The 99th Infantry Division was activated Nov 16, 1942, at Camp Van Dorn, Miss., and when raw recruits arrived in early December, the picture they viewed was far from rosy. Camp Van Dorn, hastily built as the Army mushroomed in every direction, was a tar paper shanty town sprawled across the red mud of Southern Mississippi.
Men of the division, most of whom came from northern states, not only faced basic training but one of the most miserable winters in years. Both service clubs burned down by Christmas; there was only one small theater for 20,000 men; any town of more than 2000 population was 50 miles distant; besides, there were no busses. Then men had to help dig ditches to drain the camp, build walks, paint signs, and ready the camp for training, which began Jan 4, 1943. The early spring produced more than green grass and blue skies. Men of the 99th began to look like soldiers, to feel the bond that springs from the Checkerboard shoulder patch. Originally planned as a Pennsylvania outfit, the 99th had taken its checkerboard insignia from the city of Pittsburgh’s coat of arms.
Meanwhile, the division underwent the various growing pains of an outfit destined for combat. Prior to its departure for Louisiana Maneuvers in the fall of 1943, Gen. Lauer assumed command.