other Army installations, and has no official historical sites, it is steeped in rich Southern history with pre-Civil War cemeteries predating 1854, a former WWII prisoner of war camp and historical buildings that pre-date the installation's founding.

According to local historian Val McGee's book, "The Origins of Fort Rucker," around 200 years ago wealthy farmers created the community of Westville, located about two miles west of Lake Tholocco.

The buildings of the town were demolished long ago, but many of the farmsteads that were established by Families, such as the McCarty's and the Bryd's, who bought large pieces of land in what is now Fort Rucker in the early 1840s, still have their bones on post, proof that life in the area flourished before the government bought the area from settlers.

In the 1930s, a 35,000-acre tract of land in Dale and Coffee counties was purchased by the federal government, withdrawn from cultivation and converted into a wildlife refuge -- the Pea River Land Use Project.

The mobilization that followed the attack on Pearl Harbor called for the creation of new training camps and military bases, one of which was Camp Rucker, said J. Patrick Hughes, Aviation Branch historian.

"The original name of the installation was Ozark Triangular Division Camp, but before it was officially opened on May 1, 1942, the War Department re-named it Camp Rucker," he said. "As Fort Rucker grew in mission, so it grew in the land required. There are the sites of former structures on the installation . . . that existed prior to the creation of the camp and fort."

According to the official history of Fort Rucker, in January 1942, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers completed construction plans for the 4,600 acre cantonment area of the camp.

The J.A. Jones Construction Company of Charlotte, N.C., constructed 1,500 buildings, developed streets, utilities, wells, railroads, sidetracks and other facilities. This work was completed in fewer than the 120 days allotted by the contract and cost $24,620,160.

One of the more ambitious projects, supposed Michael B. Maxwell, Directorate of Public Works master planning division chief, was building an earthen dam across Claybank Creek to create an 850-acre lake -- later given the Muskogee name Tholocco.

The camp was named in honor of Col. Edmund W. Rucker, a Civil War Confederate officer.

An additional 30,000 acres of land between Newton and Enterprise, including all privately owned lands within the boundaries of the former wildlife refuge, were purchased in September 1942. Later that year, 1,259 supplementary acres south of Daleville were acquired for the construction of an airfield to support the camp.

Fort Rucker was not always used as an Aviation hotspot. In July 1941, the birth of Camp Rucker began when the War Department selected the lands to be used as an infantry training camp. According to the Fort Rucker Master Plan Digest, the first troops to train at Camp Rucker were those of the 81st Wildcat Infantry Division. Three other infantry divisions received training at Camp Rucker during World War II -- the 35th, the 98th and the 66th.

Camp Rucker was also used to train dozens of other units. These included tank, infantry replacement and Women's Army Corps units.

As a result of the expansion of both Aviation and artillery training, Fort Sill Okla., became overcrowded, and the Army decided to move the Army Aviation School to a different post, a temporary post, Camp Rucker, thus beginning the Aviation training that would one day take hold of the camp.

Though the camp was inactive from 1946 to 1950 and again in 1954, the school began moving to Alabama and the first class began in October.

On Feb. 1, 1955, the Army Aviation Center was officially established at Rucker. In October of that year, the post was given permanent status and the name was changed to Fort Rucker.

With the creation of the Army Aviation Branch, Aviation officer basic and advanced courses began in 1984, and a gradual consolidation of Aviation-related activities followed, according to Maxwell.

In 1986, the U.S. Army Air Traffic Control Activity became part of the branch. In the following year, a Noncommissioned Officers Academy was established, and in 1988, the Army Aviation Logistics School was incorporated into the Branch.

More recently, in 2003, the Aviation Branch assumed overall responsibility for unmanned aircraft systems within the Army.

"What I have always been told is it's hard to plan for the future if you don't know your past or where you came from," said Maxwell. "We try to maintain the integrity of the original site and land use, and we are very dependent on the people who did the original national plan. We will continue to use those original plans when we have construction in the future."

Though Fort Rucker now holds a research laboratory, the Warrant Officer Career College, test centers and several regiments, the installation is still one of the smallest in the Army, sometimes being called the Army's best kept secret when it comes to duty stations. It remains the home of Army Aviation and its history cannot be forgotten when those who train here carry the installation's legacy forward, often with the nickname, Mother Rucker.

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Fort Rucker, Ala.

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