WORLD WAR II - LOUISIANA MANEUVERS
Battlefield of Louisiana
The Louisiana Maneuvers (August - September 1941) were the prelude to the greatest war the world has ever seen, World War II, and led to the birth of Camp Polk. The maneuvers were called the "Big One" because it involved upwards of a half million men engaged in simulated combat. It included 19 Divisions and was the largest such military exercise ever held on the US Continent.
This maneuver was not without casualties with 26 men documented as losing their lives in our area. First recorded casualty was a soldier struck and killed by lightening. Sabine River was the scene of several drownings. There were casualties from motorcycle wrecks and vehicle accidents. Records reveal that one soldier succumbed to a heart attack at age 24. All in all, a very small percentage of men lost their lives when one considers the magnitude of the military exercise.
After Germany invaded Poland on September 1, 1939, the act that started WWII, some of America's leaders recognized the possibility of American involvement in a general war. Military expansion was under way and the Army began looking for suitable places to hold large military exercises. The Army was impressed with the hundreds of square miles of relatively unpopulated countryside in Louisiana.
Assigned the task of finding a suitable training area for the gigantic maneuvers, General Leslie McNair and Colonel Mark Clark actually took a Louisiana road map to lay out the assembly and maneuver area. It encompassed over 3400 square miles and extended from the Sabine River, east to the Calcasieu River and north to the Red River.
The maneuvers were a trial run for war battles between two armies and were judged by such top Army officers as Major Gen. George Patton, Gen. Krueger, along with Col. Dwight Eisenhower and viewed by the US Army's top General and Chief of Staff, Gen. Omar Bradley. Gen. George Marshall said before the end of the exercise: "I want the mistakes made down in Louisiana, not over in Europe. If it doesn't work, find out what we need to make it work."
Louisiana was the proving ground for the coming age of mechanism, tanks against the horse cavalry. It also tested how the horse cavalry could cope on this "Modern" battlefield. Each morning, sick call was held for the horses as well as for
The Cavalry "moving on" after coping on the modern battlefield of the
Louisiana "Big One"
As tanks and infantry of the 2nd and 3rd Armies moved toward the front lines of the training exercise, the Army used its new parachute troops for the first time (September 17, 1941). Paratroops, 127 men and equipment ejected from 13 fighter-protected transport planes and landed in a Louisiana cotton patch to train in executing destructive missions like those to be carried out in Europe. The surprise attack took only 17 minutes.
A week before the maneuvers a hurricane struck Louisiana. Rains had flooded the area and rivers were swollen with water. Army trucks became stuck in the mud and roads became practically impassable because of the mud. Patton's observation of the maneuver resulted in his statement: "If you could take these tanks through Louisiana, you could take them through hell."
One humorous story is told about Patton. A frustrated M.P. was directing traffic at an intersection in a town north of DeRidder. The M.P. was unable to unsnarl the jam until Gen. Patton appeared and started cussing and raising hell. The traffic jam then began unwinding at this same intersection where mass was being observed in a Catholic Church. Gen. Patton, with all his cussing and loud outburst was about to completely disrupt the church service. The priest finally decided something had to be done. He came from the church and told Gen. Patton to hush up the obnoxious outbursts while his church was in session. Patton apologized for his actions, turned the traffic control back over to the M.P. saluted the priest and headed south with the advancing 2nd Armored Division.
During one of the mock invasions in a move that was strictly "Patton" the General bought up all the gasoline along Hwy 171 southward from Many. When Gen. Kreuger brought his Red Army across the Sabine River to invade the Blue Army territory there was no gasoline left and the maneuvers came to a halt. It is not known if the story is true or not, but it is interesting.
George Patton (r) colorful General, during
the Louisiana Maneuvers
Many of the locals were happy to have the military guests in our area. Bivouac areas were prepared in front yards and gardens of the locals. Some men sneaked fresh water to the soldiers who only had rations to eat. Housewives baked bread along with tea cakes that were sold to the soldiers. Others did laundry and pressed clothes for the men. It was amusing to the locals that some of the soldiers actually did not know that milk was milked from cows before it was bottled.
Western Louisiana's economy flourished when more than $11 million was issued to the troops during the Labor Day weekend. It was no longer a rural Southern community with open range sheep farming, sugar cane fields, some cotton, a cotton gin, and heavily dependent upon the lumber industry along with some illicit production of moonshine in the backwoods.
After the "Big One," other Louisiana maneuvers were held through 1944.
A fascinating fact is that a maneuver of 1943 brought Major Gen. Stonewall Jackson through our area. He was a warrior of WW I who happened to be the namesake of the Gen. Stonewall Jackson who had been accidentally wounded by his own men in Chancellorsville, Virginia, during the Civil War. While observing maneuvers, the Major General was injured in a plane wreck in the Florien area. He succumbed at Camp Polk to injuries from the crash and received a hero's burial in Washington D. C.
Unique military artifacts and items from the Louisiana Maneuver era are on display at the War Memorial Civic Center (First USO), located on Hwy 27 (South Pine and 7th Streets).
Major Eisenhower is reputed to have had dinner at the LaCaze home on 4th St.
Provided by: Velmer Lenora Smith, DeRidder Historian