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Camp Kilmer, New Jersey is a former United States Army camp that was activated in June 1942 as a staging area and part of an installation of the New York Port of Embarkation. The camp was organized as part of the Army Service Forces Transportation Corps. Troops were quartered at Camp Kilmer in preparation for transport to the European Theater of Operations in World War II. Eventually, it became the largest processing center for troops heading overseas and returning from World War II, processing over 2.5 million soldiers. It officially closed in 2009.
The camp was named for Joyce Kilmer, the soldier-poet killed in World War I while serving with The Fighting 69th, most famous for writing the poem, Trees. His home was in nearby New Brunswick, New Jersey.
The site was selected in 1941 by the War Department as the best site to serve the New York Port Of Embarkation. Construction began in early 1942. Located in Piscataway Township, New Jersey and Edison Township, New Jersey at , the closest city was New Brunswick located two miles to the south. Plainfield was located four miles north of the camp. New York City could be reached by the mainline of the Pennsylvania Railroad; it was about 22 miles to the northeast, although many troop embarkations would be at the New Jersey locations of Bayonne and Hoboken; a flyover loop crossing the four-track mainline (now the Amtrak NEC) allowed movements into the large train loading yards without interference with mainline traffic. The camp was also served by the Port Reading branch of the Reading Railroad and the Amboy branch of the Lehigh Valley Railroad.
The buildings were constructed of wood and were painted bright contrasting colors for a camouflage effect. This was similar to the Dazzle camouflage used for ships in World War I. The first unit to arrive at Camp Kilmer was the 332nd Engineer General Service Regiment, a complement of 1,239 enlisted men and 52 officers. The unit arrived July 22, 1942 on three separate trains from Camp Claiborne, Louisiana.
At Camp Kilmer troops sent personal effects home, received medical injections and the supplies needed before loading onto transport ships for travel to the European Theater of Operations. The camp remained active until the fall of 1949 when it was no longer needed.
In the fall of 1950, with hostilities in Korea, the camp was reactivated. It was placed on inactive status again in June 1955. In November 1956 it served as an initial place for housing for refugees from the 1956 Hungarian Revolution until June 1957. In March 1958, Camp Kilmer became Headquarters for the U.S. Army II Corps, the controlling headquarters for United States Army Reserve units across the northeast. Camp Kilmer also housed a maintenance and repair facility supporting the Nike/Hercules missile sites in the greater New York metropolitan area. This facility included large, armored rooms with heavy blast doors where missile engines and conventional warheads were stored and maintained.
The concentration camp scenes for the 1964 movie The Pawnbroker were filmed in the section of Camp Kilmer which had been used for the movement of prisoners-of-war.
Throughout the 1980s and 90s, the remnants of Camp Kilmer, then known as the Sergeant Joyce Kilmer Reserve Center, was the location for Headquarters, 78th Division (TS) and for the Division's 1st Brigade (BCST) headquarters, both units of the US Army Reserve. The 78th Division (TS), nicknamed the "Lightning Division" or "Jersey Lightning", is the lineal descendant of the 78th Division of World War I and the 78th Infantry Division of World War II. The current 78th Division (TS) is responsible for conducting simulations exercises and field training for US Army Reserve and Army National Guard units across 14 states from North Carolina to the Canadian border.
As of October 2009 the Sergeant Joyce Kilmer Reserve Center has been closed as per the recommendation of the Base Realignment and Closure, 2005. The last tenant units have relocated to Fort Dix, N.J.
Areas surrounding the former base now belong to Piscataway Township or to Rutgers University and many existent buildings and facilities were clearly part of the former Camp Kilmer. Portions of the World War II-era camp are still used by the Edison Job Corps, including some of the original barracks, the chapel and post flag pole. Most of the site is now occupied by the Timothy Christian School.
The former environs of Camp Kilmer, and the current Kilmer Reserve Center, are soiled with numerous contaminants including PAHs, VOCs, SVOCs, PCBs, asbestos, and heavy metals affecting groundwater, surface waters and sediment, as well as the soil.