Article excerpt

In September 1939 when German divisions blasted through Poland, crushing the Polish military with such ease and rapidity that it sent an alarm throughout the world, a new word was born: blitzkrieg - lightning war.

One week later, President Franklin D. Roosevelt declared a limited national emergency and ordered a complete overhaul of all Army units. This military buildup required large training bases. Thousands of acres of unused or thinly populated land in western Louisiana and eastern Texas were selected to be used for Army camps and wide-scale maneuvers.

GEN George C. Marshall, Army Chief of Staff, believed in "learning by doing" and established a series of training tactics that split the Army into opposing forces called Reds and Blues. This allowed the two sides to attack and defend against each other. Called maneuvers, these mock battles were fought in the swamps of Louisiana and the Piney Woods of East Texas. Both sides quickly discovered, however, that their toughest foes were the mosquitoes, ticks, ants, flies and other insects indigenous to the areas.

My family owned a county store at Fords Corner in East Texas, where Highway 8 (running north from Branson) intersected Highway 21 (running west to east, connecting San Augustine, Texas, to Many, La.). At one point, the two forces were engaged in a vicious mock encounter in our area, and the Red army was camped all around, placing our store in the crossfire of action. The Reds had weapons strategically located to blanket the highway intersection.

Joined by my friend, Burnice Blackstock, we raced from one gun emplacement to the next. Not wanting to miss anything, we were right on the spot when a Blue half-track suddenly topped the hill to the south. The Reds were ready and opened up with all their firepower. The Blues realized they were under fire, swerved off the highway, roared through a fence, bounced across a cow pasture and returned fire. But the counteroffensive was too late: A maneuver umpire was right there and declared the Blues dead and the half-track destroyed.

Burnice and I were still burning with excitement when intelligence arrived that a large unit of Blues was on Highway 21 traveling west from Louisiana. That put them on a collision course with Fords Corner and put us in the center of action again.

The trajectory of all Red firepower was realigned to the east, and new foxholes were dug.

Burnice and I were surprised when a captain called us over. …