DERIDDER, LA (KPLC) - It was September 1941 and even though the attack of Pearl Harbor was just months away, America was preparing for war. Tens of thousands of soldiers came to central Louisiana to begin training over a 3400 square mile area which included east Texas. Randy Wilson was only thirteen at the time and made the best out of the situation.
"Selling newspapers and shining shoes at all of the camps," said Randy Wilson. "We started out in Beauregard, Livingston, Fort Polk, all the way into east Texas, following the maneuvers wherever they went. I saw 60 to 80 thousand men in the woods at one time."
Randy Wilson's story about selling newspapers to all of the soldiers involved in the Louisiana Maneuvers, is featured here in a book called "the Role of Central Louisiana during the World Wars."
Wilson got a first hand look at the training exercises that featured soon to be famous names like Omar Bradley, George Marshal, Dwight Eisenhower and George Patton.
"We walked in the woods all over Anacoco, Hornbeck, Merryville, Sugartown, Evans, as far west as Jasper, Texas, crossing the Sabine River. The engineers were learning how to build pontoon bridges."
Wilson remembers that towns like DeRidder and Leesville stayed busy as the soldiers sought to relax in the towns in their training area.
"Central Louisiana was very busy with four army camps and the air base. Of course, the men in the woods would get a break and when they got a break, you had to go the way they were going. The streets were full."
In 10 days, it was all over, but in later years Camp Polk and the DeRidder Army Air Base would be established to help in the war effort.