Gladys “Woodie” Borkowski recalled that in 1943, when she was one of the U.S. Army’s first female soldiers, she and her female detachment were laughed at and even ignored by their male officers at Fort Slocum, N.Y.
“Well, they had it in their minds that we were there to replace them to go overseas, so we weren’t very popular. There was no abuse or anything to us, but they just ignored us completely,” said Borkowski, who had served as a staff sergeant and the detachment’s drillmaster.
But many of the soldiers grew to respect them, in particular the commander, at the time, Col. Bernard Lentz.
“And Colonel Lentz had said many, many times that they came, I saw, and they conquered,” Borkowski recalled. “I always like that.”
Borkowski, a pioneering NCO, is one of the former inhabitants of the former Fort Slocum, now an uninhabited 80-acre property off the shore of Long Island, N.Y., known as Davids Island.
The installation is gone — abandoned and its crumbling buildings demolished by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in 2009 — but not forgotten, thanks to a website and oral history project led by USACE and local historians. JoAnne Castagna, a USACE writer tipped us off about the web site.
Established in 1867 on the site of a former Civil War hospital, Fort Slocum served as a military hospital, an artillery mortar battery and a training post. During World War II the fort was the most active recruitment center in the United States and served as a staging area for troops heading overseas during the two world wars.
“The virtual archive is etched into the Internet, and will be a lasting memorial to those who served at Fort Slocum, and to the contribution of Davids Island to the history of the United States and the local community,” said Gregory J. Goepfert, project manager, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, New York District.
The site includes all of the extensive research the Army Corps gathered during this project including the historical data on each of the fort’s structures, photos, maps, videos, and oral histories, in both print and audio formats, from over two dozen individuals who used to live and work at Fort Slocum. In addition, various museums will include the Corps reports in their archives.
If you love military history, you never know what gems you may dig up in the archive. Long before the days of Guantanamo Bay, for instance, Fort Slocum was a home to Italian prisoners of war, who were allowed to walk the post freely.
“And many times we would check one out and take him to New York City and show him all the sites of New York City,” Borkowski said.