EDISON, N.J. - As the bugler played "call to assembly", the local community and the Soldiers from the 78th "Lightning" Division said goodbye in a bitter sweet inactivation ceremony of the Sgt. Joyce Kilmer Army Reserve Center at Camp Kilmer in Edison, N.J., on Oct. 5.
The inactivation ceremony attracted many guests and high-ranking officials, including Brig. Gen. Gen. Walter B. Chahanovich, Commanding General of the 78th Division; Senator Barbara Buono of New Jersey; Legislative District 18; and Councilwoman Antonia Ricigliano of the Township of Edison, N.J.
Camp Kilmer was named for local resident Sgt. Alfred Joyce Kilmer, known as a fearless non-commissioned officer and hero, but known nationally and internationally as a famous journalist and poet.
Kilmer was killed by a sniper during a scouting mission at the Second Battle of Marne on the morning of June 30th 1918 and posthumously awarded the Purple Heart by the United States Army as well as the Croix de Guerre by the French Republic.
The history of Camp Kilmer dates back to 1941 when the Department of Defense, then known as the War Department, used the 1600 acre camp as a transportation hub processing over 20 divisions who came to Camp Kilmer before being deployed to Europe during WWII.
Camp Kilmer occupied one of the most essential processing and administrative posts in the United States during that time.
The Camp was deactivated in the fall of 1949 but reactivated at the outbreak of hostiles in Korea.
Not as active during the Korean War as it was in WWII, Camp Kilmer lost its status as a major processing point to Fort Dix and was once again made inactive in 1955.
In 1963, most of the 1600 acres was auctioned and sold to local universities and colleges. Today, Rutgers University, the state university of New Jersey, maintains most of the camp as Livingston College.
With a limited military presence on the last remaining 24 acres of government owned land, the Defense Base Closure and Realignment Commission (BRAC) recommended to close the camp in 2005.
The 78th Division, currently the last major Headquarters on Kilmer, will relocate to the recently dedicated Maj. John P. Pryor Army Reserve Center at Army Support Activity - Dix.
The sounds of children playing in the background highlighted the sense of community as the narrator keyed in on the support shown by the people of Edison.
"'This day closes and era that spans over 60 years and through the years the township of Edison and its patriotic citizens has stood by in support of the Soldiers who passed through Camp Kilmer never wavering in this endeavor," he emphasized.
Chahanovich seemed saddened by the passing of history.
"My solemn duty today is to bring closure to an era as the last post commander and the last commander of the 78th as an Army division," he stated solemnly. "The remaining area is currently planned for use as homeless shelters, recreational land and the town of Edison Public Works Center. "
Buono highlighted the importance of the 78th Lightning Division role as she echoed the emotion of the day.
"This is a day of mixed emotions and heavy hearts," Buono stated. "The 'Jersey Lightning' played a very vital role in Operation Desert Storm and continues to this day to give our brave men and women on the front lines the training they need to be successful in their missions abroad so they can all come home safely to their families and friends."
Buono also spoke on the history of the facility and its importance to the community.
"To bid our final farewell to a facility that has played such an important role in protecting our nation against threats aboard ... this facility and the millions of men and women who have passed through it over the years have served their country with distinguish," declared Buono. "The mission of these hallow grounds will now turn to preparing our young people for the challenges they face in a very difficult and evolving world economy."
In a voice shaking with emotion, Ricigliano spoke of Sgt Joyce Kilmer.
"Joyce Kilmer would be proud of this Army base and the many uses it has had in these almost 70 years," she said.
As the ceremony drew to a close, it became apparent that those involved with this historic base did not want the memories to simply drift away with the years.
"It is up to all of us to make sure that the years of history that unfolded here will not fade away, will not be forgotten. We ensure that future generations will remember that the freedom and liberties that we so often take for granted today exacted great sacrifices." Buono concluded.