Patton 'Bested' at the Battle of Bermuda Bridge

Article excerpt

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BANG! The sharp rapport of a .50 caliber machine gun broke the stillness of the hot, humid Louisiana afternoon, freezing Maj. Gen. George S. Patton Jr.'s Blue army convoy in its tracks. Reconnaissance had shown that this portion of the Cane River was friendly territory, but they were under attack.

One of the scouts scampered up a tree and peered across the river through his binoculars at Oakland Plantation. When he saw an Army patrol car at a small store by the bridge, he assumed it was an advance party from the Red army, only to have his suspicions confirmed when another loud shot almost knocked him out of the tree. The Blue army returned fire with rifles and machine guns and the Battle of Bermuda Bridge was on.

In front of their family plantation's general store, the three Prud'homme boys--Alphonse, 14; Kenneth, 12 and Mayo, 9--excitedly reloaded their new carbide-gas, foot-long toy cannon. This was the most fun they'd had in ages!

"What were we thinking?" said Kenneth. "Shoot again! Shoot again! Look it here. Look at what we've got going on."

It was Sept. 26, 1941, and the boys were about to become a footnote to history, forever known in Natchitoches (pronounced knack-o-dish), La., as the only force who had ever defeated Patton, later liberator of North Africa and savior of Bastogne.

He was in the area with about 400,000 other Soldiers, including Col. Dwight D. Eisenhower and Brig. Gen. Omar Bradley, for the Louisiana maneuvers. Designed to test equipment, agility, mobility and leadership before America's expected entry into World War II, the maneuvers were the first-ever, large-scale Army war games, conducted over 3,400 square miles in east Texas and northwest Louisiana. The maneuvers also led to the founding of Camp Polk, La., now Fort Polk and the home of the Joint Readiness Training Center.

"In those days the vegetation was so thick on both sides (of the river) that you really couldn't see, but we heard (a military car) stop almost directly across from the store," Kenneth remembered. "It wasn't long before we saw somebody sneaking through the underbrush, coming to the river with binoculars."

The Soldier then climbed up a tree, Kenneth said, and peered through his binoculars to get a better look at the Prud'homme's side of the river.

"We had a little carbide cannon, called a big-bang cannon, with us, so we just fired a shot at him to see what would happen and really got his attention. He bailed out of the tree and went flying back down the road in a cloud of dust," said Kenneth.

"I don't know how far he had to go downriver ... to meet up with the rest of the troops who were advancing," he continued. "It wasn't long after we fired the first shot that they were back with quite a few infantry troops or riflemen. They started shooting back at us and when they'd shoot, we'd shoot back."

The battle raged for about half an hour, with the Blue army firing blanks, setting up smoke screens and bringing in a .155 howitzer to defend against what they thought was a large Red army force. Alphonse Prud'homme, the boys' father, and a field hand named Jesse "Chippy" Williams joined in the excitement, setting off firecrackers in addition to the cannon. Kenneth recalled that the firecrackers had sounded like .50 caliber machine guns.

An umpire finally came to investigate (impartial Army officers observed each engagement and determined the victor) and discovered the "enemy" holding up their 500-car convoy was in fact three young boys. …