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February 2010 cover image canoe on Bois d'Arc Creek

Park Pick: Memories of War

Fort Richardson was home of Lost Battalion during WWII.

By Sheryl Smith-Rodgers

Growing up, Les Young often listened to his parents, who married in 1944, tell about the frightening years when World War II gripped the nation. “My father was a veteran, but thankfully he didn’t see combat,” says the Dallas resident. “So I feel very connected to that era through him.”

So connected, in fact, that Young — an architect by profession — devotes much of his leisure time to portraying the precarious lives of soldiers who fought in the global conflict. Using rifles, machine guns, pup tents, military jeeps and other period gear as props, WWII re-enactors — representing both sides — demonstrate battles, sleeping conditions and meager dining options.

“We want people to have an idea of how tough these guys had it and what they went through,” Young explains.

This month, he and other members with the Texas Military Historical Society will host a two-day World War II Living History Event at Fort Richardson State Park near Jacksboro. Highlights will include an afternoon attack on Americans by Germans and a weapons demonstration. 

But wait, modern warfare on the frontier? Interestingly enough, the fort — established in 1867 to subdue warring Plains Indians — does have a WWII connection. In 1940, the 36th Infantry Division with the Texas National Guard mobilized at the fort before shipping off. Caught at sea when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, the 63-man unit (later named the “Lost Battalion”) was captured in March 1942, trying to defend Java, and sent to labor camps, where eight died. The survivors returned home in 1945.

Abandoned as a fort in 1878, the 454-acre site became a state park in 1968. Seven restored structures include the post hospital, officers’ quarters, powder magazine, commissary, guardhouse, morgue and bakery, all furnished to depict the times. Two replica buildings house the officers’ and enlisted men’s barracks. Guided tours (fees apply) start at 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. daily. 

The fort offers more than history. Visitors can stay overnight in a screened shelter or pitch a tent in the campgrounds. Some sites also provide water and electricity. Five new equestrian campsites cater to horse lovers. Hiking trails meander through prairie lands and wooded areas. The Lost Creek Reservoir State Trailway — a favorite with hikers, bikers and equestrians — runs 10 miles along Lost Creek and around Lost Creek Reservoir, which offers great fishing.

The WWII Living History Event runs 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 20, and 9 a.m. to noon Sunday, Feb. 21. Park entrance fees will be waived for WWII veterans and their families (they’ll also be treated to refreshments at the interpretive center). 

Fort Richardson State Park is located a half-mile south of Jacksboro on U.S. Highway 281. For more information, call 940-567-3506 or visit www.tpwd.state.tx.us/fortrichardson.

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