Missouri army camp trained celebrities

Michael Bushnell
Northeast News

Camp Crowder in Neosho, originally established as an Army Signal Corps training camp, was made famous by a variety of celebrities who spent time there during World War II. The camp was named for native Missourian Major General Enoch Crowder, who authored the Selective Service Act, establishing the draft in World War I. The camp opened during one of the rainiest spring seasons on record and was quickly nicknamed “Camp Swampy” by the men who trained there.

That name would ultimately stick for Historic Northeast native Mort Walker (1923-2018,) who used Crowder as the prototype for his army camp in his comic strip Beatle Bailey. Dick Van Dyke, who also spent time at Camp Crowder in the early 1940s, went on to use the camp in Episode 70 of his hit TV show of the early 1960s. Van Dyke’s character, Rob Petrie, invites an old army pal home to dinner and begins to fear he has a jewel thief on his hands. The episode originally aired Nov. 6, 1961. Rob’s buddy was played by native Kansas Citian Allen Melvin, who, in one of his more visible roles, played Sam the Butcher on The Brady Bunch.

The army closed Camp Crowder in the early 1960s. Some of its original buildings were demolished or dismantled and used elsewhere in Missouri. The theater building was actually reconstructed on the University  of Missouri-Kansas City campus and used until it was razed in the 1980s to make way for a new theater.

The remaining buildings on the base were used by a variety of public and private entities throughout the duration of the Cold War. Roughly 2,000 acres of the 46,000-acre tract was used during the 1950s and 60s as a rocket engine plant, where engines were manufactured for NASA’s Mercury and Gemini Space programs.
Ultimately, the base was closed and the land was parceled out to various public and private entities. Crowder College currently occupies a number of the original buildings on the base, as does the Missouri National Guard.

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