The Depot

Drive out Route 7 and you’ll come across the Rotterdam Corporate Park. It’s a sprawling complex of warehouses that are home to all sorts of businesses, and if big space is what you need, big space is what they’ve got.

It may not be an inspiring spot these days, but 75 years ago, it was bustling. Known then as the Schenectady General Depot, it was a key part of the massive war effort, a link in the supply chain that supported the most powerful army the world had ever seen.

Day and night, trains would arrive and disgorge the endless supplies of war, everything from trucks and tanks to the most mundane bits of equipment. Then, it would all be sorted and stuffed onto different trains that would speed their cargo to waiting ships at East Coast ports.

But after the war the trains started coming back from the ports with a more precious cargo: the remains of service members on their last trip home.

In 1946, the government gave families the option to have the their fallen loved ones returned to America, rather than remaining buried in the region where they died. Today we’re accustomed to war dead being shipped home; that was not always the case.

The Schenectady General Depot was one of 15 distribution points across America that handled this task. They would receive remains that arrived from either the Brooklyn Army Terminal or Oakland Army Terminal in specially built rail cars. From there, the deceased service members were sent to their final destination. Shorter trips were accomplished with custom built hearses; longer journeys saw the remains, in their flag draped caskets, loaded aboard trains.

On the last leg of the journey, each of the deceased was escorted by a member of the same branch in which they served. These escorts oversaw the final details of transportation and often met with families. When aboard passenger trains, the escorts carried two tickets — one for themselves and one the soldier, sailor or Marine in their charge.

In the years after the war, more that 170,000 servicemen and women came home this way. Schenectady served most of the Northeast, so it had to be a busy place. Many were local boys, like Edward Kalinowski of Hoosick Falls.

Today it’s just another industrial park, but with a little imagination you might conjure up an image of what it was like in World War II. So long ago, when we packed off the tools of war — and then a few years later when its tragic byproduct came rolling on home.

Read more here about the work of repatriating World War II dead.

View the complete records of Edward Kalinowski’s long journey home. This includes documents pertaining to the return of his personal effects, burial and disinterment, and paperwork related to his transit back to Schenectady.

6 responses to “The Depot

  1. interesting, thanks

    • Thanks — if you’re interested, I just added a link to a file at the bottom of the post that shows correspondence and other documents typical of one of these returns.

  2. That’s fascinating.

    Do you have any books or websites you recommend for more about the history of the Depot? My family owns a house bordering it that we’ve been told was officer’s quarters once upon a time, and I’d love to learn more.

    • Jenny — I’ve been having trouble finding information about the depot on the web or locating books or other narratives that discuss serving there. I’m thinking of doing some additional research and if I come across anything, I’ll pass it along. I’m sure a facility map exists, but it may have been classified due to WW II and cold war security needs.

  3. Thanks!
    I heard somewhere that President Carter was stationed there while the army had him attending Union College, but I couldn’t tell you where I heard it.

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