Camp Polk, Louisiana
Fort Polk is a United States ARmy installation located in Vernon Parish, 10 miles east of Leesville, Louisiana and 30 miles oath of DeRidder, Louisiana. It was named in honor of the Right Reverend Leonidas Polk, the first Episcopal Bishop of the Diocese of Louisiana, and a distinguished Confederate general in the American Civil War.
The post encompasses 198,000 acres. of this, 100,000 acres are owned by the department of the army and 98,125 acres by the US Forest Service, mostly in the Kisatchie National Forest. Fort Polk is the only combat training center that also trained and deployed combat units. It began as a base for the Louisiana Maneuvers in the 1940s.
Construction of Camp Polk began in 1941. Thousands of wooden barracks sprang up quickly to support an Army preparing to do battle on the North African, European and Pacific fronts. Soldiers at Polk participated in the Louisiana Maneuvers, which were designed to test U.S. troops preparing for World War II.
Until 1939, the Army had mostly been an infantry force with supporting artillery, engineer, and cavalry units. Few units had been motorized or mechanized. As U.S. involvement in World War II became more likely, the Army recognized the need to modernize the service. But it also needed large-scale maneuvers to test a fast-growing, inexperienced force. That is where Fort Polk and the Louisiana Maneuvers came in. The Maneuvers involved half a million soldiers in 19 Army Divisions, and took place over 3,400 square miles (8,800 km2) in August and September 1941. The troops were divided equal armies of two notional countries: Kotmk (Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, Missouri, Kentucky) and Almat (Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Tennessee). These countries were fighting over navigation rights for the Mississippi River.
German POWs . . . While primarily a training facility, Camp Polk also served as a military prison for Germans captured during World War II. The first prisoners of war (POWs), who began arriving in Louisiana in July 1943, were from the Afrika Korps, Field Marshal Erwin Rommel's troops who fought in North Africa. They were housed in a large fenced-in compound in the area now encompassing Honor Field, Fort Polk's parade ground. Finding themselves captured, transported across the ocean, and imprisoned in the middle of summer was made to hurt their spirits.
The POWs picked cotton, cut rice, and cut lumber. They also helped sandbag the raging Red River in the summer of 1944. Prisoners were not forced to work, and some refused. Those who worked earned scrip for their labor, with which they could buy such necessities as toothpaste or snacks at their own Post Exchange.
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