Stephen F. Austin State University




Camp Polk during World War II was a busy place! Camp Polk had been established on January 10, 1941 and had been named in honor of Louisiana Episcopal Bishop Leonidas Polk. Camp Polk had been built at a cost of almost 22 million dollars. Thousands of soldiers in all branches of the U.S. Army were training for combat at Camp Polk. Of the U.S. Army's 91 World War II divisions, 48 divisions were trained and went through Camp Polk. And one of the busiest branches was the new Armored Divisions. Camp Polk was used as a training base for several Armored Divisions during the war. Several of these Armored Divisions were actually formed at Camp Polk and after training in the Louisiana piney woods, shipped out to battlefields all across the world. But Leesville and Vernon Parish were not prepared for this giant influx of military personnel. One question on everyone's mind was "where can we get real entertainment for the troops?" Who would have thought but Hollywood stepped up! The first group of Hollywood celebrities arrived in the fall of 1941 with a film crew. The Hollywood film crew began shooting scenes of soldiers in training and in maneuvers to be used in "The Bugle Sounds", an MGM movie that starred Marjorie Main, Wallace Beery, and Lewis Stone. You can still see this old movie on some of the television channels where vintage movies are shown.

Camp Polk was training hundreds and hundreds of troops and the camp was involved in supporting the many training maneuvers in the area that ran from 1941 until 1944. Soldiers coming in from the field and from maneuvers wanted real entertainment, not just the bars and juke joints in town. They wanted to hear the hit songs of the day and they wanted to see big name entertainers. And Hollywood and the USO stepped up to provide this much needed entertainment that helped so much to keep morale high in these units. One of the first Hollywood stars to come to Camp Polk was Joan Blondell and she stayed four days. Joan had actually lived in Vernon Parish years before the war. Over 30,000 men saw her at Camp Polk and she put on six theater appearances there. She also attended three dances and she danced with over 150 of these GI's. Joan was so popular that she had 2 tanks and a bulldozer named after her. She went to the firing ranges and fired a Thompson sub-machine gun, a 45 caliber pistol, and a 30 caliber machine gun. She visited the hospital, had lunch with the nurses and she even judged a jitterbug contest! At the Post Field House filled with hundreds of soldiers she was elected "The Favorite Date of a Yank in a Tank"! Joan Blondell put in hours upon hours during her many war tours to the many military bases she visited entertaining these lonesome soldiers so far from home. She was a sweetheart of the GI's everywhere she went.

Cary Grant, the Oscar winning romantic Hollywood actor arrived at Camp Polk during a whirlwind tour of military bases. He first met with General Otto Wagner, the post commander, then went out in the field with the troops to watch the soldiers as they trained. He was right with the soldiers and even fired a 30 caliber machine gun with them on the machine gun course. Cary Grant appeared in several different stage routines while at Camp Polk. In May 1942 Cary Grant appeared in a 10 minute propaganda short movie named "The Road To Victory". He as a big hit and was well liked by the troops at Camp Polk.

And then, here came Bob Hope. Yes, this great entertainer came to Camp Polk along with Jerry Colonna and Frances Langford in the spring of 1943. Bob and his troupe were able to entertain men of the 7th Armored Division, the 8th Armored Division, and the 11th Armored Division who were stationed at Camp Polk. Bob went and visited every ward at the post hospital then he went to the training areas throughout the piney woods. Bob Hope and his group traveled throughout the world putting on USO Shows for troops stationed so far from home. He will long be remembered by GI's who were able to attend one of his USO variety shows from World War II, Korea, Vietnam, and even Desert Storm. Bob Hope loved the troops and the troops loved Bob Hope!

During World War II many productions came to Camp Polk's many theaters and Service Clubs. Not many months would go by without some type of stage, screen, and radio personality being at Camp Polk putting on some type of stage production to entertain the troops. With all these Hollywood actors and actress and other famous personalities, they accomplished a great task. They actually were able to boost the morale of these many soldiers who were serving their country in time of war. And ultimately, these soldiers went forth into battle and fought with honor and courage and overcame all the obstacles in their road to victory in World War II. Thanks to all the Hollywood entertainers who took time out from their busy careers to boost the morale of the troops and to entertain them. A great job that was well done!

Hollywood actors Bob Hope and Jerry Colona with actress Frances Langford riding in an 8th Armored Division tank at Camp Polk, La. (Courtesy Ft. Polk Museum)

Hollywood actress Joan Blondell riding on a 7th Armored Division tank named in her honor at Camp Polk, La. (Courtesy Ft. Polk Museum)

Left to Right Barbara Davis, Betty Bridges, actress Joan Blondell, and Bonnie Dean at Camp Polk, La. Joan Blondell met with soldiers and civilian workers during her tour of Camp Polk, La. (Courtesy Ft. Polk Museum)

Sgt. John Keglon , in charge of the Military Police Escort Detail meets actress Joan Blondell as she arrives are Camp Polk, La. (Courtesy Ft. Polk Museum)

Hollywood actor Cary Grant arrives at Camp Polk, La. and is met by officers and men of the 11th Armored Division. (Courtesy Ft. Polk Museum)