DeRidder Army Airbase

The Beauregard Airport has a long and colorful history. To counteract the unemployment caused by the Great Depression, work projects were activated across the country. One such project was begun in 1934 just west of DeRidder under the auspices of the Emergency Relief Authority which later became the WPA. The project in a stump-littered field provided employment for about 400 men who worked to clear what had once been a densely wooded region. They constructed two earthen runways on 160 acres of land that was leased. The field was used very little. Barnstorming pilots would occasionally visit and offer rides for $2.

Interest in the military utilization of the airfield increased significantly in 1939 when war began in Europe. The United States needed a training ground for American troops. In The summer of 1940 and throughout 1941, the area was used for the "Louisiana Maneuvers." In February 1941, the United States Army Corps of Engineers visited the sites urging that a proposed development be filed as a National Defense Project. During this period the United States Army Air Force established numerous airfields in Louisiana for anti-submarine defense in the Gulf of Mexico and for training pilots and aircrews of the USAAF fighters and bombers. These bases were located in Kenner (Moisant Army Airfield), Baton Rouge (Harding Army Airbase), Shreveport (Barksdale Army Airfield), Monroe (Selman Army Airfield), Lake Charles (Lake Charles Army Airfield), Alexandria (Alexandria Army Airfield), New Orleans (New Orleans Army Airfield), and DeRidder (DeRidder Army Airbase). The police jury and the city of DeRidder agreed to furnish additional hundreds of acres, plus sewage and water facilities. On 1 July 1941, a contract for lease was signed between the Beauregard Parish Police Jury and the United States Army Air Force for a military airfield to be built on the site. The total acres of the airbase totaled 4,300.

An immediate construction program began to convert the civilian airport into a military airfield and support complex. Several large hangars were constructed along with many base buildings. During the war years, the DeRidder base had a post exchange, library, chapel, finance building, orderly rooms, headquarters sub-depot, officers' and enlisted men's clubs, hospital, theaters, swimming pool, shooting range, and bowling alley.

Just before Christmas 1941, the first troops arrived at the Deridder Army Air Base. The base housed anywhere from 3,000 to 5,000 troops at a time. The airfield was assigned to the Third Air Force as a training airfield. Pilots and service personnel flew and maintained the A20, B17i, B25, B26, P40, and the P51 at the DeRidder base.

A training range was commissioned eight miles southeast of Merryville, approximately 20 miles south of the airbase on the Merryville - Singer highway. It consisted of approximately 19 miles around. The 20,000 acres was divided into three tactical ranges, a medium-altitude precision bombing range known as the "Tokyo Range," a strafing and skip-bombing range known as the "Burma Road Range," and a high-altitude demolition range designated as the "Berlin Range."

It was officially determined that use of the range did not result in damage to surrounding property. However, unofficially there are reports that the pilots did occasionally venture a little off course. The following letter was sent to the base from a concerned citizen.

Fields, Louisiana - November 24, 1944

To the Officer in charge of the Air Corps,
The boys who come down here at night to the bombing range drop their booms any place except in the range. I wish you would look into this and have them to use the range instead of this community. The last three nights we have had to stay up all night expecting every minute for them to drop one on our home.

All my brothers, my husband, and brothers-in-law are in service, and here lately it seems like I am in Germany when they drop these high explosives around here. I reckon it's bombs. I don't know what it is, but anyway I don't think they should drop them around our homes as large of a bombing range as they have to use.

Will you please have it stopped? We would appreciate it more than you will ever now.

Citizens of the community of Fields.

Training Ceased

Training ceased in February, 1945; and the proud and historic DeRidder Army Air Base was declared surplus on October 2, 1946. On December 23, 1948, the government deeded the base to the police jury under the terms of the Surplus Property Act.

The airport continues to operate as a general aviation facility. The hangar area is essentially unchanged today except that the 75-foot control tower has long since been removed and replaced by a metal light beacon tower. The concrete vault of the Army Air Base Finance Office is located adjacent to the hangar. The two modern runways, one 4,220 and the other 5,495, are of asphalt/concrete surface.