240th M.P. Bn. - FDR's Ornaments
Article about: I recently attended a World War II reenactment at the Home of Franklin D. Roosevelt and Presidential Library in Hyde Park, New York. I met a group of National Park Service employees who are
240th M.P. Bn. - FDR's Ornaments
I recently attended a World War II reenactment at the Home of Franklin D. Roosevelt and Presidential Library in Hyde Park, New York. I met a group of National Park Service employees who are putting together a reenactment group to represent the 240th Military Police Battalion. The 240th was stationed at FDR's estate in Hyde Park for the purpose of "Guarding the person of the President of the United States, his family and his property."
The gentlemen I spoke to were gracious enough to invite me to join their 240th MP Battalion. Since then, I have been diligently researching the real 240th and putting together my impression. My first event with the 240th is June 21!
The 240th M.P. Bn. is perhaps most famous for "The Diary of an Ornament at Hyde Park", a ~30 page memoir written by "Private 32916555".
32916555 (Garrett Wilcox) was a 35 year old draftee... an ex retail salesman from New Jersey who was above average in height and intelligence. As such, he was hand selected to be a member of FDR's personal guard.
Although hand selected, it appears that the men of the 240th M.P. Bn. were never screened based on their political ideals... 32916555 was a staunch Republican and held FDR and his politics in contempt!
32916555 knew Hyde Park was safer than a combat post overseas, and he regretted his position! He felt that he was not making a positive contribution to the war effort and that the "real men" were overseas! If anything, 32916555 felt that the entire battalion was being wasted at Hyde Park and that most of what they did was frivolous!
As you can imagine, "The Diary of an Ornament at Hyde Park" is a very interesting read, especially if you like satire!
If you have ~30mins to spare, check out the diary:
"Diary of an Ornament at Hyde Park" by Garrett C. Wilcox Diary - 32916555
Last edited by GIZMO8Z; 06-05-2014 at 04:59 PM.
Interesting. I wasn't aware of the unit.
Most don't know about the 240th, Steve. If you get a moment, read the diary!
Wow, found this via Google...my dad, Richard Q Becker, (1917-1985), was a PFC in the 240th and served at Hyde Park in this unit! I grew up listening to his stories as bedtime stories...can't wait to read "Ornament"...he too felt as if he were "out of harm's way" due to being tall and good-looking in dress uniform and puttees...but the 240th was shipped over to Reconstruction Japan after V-J, and were stationed midway between Hiroshima and Nagasaki for awhile. My dad, from a spectacularly long-lived family, died at age 69 of an unclassifiable leukemia that his hem/oncologist acknowledged might have resulted from being a "radioactive vet," so he may have lost some years to his service in the end. We have his sharpshooter pistols (now adorning a jacket of his 19-year-old granddaughter, who knows their history!) and other insignia, plus letters and other ephemera.
Wow, what luck that I posted this yesterday and you found it today!
I'm glad I could share the "Ornaments" diary with you!
If you're willing, I think I can speak for the unit commander of our reenactment group in saying that we would love to see the items you have! We are always looking for resources that will help our impression be more authentic!
Incredible that you posted that yesterday! I was wondering what my dad would've been doing on D-Day--probably fighting off tedium per the "Ornaments" diary! What an amazing, hilarious account by a guy he surely knew. My father, too, had to pass the IQ and "6-foot-tall" test--and he too felt keenly the unit's insulation from seeing action. His recollections included:
...passing long nightime hours on duty in the moonlight by "siccing" two spiders on each other to see them fight
...attending a Christmas party in the library. Was it the one described here in 1943? My dad described a scene almost identical, including Eleanor's stage-managing and FDR's ghastly appearance; but he also recalled the MPs lining up to receive the present of a handkerchief. So it may have been the following Christmas, FDR's last, in 1944, which he also spent at Hyde Park; my dad recalled when he got up to the president, FDR turned his head to speak to someone behind his wheelchair and one could clearly see pancake makeup ending near his collar and a deathly pallor beneath it.
...guarding FDR's grave in the Rose Garden. Not as dull an assignment as you'd think; apparently a delusional little old Japanese (or Japanese-American) man kept escaping from the nearest mental hospital and sneaking onto the grounds to try to disinter FDR and 'bring him back to life.'
After V-J day, my dad and some of his unit went to Reconstruction Japan, where he was astounded by the warmth of the Japanese people and the trust of the children. He died at 69 from an unclassifiable leukemia; he spent at least some time in the region between Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and although we will never know whether or not he or any other members of the 240th were "radioactive vets," it is possible that he was. Unlike this writer, he held no animus against FDR or the Roosevelts, although he could barely speak of Eleanor without a rueful eye-roll. A rather aimless young man from a Manhattan family of artists and musicians, my dad through his experience in the 240th--for all its tedium and surrealism--grew into a mature, resourceful and compassionate man...one who would tell his daughter bedtime stories about wartime Hyde Park during the "Wonder Years" of the 1960s.
I will dig around and see what I can find in terms of memorabilia etc. I didn't know there were re-enactors for the unit! Very cool.
Amazing! Thank you so much for sharing your father's recollections!.
As you can imagine, when FDR passed away, the 240th's purpose at Hyde Park became null and void. Most most of the men transferred to other posts almost immediatly save for a few who stayed to stand guard over FDR's grave. Since you mentioned that your father stood guard in the rose garden, he must have not been a part of the first group of M.P.s to leave.
Our reenactment group is small. I am only the 4th member to join up. Our first event was this past Memorial Day and our next will be on June 21 in the visitor's center on the estate grounds. I will be sure to mention our conversation to the other guys in the unit! Any additional resources you could provide would be an immense help in making us more legitimate!
Have you ever been to Hyde Park? The grounds of the estate are beautiful!
Very cool, Joe--maybe I could get up there on the 21st. We went up to Hyde Park when I was young and again with my daughter some 8 years or so ago to see where her dad served. My one recollection of my dad's uniform as he described it was the "puttees" (ankle coverings) they wore for dress review!
Not sure if this was at Hyde Park or even whether it was before or after my dad was assigned to the 240th...it may even have been in Japan, judging from the style of building in the background. Hm, tried to upload a photo and it doesn't seem to show.
Don't get me started on the M38 leggings! Perhaps the most annoying thing we wear!
You're right... That building in the background does look Asian. Thank you so much for sharing this info with me! If it's ok, could you share your fathers name with me via private message? It would be nice to look him up in our archives.
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