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Heart of Louisiana: Fort Polk

Updated: Jun. 1, 2021 at 9:45 PM CDT
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LEESVILLE, La. (WVUE) - Central Louisiana has had a strong military training operation since the 1940s from World War II through the global war on terror. You can see that Army history on display at the Fort Polk Museum near Leesville.

These soldiers are training for rapid deployment and fighting global terrorism and they’re doing it at Fort Polk. They are the latest in a long line of troops who have trained here for 80 years, going back to 1940 in the months leading up to the U.S. joining World War II. Today’s training is a far cry from the Army of 1940, an ill-equipped fighting force that still relied on horses and mules. The transition from hoofs to trucks happened here.

“They tested the abilities of armor, the abilities to move with vehicles instead of using horses to pull artillery,” says Brad Laffitte.

During 1940 and 1941, a half million soldiers with tanks and airplanes converged on this state to take part in the Louisiana maneuvers, the largest ever U.S. military exercise. And the war games were not confined to what is now the Fort Polk property. This spread across most of the central part of the state.

“There’s a red army and a blue army. And the red army started to the north. The blue army was in the south part and they were trying to contend for control of the Mississippi,” says Laffitte.

The museum at Fort Polk traces the history of this military base with weapons, displays, photographs and uniforms.

“We show weapons that the U.S. Army Infantry Squad would have used during World War II and the German Infantry Squad, 30 caliber machine gun, but it’s heavy. It’s a heavy weapon and it takes three people to actually carry that,” says Greg Grant.

A German POW who ended up in Louisiana has his uniform in this museum.

“Was worn by a soldier in the Africa corps under General Rommel, Field Marshal Rommel,” says Grant.

Fort Polk was reactivated in the 1950s to train soldiers for Korea and again in the 1960s and 1970s for Vietnam. And today it’s the Army’s joint readiness training center with advanced training for some of our allies and troops being deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan. It’s been a proving ground for some of our greatest generals and to four generations of soldiers on the front lines of combat.

Fort Polk is one of ten military bases named after Confederate officers that is likely to undergo a name change.

For more on the Fort Polk Museum and Louisiana military history, visit HeartofLouisiana.com.

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