Beautiful is a favorite location for many sport fisherman, surfers, and photographers. Located west of the historic on the ocean, Camp Hero is now a New York State Park consisting of just over 415 acres of State park land.
Camp Hero is named after Gen. Andrew Hero, the Army's chief of coastal artillery in the 1920s and 1930s.After Pearl Harbor December 7, 1941 Camp Hero was built and opened in 1942, as part of the coastal defense network guarding American shores against attack by Nazi Germany.
The fear at the time was principally in the form of the German U-boats that were in the Atlantic Ocean spotted not far from the United States Coast. A series of tunnels were designed to connect the four 16-inch and two 6-inch guns that were set up in huge concrete bunkers on bluffs overlooking the eastern shore facing the ocean.
Also deployed were anti-aircraft and machine gun emplacements. The fort had many spotting towers that were manned 24 hours a day. Photos of the grounds showed it to be of short grass and rolling hills unlike the shrubs and many growing trees caused by the unfettered growth of the last 25 years. At its peak during the Second World War, a garrison ( 600 men and 37 officers) was stationed at Camp Hero.
The camp was designed to look like a fishing village to fool enemy aircraft. It’s hard to believe that was the thinking at the time, but the U.S. was worried about an attack that never came other than the famous U boat landing of the German men to blow up Grand Central Station. The big guns were never fired in hostility, although there are some still living in Montauk who remember the test firings, which according to legend shattered windows all over town.
After World War Two, Camp Hero played a role in the cold war. With the perceived threat being from a Soviet air attack, Camp Hero became one of the first three radar sites established on the Northeastern coast. That was around 1948. In 1951, Camp Hero was renamed the Montauk Air Force Station. Its official function was to be part of a nationwide early warning radar system. For thirty years the Air Force used sophisticated radar and tracking equipment that was set up at the base –with names like AN/CPS-5, AN/TPS-10A, FPS-20, AN/FPS-5.
At the end of the Eisenhower Administration in 1960, the first AN/FPS-35 fixed-surveillance radar system the remnants that you still see today was installed at the site. The radar was Sperry-built and the cage like structure still stands overlooking the ocean, atop the remains of a seven-story control building. The oblong-shaped screen was capable of tracking objects 200 miles away. When built it was one of the largest in the country being 120 feet wide and 50 feet high. To this day many at sea see the radar tower from out at sea before they see anything else. During the Cuban Missile Crisis of President John F. Kennedy’s Administration the radar and tracking systems played a prominent role, but within ten years the base became obsolete. In 1978 the slow process of closing down the base began and concluded in the official closing in 1981. The last commander of the base was Maj. Miles Martin. Under his direction the base staffing was around120 military personnel and civilians working as opposed to the Cold War-era high of 206 in the mid sixties. The base-closing ceremony was in November 1980. When plans surfaced to convert the base into a development, Larry Penny, now East Hampton’s Director of the Department of Natural Resources, lead the fight to turn it into a state park instead.
In 1984, title to the land was transferred to the state. There can not be a history of Camp Hero without mentioning the various theories of possible other activities being done on the grounds involving experiments. In his book titled, “ The Montauk Project," published in 1992, Preston Nichols makes claims that Camp Hero was the center of secret government experiments in time-travel and mind control. A cult of followers now exist who believe there are aliens visiting the park, and that it once possessed a time machine. There was talk of a movie but Mr. Nichols had it stopped because even to his standards the film was too radical. I enjoy the park weekly using the many trails to get exercise and take in the amazing bluffs plus the shoreline with amazing views of the lighthouse. Its had to believe there were once the huge Iowa battleship style guns along with anti-aircraft guns manned around the clock, where people now walk dogs, surf, fish and take great photos. But even before the war the whole area was for cattle grazing so go visit and walk through history.