Heart of Louisiana: Louisiana Maneuvers

PINEVILLE, LA (WVUE) - Before the United States declared war and joined the battles of World War II, the state of Louisiana was hosting a massive war game.  The Army's practice field stretched from one corner of the state to the other, with the center of activity near Alexandria.  FOX 8's Dave McNamara has that story in tonight's Heart of Louisiana.

It was 1941. The German war machine was invading its European neighbors and America was rebuilding its army. Months before Pearl Harbor and a declaration of war, the Army launched its own invasion into the forests, fields and rolling hills of Central Louisiana.

"So it was almost an Orson Welles War of the Worlds kind of thing, and that you can imagine communication at that point was very small, so some people did not even realize this was happening until it showed up at their front door," said Richard Morna, director of a museum Camp Beauregard in Pineville.

New military camps sprang up almost overnight near Alexandria.  A total of 472,000 troops arrived for the largest war game in American history.

"We lived on the edge of town, and I used to watch the Army trucks go by and the tanks go by and always see the airplanes fly over," said museum volunteer Don Armand.

Armand was in high school at the time and loved airplanes. He kept a scrapbook and he  built model aircraft.

"I knew all of the different types - the fighters, bombers, attack bombers," he said.

Armand joined the Air Force during the war and became a pilot.

Randy Wilson, a young teenager-turned-entrepreneur, delivered newspapers and offered shoe shines to the troops.

"A dime looked like a silver dollar," Wilson said. "You see, we got after it quick because we'd be able to get an RC and a Stage Plank for 15 cents."

The story of the Louisiana maneuvers is told in the museum at Camp Beauregard.  It's housed in a replica of a WWII barracks. You can see how two massive fighting units - the red army and the blue army - clashed in an imaginary battle in Central Louisiana.

The maneuvers were about more than just training soldiers how to fight. This is also where Army generals were field-testing their new strategies for a possible war with the Germans.

"We were doing everything from that point to practicing amphibious warfare, command-and-control, logistics, actually maneuvering field armies through terrain practicing for Europe," Moran said.

Among the commanders in Louisiana were Dwight Eisenhower and Gen. George Patton.

The armies practiced moving supplies and fuel.  They built and maintained a railroad to move heavy equipment. And they developed strategies for coordinating their air forces, tanks and ground troops.

"The idea of that are corps would operate a little more independently than they had in World War I," Moran said. "We were getting out of the idea of static warfare and more into mobile and fluid warfare."

And as America prepared for war, a local teenager was selling newspapers to passing tanks.

"I could roll the paper and the man in the gun turret could reach down and get it, you know," Wilson said. "Because I needed the dime and he wanted the news."

And soldiers' lives were probably saved by the practice and preparation that took place here in 1941.

For museum hours and information, click here.

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