Hotel’s connection to Louisiana maneuvers, WWII celebrated through new lobby display
George Patton and other iconic American generals, slept, ate, sometimes caroused and planned the liberation of Europe within the walls of the Hotel Bentley.
A display unveiled in the Bentley’s lobby Friday will introduce to future guests the Alexandria hotel’s connection to people like Patton, Dwight Eisenhower and the hundreds of thousands of men who trained for World War II in Central Louisiana.
“The Louisiana Maneuvers was the premier training event that prepared the Army to go to Europe and win,” said Brig. Gen. Glenn Curtis, adjutant general of the Louisiana National Guard. “From a historical perspective, Central Louisiana was very important to World War II. We’re trying to preserve that history and tell that story.”
Nearly 500,000 men came through Central Louisiana for the 1941 maneuvers, an event that prepared American forces and shaped military strategy for World War II. A good deal of the Bentley’s historic character comes from that event, when it served as the meeting place where American military leaders brainstormed plans to fight Axis forces in Europe.
“We covered from Winnfield to Fort Polk to Alexandria,” said Herbert St. Romain, a 93-year-old Alexandria native who took part in the maneuvers. “There were soldiers everywhere.”
“It was the largest concentration of military might in the continental United States,” said Richard Moran, curator of the Louisiana Maneuvers and Military Museum. The display contains artifacts from that museum, located at Camp Beauregard in Pineville.
The display includes things such uniform pieces, unit insignias and equipment from soldiers who took part in the maneuvers, as well as timelines, facts, pictures and videos introducing people to the massive exercise that would shape the course of history.
“So much happened here that had an effect on what’s taken place just about everywhere in the world through the years,” said Rabbi Arnie Task, one of the organizers of the Louisiana Maneuvers and Military Museum. “I’m just absolutely amazed at how carefully everything is arranged and the portrayal of not only the maneuvers, but the Holocaust, which was one of the reasons for the maneuvers. The soldiers who trained here were among those who liberated the camps.”
“All the big name generals were here,” said Michael Jenkins, who bought the Bentley in 2012 and is restoring it. “I hope this is not only for the tourists from out of town, but I want it to be something special for people in Central Louisiana to come and see.”
While the general public will have to wait until the Bentley reopens to see the display in the lobby, hundreds of people got a sneak peek Friday in a fund raiser for Friends of the Louisiana National Guard Museum.
Pat Waters, Patton’s grandson, traveled from South Carolina for the event. He brought with him a pair of his grandfather’s old combat boots and plenty of stories, joking that he was happy to see the Mirror Room lounge reopened, since “I know my grandfather had some good times down there.”
“This is a fantastic way to honor the 500,000 men who came through here,” Waters said. “Think about what was accomplished here. Think about what went on down in that room. The history here is just phenomenal.”
“We’re hoping that these little snippets will spark interest,” Moran said. “So that people see this and say, ‘I’ve got to go out and see the rest of (the Louisiana Maneuvers and Military Museum).” -The Town Talk