In 1942 the federal government acquired what at the time was a fairly remote parcel of land on Currahee Mountain, five miles outside of Toccoa, Georgia, and began training a new type of soldier, the Paratrooper. The facility was originally named Camp Toombs after a Confederate Civil War General, but it was renamed Camp Toccoa when the commander pointed out that arriving recruits would travel past the Toccoa Casket Company on their way to learn to jump at Camp “Tombs.”
Five thousand men arrived at Camp Toccoa for the rugged program that July; the 1,600 who successfully completed the training became the 506th Parachute Infantry Division (PID) of the U.S. Army’s 101st Airborne Division – the “Easy Company” featured in Steven Spielberg’s award-winning HBO series “Band Of Brothers.” The 17,000 soldiers of the 501st, 506th, 511th, and 517th PID who trained at Camp Toccoa during World War II have also been immortalized in “Saving Private Ryan” and “The Dirty Dozen.”
With the exception of one old building that was a bunk house, the original camp structures have long since been torn down, however camp streets are still visible and are marked by fire hydrants. Four marble pillars at the Airborne Monument mark the original entrance to the camp; each pillar is engraved with the name of one of the regiments that trained at the camp, as well as the number and location of jumps made during the war. But it is the lonely dirt road leading up the mountain that attracts most visitors; they come to make the brutal three mile run up to the top, as every paratrooper who came before had done.
Today the history, artifacts, and accomplishments of these astonishingly brave men are preserved at the Currahee Military Museum, appropriately located in the town’s newly renovated train depot, where all WWII paratroopers arrived before hiking to the camp to begin training. On displays at the museum are medals, photos, maps, weapons, and military uniforms, but it is the old stable that most visitors come to see. Built in Aldbourne, England in 1922, it is one of the actual stables that housed both Able and Easy Companies of the 506th before and after D-Day. Many veterans who had lived in the stables returned to England to visit the site after the war. One by one the stables were torn down, until only one remained. Realizing the historical significance of the structure, the owner offered it to the town of Toccoa, which arranged for it to be disassembled, flown to the U.S., and reassembled inside the museum.
Each October, the town of Toccoa rolls out the red carpet during Currahee Military Weekend. Scheduled for October 2-4, 2009, this year’s event will feature re-enactors, sightseeing flights by the Dixie Wing Commemorative Air Force, musical performances, and lots of food. It attracts veterans of all ages, especially those who trained at the camp during its brief existence, but also paratroopers in general, who indeed consider themselves a Band of Brothers, as demonstrated by the touching video below.
Camp Toccoa may no longer exist, but it lives forever in the hearts and minds of all members of the 101st PID, who to this day still yell “Currahee!” before jumping from a plane.
Photos not otherwise attributed courtesy of Barbara Weibel
Article by Barbara Weibel of Hole In The Donut Travels