Piney Woods Journal Correspondent
North Louisiana’s Military Museums Exhibit Mementos of Area’s Participation
One way to tour the great state of Louisiana is to plan stops around a theme. You can visit a selection of state parks, art galleries, or antebellum homes. A number of planned tour routes are available online, including at louisianatravel.com, a site maintained by the states Department of Culture, Recreation and Tourism.
The traveler in north Louisiana might consider a tour of the museums commemorating the state’s contributions to the nation’s military efforts. Four fine museums north of Alexandria form the basis for an excellent themed excursion.
The Louisiana Maneuvers and Military Museum is an often overlooked museum located in Camp Beauregard in Pineville. It preserves the story of the Louisiana Maneuvers war games conducted to prepare hundreds of thousands of troops and their commanders for World War II.
Housed in a replica of a WWII military barracks, the museum pays tribute to the soldiers and civilians involved in the maneuvers with exhibits displaying uniforms, equipment and maneuvers-era armament, with contrasting presentations of horse cavalry next to tanks. Experimentation in new forms of mechanized warfare took place in the maneuvers. here. The Maneuvers performed here revealed Louisiana to be an excellent training environment for America’s armed forces.
Also included are displays of uniforms and equipment dating from the Louisiana colonial days up to the conflicts in the Middle East.
Named after Confederate General Pierre G. T. Beauregard, the camp was established during World War I, training many soldiers who were sent to France to fight during the war. The camp closed after World War I for active use, but National Guard units trained there until it was reactivated as a federal facility in 1940. Today it is used by the Louisiana National Guard as a logistical base and training base for engineer and aviation units.
The Barksdale Global Power Museum is not only a memorial to American success in battle, but a recognition of the many years spent training to deter war. The peacetime history of Barksdale Air Force Base is as significant as those years at war. The outside exhibits include some of the American military’s most famous aircraft, including B-17 and B-24 bombers of World War II; along with the P-51 Mustang. Also displayed are the several versions of the plane Barksdale is best known for, the B-52 Stratofortress as well as the highest and fastest flying jet aircraft ever, the SR-71 Blackbird.
Inside, visitors find six exhibit galleries that tell the story of the Barksdale Air Force Base from its dedication as Barksdale Field in 1933 to the present. Barksdale was named for Lieutenant Eugene Hoy Barksdale, a Mississippi native and U.S. Army Air Corps pilot who lost his life August 11, 1926, while flight testing an observation airplane near Wright Field, Dayton, Ohio.
Barksdale continued to serve as an air training base during World War II, and shortly after the war, became the home of Headquarters Army Air Forces Training Command. New pilots continued to earn their wings as the base was renamed Barksdale Air Force Base in 1947. In 1949 the base began to undergo the transition to a new mission to support Strategic Air Command operations. The activation of 2nd Air Force Headquarters at Barksdale on November 1, 1949, marked the start of a significant role for Barksdale in the development of massive, long-range striking power. In 1957, Barksdale received its B-52s, the aircraft most associated with the base.
Since Barksdale is a functioning military base with some very sensitive areas, certain security precautions are taken. Visitors must enter at the North Gate on Northgate Road and inform security personnel of the intent to visit the museum. Present the driverEs license of everyone over 17 for a quick security check. Your car will be searched. Once cleared you may enter the museum. After you complete your visit, you can retrieve your ID from the guards at the gate.
The North Louisiana Military Museum in Ruston chronicles American conflicts from the Civil War to the present day with an emphasis on local personalities. The nondescript two-story building surrounded by huge pieces of military hardware from helicopters and jets to tracked vehicles and cannons may cause visitors to wonder what awaits inside. They are usually surprised by the awesome collection of militaria that serves to illustrate the close ties between this small community and America’s armed conflicts.
What makes the North Louisiana Military Museum unique is how it tells the story of the response of common men and women when their freedom is threatened. The museum connects real people and every American conflict since the Civil War. It’s not just a collection of guns, uniforms, and other relics, but a history of a community’s willingness to serve.
Many exhibits include a name and a photograph to accompany a uniform full of medals or a weapon. The stories of heroism come alive for many locals when they recognize a soldier, sailor, airman, or Marine as the same man or woman they see at church or the grocery store.
One of the local heroes honored with a large exhibit is Navy Commander Guy Bordelon. Bordelon received the highest military decoration of any local serviceman. He was awarded the Navy Cross, the nation’s second highest medal for valor, for his record as a naval combat pilot in Korea.
Bordelon’s record as a pilot is unique. He was the only U.S. Navy pilot to become an ace in Korea. Flying off the aircraft carrier U.S.S. Princeton, Bordelon was credited with shooting down five enemy planes. All Bordelon’s kills came at night – the only Korean War pilot with such a record.
Commander Bordelon is just one of many faces this museum places on the men of war. The enemy is given a face, too. There are manikins in Japanese and North Vietnamese uniforms. Nazi weapons and medals from World War II are displayed. The Chennault Aviation & Military Museum’s story began in 1986 when those who trained at Selman Field during World War II and their descendants held their first reunion. Attendees vowed to work with the City of Monroe to establish a repository of Selman Field artifacts and memorabilia.
A museum was opened in 2000 in one of the last remaining World War II-era buildings used by the Air ‘Corps ‘largest largest school for flight navigators. The museum has grown to encompass more of the rich aviation and military history of Northeast Louisiana. The museum gives honor to all our U.S. veterans, and features exhibits on all wars from World War I through Iraq and Afghanistan.
Featured prominently in the museum is the story of General Claire Chennault who grew up locally and commanded the famed “Flying Tigers” in China during World War II. Chennault is still a hero to the Chinese and the museum has developed connections with China leading to many international visitors to the facility. Chennault’s granddaughter is director of the museum.
Check the websites or Facebook pages of the museums for details for planning your visit.
Louisiana Maneuvers and Military Museum; Camp Beauregard, 409 F Street, Pineville, Open Monday-Friday 9:00-5:00.
North Louisiana Military Museum; 201 Memorial Drive, Ruston, Open Tuesday-Saturday 10:00-4:00 pm.
Barksdale Global Power Museum; Barksdale AFB, 88 Shreveport Road, Bossier City, Open Daily 9:30-4:30.
Chennault Aviation and Military Museum; 701 Kansas Lane, Monroe, Open Tuesday-Saturday 9:00-4:00 pm.
Wesley Harris is a native of Ruston who writes extensively on Reconstruction era crime. His books include Greetings From Ruston: A Post Card History of Ruston, Louisiana and Neither Fear nor Favor: Deputy United States Marshal John Tom Sisemore, available from amazon.com. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Check out his Louisiana history blog at http://diggingthepast.blogspot.com