The Real Camp Swampy
Reading what we called the “funny papers” was a Sunday tradition when I was growing up. We all took turns with the comics, sometimes spreading them out on the floor. At an early age some of the humor escaped me but there were always a few comic strips I could grasp and one of them was Mort Walker’s Beetle Bailey. Probably everyone who’s ever read the comics knows about Private Beetle Bailey and his Army life at Camp Swampy. What many don’t realize, however, is Camp Swampy came out of Mort Walker’s past and dates back to the time when he was a young soldier stationed at Camp Crowder in Neosho, Missouri during World War II.
Most of Camp Crowder (which briefly grew up into Fort Crowder before the post was deactivated) is just a memory but the “Crowder area” adjacent to the small town of Neosho is now home to a community college, the local Y, several industries, a Bicentennial Park with hiking and horseback trails, and apartments. The Missouri National Guard still owns a portion of the former Army post and they still do military maneuvers on site.
I attended my first two years of college at Crowder College which includes two of the former administration buildings. Renovations and additions have expanded the campus since my time but back then it was easy to imagine the soldiers who once went about their daily duties in the same space. I wrote a series of articles for the campus newspaper, The Sentry, about the remnants of the former Army post. With my photographer at my side, we backtracked out into the vast empty spaces gone to scrub brush to see one of the old theaters, what remained of a PX, the train station platform, and more. A lot of the areas where we went are now fenced off and restricted but the experience fired my imagination. Learning Camp Crowder was nicknamed “Camp Swampy” by some of the earliest arrivals and that Mort Walker was one of several celebrities stationed there just added more fuel to the fire.
My just released and first full length historical romance novel, In The Shadow of War, is set in Neosho and my heroine – schoolteacher Bette Sullivan – falls for a soldier from Camp Crowder. After writing those articles for the college newspaper and penning several non-fiction pieces about the former Camp Crowder over the years, I enjoyed writing fiction. I researched Camp Crowder online, visited the small but amazing museum on the college campus dedicated to the Army years, and even drew on the stories I heard from my grandfather and uncles who served during World War II. I also headed “out to Crowder” as locals say and visited the sites which remain accessible.
Here’s the blurb for In The Shadow of War:
Her great-granddaughter wants to know if Bette remembers World War II for a school project and her questions revive old memories….
Small town school teacher Bette Sullivan’s life was interrupted when the Japanese bomb Pearl Harbor on December 7th 1941 but her world changed forever when she met Private Benny Levy, a soldier from the Flatbush neighborhood in Brooklyn, New York stationed at Camp Crowder, the local Army base.
Their attraction is immediate and mutual but as their relationship grows their love and lives are shadowed by World War II. As the future looms uncertain the couple comes together with almost desperate need and a powerful love they hope can weather anything, including the war.
And of course I’m sharing the beautiful, nostalgic cover Carl J. Franklin, our Rebel cover artist did for me.