From basic training to basic research -- Brookhaven National Laboratory was formerly the site of the U.S. Army's Camp Upton. Camp Upton was constructed in 1917 as an Army induction and training facility for new soldiers who were to fight in World War I. Camp Upton was one of sixteen cantonments erected across the country. It was named after Major General Emery Upton who served in the Civil War and wrote numerous books on U.S. military policies. The camp operated from 1917 until 1920.
The original cantonment was a tract of land consisting of about 10,000 acres. The property extended from South Country Road (Montauk Highway) on the south, to Middle Country Road on the north. The Carmans River served as the western boundary and the Peconic River bounded the camp to the east. To provide room for rifle ranges, additional land to the north was obtained extending Upton to the Port Jefferson branch of the LIRR. In 1918, the total acreage was approximately 19,990 acres. When the camp was decommissioned some 1,660 buildings had been constructed.
From the inductees, mostly out of New York City, came the nucleus of the famed 77th Infantry Division, which was the first American division composed of draftees to arrive in France in World War I. They fought in the Battle of Chateau-Thierry on July 18, 1918 and on October 2nd, 1918, units of the 77th "Liberty" Division from New York advanced into the dense terrain of the Argonne Forest in France. History was made over the next six days as this unit, the "Lost Battalion", refused to surrender even though they were completely surrounded, constantly attacked, low on ammunition and supplies, had no food or shelter and limited access to water. Of the over 600 men first trapped in the "pocket", only around 200 walked out.
Perhaps the most famous inductee at Camp Upton during World War I was Private Irving Berlin. While at Upton, Berlin was assigned to KP duty until a superior officer allowed him to write and produce a camp show to raise money for a guesthouse. Berlin wrote Yip-Yip-Yaphank, a military musical based on his life at the camp. During a limited run on Broadway, with the blessing of the Army, the show became a hit. God Bless America was originally written for the show, but Berlin decided against using it. In the fall of 1938, Berlin revised the song and it was released by Kate Smith on Armistice Day. Berlin was promoted to Sergeant near the end of the war.
With the war's end, the camp served as a demobilization site for returning veterans. With no further use for the camp, it was deactivated. A public auction was held in 1921 and everything from stoves to complete structures was removed.