Today’s Kevin Hits the Road takes me to the Fort Polk Museum, the smallest of the museums visited thus far, but one with an interesting and important story to tell. The museum tells the story of the fort and its people who have well served our nation in every conflict since WWII.
In addition to the artifacts inside, the museum has a tank parked by the front door, a surefire way to make a decisive first impression! There are also two nearby parks that contain other vehicles, including a Soviet era tank.
When Fort Polk was founded, the government displaced around 900 people from the land that was to become the fort. The Army paid $20.00 an acre, but sharecroppers did not receive any payment, nor was there any payment for crops in the field or buildings. Many of the people became homeless due to the shortage of housing brought on by the sudden influx of people to the area. The museum has displays commemorating this forgotten and ill-used group of families.
The Louisiana Maneuvers played a large part in our nation’s military history and was one of the events that led to the founding of Fort Polk. The museum has quite a bit of material on these huge pre-WWII maneuvers that served as a proving ground for leaders such as Generals Patton, Eisenhower and Marshall, In a very real way, American victory in Europe in WWII can be attributed to the lessons learned in the piney woods of central Louisiana.
The museum traces the fort’s contributions to our Army’s readiness with displays of weapons and uniforms from WWII to the present day. There also displays of everyday items that bring the soldiers’ lives into focus. From an olive drab army issue fountain pen to C-Rations with cigarettes, these small items give the visitor a feel for how the soldiers lived. They also bring back fond memories for visiting veterans.
As in the other places I have visited, the staff makes the experience special. The museum director is a font of knowledge about the fort and its history and is enthusiastic about sharing it with visitors. I was fortunate on the day of my visit to share the museum with a special forces veteran who commanded several units at Fort Polk. He and the director brought an extra level of expertise in telling the story of “Tigerland”, the Infantry training area for soldiers going to Vietnam. My fellow visitor also brought the materials on the Vietnam War to life as he related his experiences in combat in Vietnam to the displays of weapons and uniforms.
Whether you are one of the millions of men and women who have passed through Fort Polk, or just interested in the history of one of the more interesting areas of the our state, there is something of interest in the Fort Polk Museum. The museum’s address is 7881 Mississippi Ave, Bldg. 927 Fort Polk, LA 71459. The phone number is (337) 531-7905. The museum is on the fort’s grounds, so visitors will have to stop by the visitor’s center at the main gate and show ID for a pass to the museum There is no admission charge.