Just eight kilometres west of Toccoa, in the state of Georgia, lies Camp Toccoa. Its conception began in 1938. Roll forward to 17 January 1940, and the Georgia National Guard and the Works Projects Administration began construction.
The site took a little under a year to complete and was originally known as Camp Toombs, named after Confederate Civil War General Robert Toombs. However, Colonel Robert Sink of the 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment did not like the name. He had visions of superstitions amongst new recruits, as to get to Camp “Tombs” they had to pass the Toccoa Casket Company on Route 13. Colonel Sink had a conversation with the Department of the Army, and Camp Toccoa was the new name.
Overlooking Camp Toccoa is the famed Currahee Mountain. Paratrooper trainees were regularly tasked with running the mountain. The war cry of “three miles up, three miles down” accompanied the sound of the boots on the gravel. Currahee means ‘standing alone’ and came from the Cherokee word gurahiyi.
Who trained at Toccoa?
There were many units that trained at Camp Toccoa.
– 501st Parachute Infantry Regiment.
– 507th Parachute Infantry Regiment.
– 511th Parachute Infantry Regiment.
– 517th Parachute Infantry Regiment.
These are just a few, but of course the one that is most recognised is the 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment that was attached to the 101st Airborne Division. Band of Brothers, the 10-part miniseries that came to TV screens in 2001 introduced us to the 506th.
After the war.
After the war, Georgia State Prison took over ownership and used the camp. It became a satellite facility used to house young offenders. The continued escapes from the site however, meant that it was no longer suitable. Part of Camp Toccoa then became occupied by the Patterson Pump Company.
Camp Toccoa now.
But now, Camp Toccoa has taken on a new legacy. That of preservation. The greatest legacy that can be given to generations to come. In 2012, Camp Toccoa at Currahee, a not-for-profit foundation was formed. The prime objective of the foundation is to ensure that the lives and contributions of those who trained at Camp Toccoa during World War II, live on. I chatted with the staff at Camp Toccoa, to learn more about their work.
Can you please give me a few words on who you are, and your role at Camp Toccoa?
My name is George Smith, and I am a Treasurer and Volunteer at Camp Toccoa at Currahee, Inc. I am a veteran, and my wife is also a volunteer, father was a WWII veteran too. Camp Toccoa at Currahee, Inc is what is known as a ‘501C3 not for profit cooperation’. Any contributions that are made are considered donations to a charity and are tax deductible.
The organisation is an all-volunteer organisation, with no paid employees. Almost all volunteers and officers are veterans or are related to veterans. In addition to me, the 2023 Officers are – Cynthia Brown – Chair; Gary Bellamy – President; Patrick Hall – Vice President and Michelle Oglesby – Secretary.
Could you share a few words on current projects?
We are currently working on the 501st PIR building as well as Project C 47.
What is your aim for the Camp?
The aim of the camp is to preserve, celebrate, honour, educate, promote, protect and co strict in order to ensure that the legacy of our WWII veterans continues.
The mission statement can be found at this link – Camp Mission Statement
How do you fundraise?
There are many ways to fundraiser. Here are just a few. D Day celebration with a banquet on the Friday preceding D Day and a 10K Up and Down Currahee on Sat morning before D Day. There is an on-going sale of Project C47 bricks.
Donations come in regularly which are always gratefully received. Sales in the Camp Toccoa at Currahee Inc gift shop that is located in the last remaining building from Camp Toccoa, add to the funds.
Each weekend, when the camp is open for visitors and when groups visit during the week, are great fundraisers. When the facilities are rented out, that can be a good fundraiser too.
What events do you hold?
- D Day banquet
- D Day run
- Bike ride
- Military group visits
- School group visits
- Family visits
- Open to visitors on weekends
Do the relatives of WWII veterans have input into your projects?
Check out our website
The Camp Toccoa Website has history of the Camp, as well as lots of photos of our projects. It contains details on renting facilities and how to make donations.
The other thing to remember is
Visitors to the camp are able to run /walk or bike Currahee. Visitors inform the volunteers working that they have walked, run or biked Currahee and receive a bracelet that says “CURRAHEE! 3 MILES UP 3 MILES DOWN”. Visitors who make motorised vehicle trips up or down Currahee Mountain are not awarded the bracelet.
But what does Camp Toccoa mean to others?
Working at Camp Toccoa is just one aspect of the site. I wondered how it felt to put feet on the soil there, to be in the camp that Easy Company and so many others trained at. To find out, I went straight to the source. The Veterans Families.
Marianne Malarkey McNally, daughter of Easy Company Technical Sergeant Donald Malarkey, went to Toccoa in October 2021. Marianne said “Hard to believe I have never been there. We fell in love with the town. Now we are going back again and this time I will be speaking at military weekend. Excited and nervous at the same time.”
Debi Raff, granddaughter of Staff Sergeant Bill Guarnere, says that a visit is most definitely on her bucket list.
Chris Langlois, grandson of Eugene Roe, Easy Company’s medic explained ” While my grandfather didn’t join Easy Company until right after Toccoa, it nonetheless holds a special place for me. Many of the heroes who served with Roe started there, trained there, and surely, they shared blood, sweat and tears there. Toccoa and Sobel gave Easy Company the foundation that has help make it world-renown. Not only do you get to visit, you get to literally walk in their footsteps.
The efforts of so many to keep Toccoa alive with the museum and barracks restoration is to be honoured. For without them, the history and memories fade away, forever lost to the next generations who need to know the caliber of men who left Toccoa to fight and die for America.
I also caught up with Frank Gubbels who is a battlefield guide. He said “I first visited Toccoa in August 2016. Not only because I knew it from the famous miniseries Band of Brothers, but also because one of the units (38th Signal Battalion) that bivouacked in my hometown (Noorbeek, The Netherlands) trained there.
I also wanted to do research for my battlefield tours. The most important reason however was to be in the footsteps of PVT. Paul R. Carter who had served in A Company 506th P.I.R. 101st Airborne Division. I adopted his grave at the American cemetery in Margraten, The Netherlands. I wanted to understand what tough training he went through right after he joined from civilian life. I had no clue it would affect me so much. Being in his footsteps made me feel even more thankful, but also determined that we must never forget the sacrifices made by these young heroes.”
Stephen Ambrose once said, “In those three years the men had seen more, endured more, and contributed more than most men can see, endure or contribute in a lifetime.” If the work at Camp Toccoa teaches our next generation about that contribution that the men made, what a legacy that is.