By Jody Brumage
In December 1961, four members of West Virginia's congressional delegation made visits to soldiers at Fort Meade in Maryland and Camp Pickett in Blackstone, Virginia. Their visit came after President Kennedy called for several West Virginia units to be moved from reserve to active duty in response to escalating tension in Germany between the Soviet Union and the western allied powers. The "Berlin Crisis" raised fears of a new explosion of violence in the Cold War when the Soviet Union ordered the withdraw of western forces from the city of Berlin in June 1961. By the end of the year, the crisis resulted in the partitioning of the city between east and west, divided by the formidable Berlin Wall.
Arriving at Fort Meade, Senators Randolph and Byrd visited with officers and soldiers in training, having lunch with them in the mess hall and helping to decorate a Christmas tree. The following day, Senator Byrd and Congressman Bailey met with officers and soldiers and observed field exercises at Camp Pickett. Both visits were extensively photographed, the prints of which are now preserved in the archives at the Byrd Center.
The delegation's visits of December 19 and 20, 1961 were not devised merely as a holiday greeting to boost the morale of the soldiers, however. Rumors of mistreatment, lack of leave or visitation, and poor rations were circulating among the press in West Virginia, leading constituents to write their congressional representatives. The senators and congressmen made a point to interview soldiers directly during their visits at Fort Meade and Camp Pickett to collect their first-hand accounts of life in the bases, an aspect of the trip that was captured in several photographs.
Click on the images below to view more photographs from the delegation's visit to Fort Meade and Camp Pickett in 1961.