I recently bought a house the sellers told me was moved from Camp Plauche. I know Camp Plauche was active around World War II as both a training area and POW camp. What else can you tell me about the place?
Camp Plauche originally was called Camp Harahan and was located on the east side of the Mississippi River in Jefferson Parish, on the north side of Jefferson Highway between Harahan and the Huey P. Long bridge. The camp was built in 1942 on land owned by the Illinois Central Railroad, whose president, James T. Harahan, lent his name to the city of Harahan.
Camp Harahan's name was changed to honor Jean Baptiste Plauche, who commanded the Orleans Battalion of Volunteers from 1814 to 1815. He became lieutenant governor of Louisiana in 1850.
Camp Plauche was used as a staging area for troops moving through the New Orleans Port of Embarkation. The camp covered about 425 acres, and more than 300 buildings were constructed at a cost of $6 million. The facility was built for a capacity of 30,000 men.
Near the end of 1942, the camp was changed to a training base, and battalions of railroad troops, port troops and hospital servicemen were organized and trained there. When need for training of troops lessened, the camp was used to house German and Italian prisoners of war.
Nearly half of the men at Camp Plauche were black and reportedly were frequently ill-treated. About 400 of the GIs came from the Virgin Islands, and an incident in the summer of 1945 resulted in a story in the Virgin Island Daily News. A soldier from the Virgin Islands had been demoted from first sergeant, and discrimination was alleged. The sergeant wrote home requesting that any investigation be dropped for fear that all other Virgin Islanders might suffer.
While blacks could volunteer or be drafted, and almost 50 percent of the soldiers at the camp were African-American, segregation in the military often kept them idle or in menial jobs. During the summer of 1944, John Hammond, wealthy record producer, musician and civil rights activist, was serving in the Army's Information and Education Division at the camp. One of his jobs was to arrange entertainment for the African-American GIs, and he hired bands such as Ada Leonard's All American Girls to perform for the men in integrated concerts.
The camp was declared surplus on May 31, 1946. Because of a housing shortage after the war, work began almost immediately to convert the barracks for civilian purposes. Until the mid 1950s, the barracks were used as temporary apartments for veterans. Eventually all the buildings were torn down, but the materials were salvaged and used to construct other homes in the area.
Camp Plauche also was the site of the first Ochsner Hospital. On Oct. 26, 1946, the Alton Ochsner Medical foundation acquired the military medical facility and some other areas of Camp Plauche and renamed it Foundation Hospital. The nurses affectionately nicknamed Camp Plauche "Splinter Village," because during the hot, humid summers they would take off their shoes and invariably got splinters in their feet from the wooden floors.
Today the site is home to the Elmwood Industrial Park on which construction began in the 1960s.