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Camp Van Dorn: New Developments

Written by: Darren Dedo
Case Filed: 08/16/01 - Jackson, Mississippi
Executive Producer: Rick Garner

Congressman Benny Thompson announced on Wednesday's NEWSCHANNEL 12 "This Morning" that the Army, Justice Department, General Accounting Office, NAACP and others will discuss the possibility that black soldiers of the 364th were murdered by the Army.
NEWSCHANNEL 12 has been investigating the mystery surrounding Camp Van Dorn over the last few months.

Thompson says the new investigation will include interviews with at least 100 new sources close to the camp. Plus, unlike the last time, the Army will come to Mississippi to conduct their investigation.

The meeting with the Army at Congressman Thompson's office is scheduled for September 19 in Washington, D.C. Every Wednesday at ten you can catch my special investigative series on Camp Van Dorn.

Congressman Benny Thompson Full Interview

January 30, 2002

Objective 1: The Scope and Methodology that the Army used in its 1999 report

  1. Q: What documents were reviewed? What time period did each category of these documents cover (i.e. Morning Reports for April 1942 through December 1943)? Did the Army identify any missing documents related to the 364th? (For example are sections of the regimental journal missing?) What documents did the Army review to document the 364th’s situation from July 4, 1943 till the regiment was shipped out in December 1943?

A: Hundreds of thousands of pages of documents were reviewed in the course of the Army’s historical research into the history of the 364th Infantry, covering the period 1940 through 1945. Records reviewed included the regiment itself, its higher headquarters, War Department files (including those of the Inspector General and the Chief of Chaplains, Secretary of War, and Assistant to the Secretary of War), personnel and financial records of assigned personnel, records of the NAACP held by the Library of Congress, official histories, and contemporary press reporting. While the National Archives and Records Administration is in the best position to comment on the completeness of any particular body of records, no set of records for any infantry regiment are complete because the records they created during their service were never intended to be saved in their entirety. The records of the 364th Infantry are typical in this respect. The Army reviewed many records from the July-December 1943 time frame including the records of the Inspector General, Army Staff, and Forth Service Command.

Textual Research Methodology
Adequately researching the history of the 364th Infantry in the National Archives required a careful screening of many record groups. The lack of documents in regimental history files was mitigated by examining the records of posts where the 364th Infantry was station, the chains of command at those installations (Forth Service Command, in the case of the Camp Van Dorn period), and the various headquarters to which regiment was assigned, including Army Ground Forces, Third Army, the Western Defense Command, and the Alaska Defense Command. The records of the Secretary of War, the Army Staff, the Adjutant General’s Office, and the Office of the Inspector General were reviewed in detail. In addition, the records of the NAACP and African-American newspapers held by the Library of Congress were studied. Nearly on work year of research was conducted by professional historians; more than a quarter of a million pages of documents were scrutinized. In the list below, the most valuable records are in the parentheses below the titled of the Record Group.

Record Groups (RG) Examined

RG 77 Records of the Chief of Engineers

RG 92 Records of the Quartermaster General

RG 107 Records of the Office of the Secret of War
(Decimal Correspondence files)

RG 112 Records of the Office of the Surgeon General

RG 159 Records of the Office of the Inspector General

(Decimal Correspondence Files)
RG 160 Records of the Headquarters Army Service Forces
(4th Service Command)

RG 165 Records of Correspondence G-1

RG 247 Records of the Office of the Chief of Chaplains

RG 319 Records of the Army Staff

RG 337 Records of the Army Ground Forces

RG 338 Records of U.S. Army Commands
(364th Infantry, 63rd, 92nd and 99th Infantry Divisions)

RG 407 Records of the Adjutant General’s Office
(Central Decimal file, formerly classified file, WW II Operational Reports)

  1. Q: The Army based some of its conclusions on documents that are not available to the public even through Freedom of Information Act. Any documents off limits now due to privacy concerns? Is so, please explain why.

A: The only records that the Army has a continuing responsibility to protect are documents that contain personal or medical information that cannot be released without express permission of the individual or the next of kin. The National Personnel Records Center is the custodian of the records and any query about a specific person or record should be directed to that agency. The records that contain privacy information were used to establish the roster in the report and verify discharge or other service data. Records that pertain to the characterization of discharge, disciplinary action, and medical information, for example, are still protected, but in no way prevent a reconstruction of the unit’s history.

  1. Q: Who was/is the custodian of these documents?

A: The National Personnel Records Center in St. Louis, MO is the custodian of Army personnel records from this period.

  1. Q: The Army did not visit Camp Van Dorn where these allegations are to have occurred. No physical site inspection occurred. Why not?

A: The land of the former Camp Van Dorn passed into civilian hands in the 1940’s. The Army has a responsibility to maintain the safety of the land as a formerly Used Defense Site (FUDS). This program is designed to protect the residents from the dangers posed by chemicals and munitions that may have been left behind when the area revered to civilian use. The land has been inspected by the Corp of Engineers on a recurring basis. The results of the FUDS inspection visit of August 1998 were used as a reference in the Army’s research. The Army determined an additional site inspection of the area was unnecessary after a review of the information obtained from the FUDS program and the absence of any evidence to support the allegation of a mass murder an internment at Camp Van Dorn.

  1. Q: Luther Williams, a Centreville Fire Department employee during the period in question, reportedly relayed to Carroll Case that his “most vivid memory” of Camp Van Dorn was “the night that they killed all those niggers.” He recalled hearing shooting near the railroad on the base, He stated to Carroll that he tool cover looking for a place to hide. Reportedly, he said that the day after the shooting he saw hundreds and hundreds of bodies. Have you interviewed Mr. Williams? If you do not believe him to be a credible witness, please explain.
A: Mr. Williams was reportedly a Camp Van Dorn Fire Department employee during the war years, but the Army was unable to verify that employment from available wartime records. Mr. Williams died prior to the publication of Mr. Case’s book and could not be interviewed.

  1. Q: Williams’ brother-in-law, W.M. Ewell, also a resident of Centreville, reportedly worked in the laundry at the time. In the book, statements are attributed to Mr. Ewell about bloody towels, sheets, and mattress covers brought to the laundry the day after he heard “the shooting.” Have you interviewed Mr. Ewell? If you do not believe him to be a credible witness, please explain.

A: Mr. Ewell was interviewed by Mr. John Omicinski of the Gannett News Service shortly after the book was published, and has since declined all interviews. He reportedly told Mr. Omicinski that he was not Mr. Williams’ brother-in-law, but his half brother; that he never worked in the laundry, but in the Camp Van Dorn Fire Department; and that he never told the story he is reported to have told in Mr. Case’s book. The detail of his employment cannot be verified from available wartime records, and in the absence of a willingness to be interviewed the Army cannot determined his credibility as a witness.

Objective 2: Address identified discrepancies/inconsistencies

  1. Q: Address the concern that in the 199 Army report compiled a roster of nearly 4.000 men who had served at Camp Van Dorn and that all but 20 could be accounted for. (Include elaborating on the 11 listed in the report that did not die as civilians or filed claims with VA). Keep in mind that on page 1 of the executive summary the Army states “All of the nearly 4,000 men who were assigned to the 364th Infantry in 1943 have been traced to their separation from military service.” Are there any 364th Infantry men that the Army cannot account for?

A: The Army’s Historical Analysis reported did account for all soldiers who served in the 364th at Camp Van Dorn. All but 20 of the soldiers had separation dates verified on their final pay statements. The remaining 20 were verified to be alive after separation using their records.

  1. Q: Purportedly, in the months before his death, the reporter Rob Riddenhour was comparing Army payroll records and general orders he had obtained via Freedom of Information Act to hand-written notation in the 364th regimental journal showing “losses” to the 364th while stationed in the Aleutians in 1944 – the 364th assignment after Camp Van Dorn. Some of Riddenhour’s preliminary calculations show a drop-off of nearly 1,000 enlisted men – with no accompanying explanation of what happened to them. Does the Army’s review of the records show the same drop-off rate? If so, what could account for this?
A: The Army has no record of any inquiry from Mr. Ridenhour about the 364th Infantry and cannot speculate on his methods or what material he might have examined. Without further information on what these calculations were no conclusions can be drawn, however, all available records show a minimal number of discharges prior to the end of hostilities, followed by a rapid demobilization in 1945. The majority of the soldiers in the 364th Infantry were inducted for the duration of the war plus six months, unless discharged earlier at the convenience of the government.

  1. Q: IN Carroll Case’s book, Mr. Bill Martzall, a former MP, describes the environment at Camp Van Dorn from the time when the 364th arrived. Mr. Martzell, reportedly confessed to Mr. Carroll Case that he took part in the shooting of black soldiers – possibly over a thousand men – one night in the late fall of 1943. Was Mr. Martzell at Camp Van Dorn during this period? What corroborating records does the Army have that reflect Mr. Martzell’s assignments? Has the Army identified other MPs assigned to Camp Van Dorn during the period in questions? Any plans to interview?
A: Mr. Martzell died long before Mr. Case published his book but his military records do not support his description of conditions at Camp Van Dorn, or his duties there. His Service Record shows that he arrived at Camp Van Dorn in September 1943 when he was assigned to the 63rd Infantry Division for training. While he as briefly assigned to the division’s Military Police platoon, most of his time in the division was spent assigned to the 63rd Quartermaster Company. This assignment pattern is completely inconsistent with the story he is alleged to have told Mr. Case. The Army asked the veteran’s of the 364th Infantry about life at Camp Van Dorn and discovered little contact between the men and Military Police. In the wake of the May 1943 disturbances the regimental command, Colonel Goodman, and other commanders of units of color approached the post commander, Colonel Guthrie, and by mutual consent, the post military police were no longer allowed in the area that was occupied by the 364th. As had been the case In Arizona, the 364th was responsible for its own policing.

  1. Q: In the Army’s report appendix that purports to be a complete accounting of the enlisted men in the 364th, Pvt. William Walker is listed as separated from service on 5/5/43. It is clearly documented elsewhere that Pvt. Walker died on 5/30/43-two weeks after the separation date. Walker’s case is well known and often considered part of what triggered the problems at Camp Van Dorn. Explanation for Army’s error?
A: In cases where a separation voucher was illegible the 15th month of the discharge was arbitrarily chosen as a “place holder” until the exact date could determined. In the case of Pvt. Walker a corrected roster containing his name alone was created to reflect final payment. In the text in both parts A and B the correct date of death is given. The error in the listing is purely clerical and not reflected in the body of the report.

  1. Q: The Army’s report identified 4 soldiers of the 364th who died between May and December 1943 while stationed at Camp Van Dorn. The 4 soldiers were Williams Walker, Edwin Marzetter, Kelly Salter, and Ciifton Moffett. The report notes the reconstructed Official Military Personnel File did not contain the details concerning circumstance surrounding their deaths, Are there other documents that cold shed light on the circumstances, especially considering that such documents do exist for Williams Walker?
A: The shooting of Pvt. Walker was thoroughly investigated because of the circumstances. The deaths of the other men were, according to the details available in official records, due to accident or illness., therefore not requiring the attention given to the death of Pvt. Walker. The causes of death listed on the Standard Certificates of Death held by the Mississippi State Department of Health are:

Edwin Marzette: Drowning
Clifton Mofette: Aspiration
Kelly Salter: Coccidioidomycosis
William Walker: Gunshot Wound

  1. Q: A memorandum dated June 12, 1943, that is included in the Historical Analysis of the 364th in World War II mentioned a “1st Sgt. Patton of Co. c 364th Inf. Regt.” 1st Sgt. Patton is not listed in Appendix A – a listing of the personnel of the 364th at Camp Van Dorn between April and December 1943., Explain.
A; The memorandum referred to is the report of a Counterintelligence Corps agent, George F. Kennedy, who was assigned for a matter of days in early June to the regiment. The “1st Sgt Patton” referred to is listed as Pvt Clarence Patten of A Company. Patten had been the First Sergeant of C Company until he was reduced in grade and transferred to A Company on or about June 14, 1943. Mr. Kennedy probably never saw the name in writing during the short time he spent at Camp Van Dorn and spelled the name as he heard it.

  1. Q: The Army’s 1999 report (section on Personnel Investigation of the 364th) includes a footnote that states “Review of the morning reports would be required to follow any Army units from 1944to 1946, since the monthly unit rosters for that period for ALL Army organization were destroyed in 1975 in accordance with established records disposition authority of the time.” However, in a letter to Congressman Thompson dated November 6, 1998, the Army notes that “Morning reports for all the 364th companies in 1943 are on file at the National Personnel Records Center, along with unit rosters for each company. The Army further states that an examination of unit rosters of several of the regiment’s companies for the months of August and November 1943 reveal no unusual or unaccountable movement of soldiers. Why would the month unit rosters for 1944 to 1946 be destroyed before those of 1943? Also, did the Army only review “rosters” for August and November and not for the months in between (September and October)?
A: As explained in the Research Methodology section of part B of the report all rosters for all elements of the 364th during the period of the unit’s assignment to Camp Van Dorn (April through December 1943, for completeness) were used to create the list of the 364th soldiers at Camp Van Dorn. The information in the letter dated November 6, 1988 represented the first look at the records, not the results of the repot released in 199. All questions concerning the disposition of records in the National Archives, or the National Personnel Record Center should be directed to the National Archives and Records Administration. Morning Reports for the period in question do exist as well as final pay vouchers for soldiers being discharged.

  1. Q: Page 9 and 10 of the Army report notes a July 3, 1943 incident involving the men of the 364th in a disturbance. The report goes on to say “Training in the regiment continued throughout the summer of 1943 without incident.” However, a memorandum dated 10 November 1943 also included in the report notes such other acts occurring. Please explain what the Army based its conclusions that training continued without incident on.

A: The memorandum referred to is dated 10 November 1944 not 10 November 1943. The incident is described in the narrative in some detail because it is probable that the incident is what gave rise to the rumors of a shooting incident at Camp van Dorn in the barracks area once occupied by the 364th Infantry. Records of the War Department G-3 concerning the shipment of the unit overseas and the timing of that move show that the regiment’s required training had progressed satisfactorily. Similarly the Regimental Chaplain’s reports reflect an improvement in the unit’s morale.

Objective 3: Present additional information acquired since issuance of the report

  1. Q: The 199 Army report says that “to date 116 former soldiers of the 364th Infantry Regiment have been identified and approximately half have been contacted.” A total of 15 interviews had been conducted. Fourteen former enlisted men and one officer had been interviewed. The report noted that the Army was continuing the process of contacting as many veterans as could be interviewed. How many veterans has the Army interviewed? If not, does the Army have plans to interview these two veterans? If not, why not?
A: To date 66 interviews have been conducted, from a pool of more than 200 identified 364th veterans. Unfortunately the age and physical condition of many World War II veterans make interviews impossible. The Army has requested interviews with both Mr. LaPlace and Mr. Snively and will interview both men, at their convenience, if they accept.

  1. Q: Mr. LaPlace, a 364th veteran, has publicly stated that someone falsified Army documents by showing his signature in 1942 when he did not enter the service until March 3, 1943. Does the Army have these documents? Can the Army account for how this could happen?
A: The documents Mr. LaPlace is referring to are pages in the Regimental Journal, which is maintained in the National Archives. The signatures on the journal appear consistent with Mr. LaPalce’s handwriting as it appear on other documents from the period. The Army looks forward to discussing this with Mr. LaPlace if he consents to an interview. There is no evidence to suggest that these documents were altered in any way once they were typed.

  1. Q: Mr. LaPlace also claims that he falsified the364th regimental journal by typing that enlisted men were AWOL when he had information that “20 enlisted men of the 364th Regiment were found murdered in Centreville, Mississippi…and an investigation is underway.” He said Col. John Goodman ordered him to do this and he recorded a total of 35 black soldiers as being AWOL rather than murdered. The Army ahs stated that journal entries are not a credible source of information. What is the Army’s statement based on? How many men were AWOL during the period in question?

A: There is no evidence that any soldier of the 364th, other than Pvt. Walker, was killed in Centreville or in the vicinity of Camp Van Dorn. The Army has never stated that the journal was not a credible source of information, simply that it was not the only source of information and those entries depended on the staff on duty on a particular day. The Army also reviewed Unit Rosters and Inspector General reports for example that are much more detailed. No attempt was made to catalog AWOLs by day during this research, but there was many noted in the days following the death of Pvt. Walker.

  1. Q: Corporal Anthony J. Snively, a 364th veteran, wrote several letters to a black newspaper in Philadelphia about the conditions of Camp Van Dorn. Two of these letters appear in Mr. Case’s book. Reportedly, Mr. Snively says that these letters have been altered. DO you have original copies of Mr. Snively’s letters? Did the Army intercept these letters before they made it to the recipient? Mr. Snively reportedly has also stated a mass shooting did not happen. Again, any plans to interview him if the Army hasn’t already?
A: The copies of the letters written by Mr. Snively and reproduced in Mr. Case’s book were forwarded to the Army for action. The Army received the letters just as they reproduced in the book. Any changes were made before they were sent to the Army. Since the purpose of forwarding these letters was to inform the Army of a problem at Camp Van Dorn, the Army was the recipient. The Army has requested an interview with Mr. Snively.


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