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Letterkenny Army Depot to mark 60th anniversary

May 12, 2002|BY RICHARD F. BELISLE

waynesboro@herald-mail.com

CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. - Letterkenny Army Depot will celebrate its 60th anniversary Saturday.

Its storied history began in 1941, when the U.S. Army knew war was imminent. It sought a dozen sites around the country to store and ship the tons of ammunition, from bullets to bombs, that were going to be needed in the coming hostilities.

Letterkenny Township was one of those sites.

The area that would become home to the depot consisted of 21,000 acres of mostly prime farmland north of Chambersburg that was home to about 1,000 people, a half-dozen churches and eight cemeteries.

There was a huge outcry from residents who were to be forced off their farms and homes. Much of their opposition abated after the attack on Pearl Harbor, according to a history of the depot.

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The people moved off the land and the Army moved in. The new base was called Letterkenny Ordnance Depot. The locals called it an ammo dump.

Alan Loessy, director of public relations at the depot, said the Army tried to be understanding at the beginning.

Every year, those who were displaced were allowed to board Army buses for tours of their old neighborhoods to see where their homes once stood and to visit the cemeteries where their loved ones were buried.

The practice continues today, but there aren't that many of those people left, Loessy said. Some are expected to attend Saturday's festivities, he said.

Anniversary events include a children's fishing rodeo, face painting, a candy scramble, a tracking dog demonstration, a 3-D archery shoot, exhibits and displays and a presentation by the Buffalo Soldiers.

For information on Saturday's events, call 1-717-267-5102 or e-mail www.lead.army.mil.

The Army built more than 400 buildings, 150 miles of paved roads and 55 miles of railroad track in the depot, Loessy said.

More than 800 underground ammunition storage igloos were built, along with 12 above-ground magazines and 17 warehouses.

The first shipment of ammunition arrived by train in September 1942. By the end of the war in 1945, more than 3 million tons of ammunition had passed through the depot.

More than 7,000 people, including Italian prisoners of war, worked at the depot during the war years, Loessy said.

After the war it became a storage facility for combat vehicles such as tanks, trucks and jeeps.

Unused ammunition was being returned from overseas. Much of it had to be destroyed at the depot.

"We still destroy old ammunition today," Loessy said.

Gears were shifted again from peace to war in 1950 with the outbreak of hostilities in Korea. The work force swelled to 6,500 employees.

The 1950s and 1960s saw much growth at the depot. It started to repair and modernize guided missiles and their electronics systems.

Another upsurge in activity occurred during the Vietnam War. Employment topped 4.500.

In 1973, the Army gave the Pennsylvania Department of Forestry 1,100 acres of land.

In 1995, Letterkenny was targeted under the Base Realignment & Closure Act and downsizing began. The artillery mission moved to Alabama, but the missiles stayed.

More than 3,000 jobs were lost, although employment today leaves the depot Franklin County's third-largest employer.

The Army started to give up the first of nearly 1,500 acres to a Franklin County development agency called Letterkenny Industrial Development Authority. LIDA is turning the acreage and the buildings that go with it into a major industrial park.

Last week, the Army transferred 327 acres to LIDA for a total to date of 557 acres.

"My sense of this place is that there's been a lot of changes over the last 60 years," said Col. Robert W. English III, commanding officer of Letterkenny. "Even though its mission has changed, there has always been one constant, and that is that this depot has always offered our Army its unfailing support, from the Greatest Generation of World War II to our war against terrorism today."

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