Early Life

Louisiana Maneuvers

Manuevers and other Events

84th Infantry Division

Army Career

Maneuvers, POWs and Military Camps

Reflections and Vietnam

Annotation

Delano Roosevelt “Dee” Brister was born in Sieper, Louisiana in 1933. The town was an old logging camp area. Trains were used to move the logs. The old steam locomotives were stopped in 1956, but during the 1990s, those old trains were started up again. Sieper had been on a section of the logging rail track. As a youth, Brister would go to his grandmother’s house. Early in the morning, the logging train would sound its whistle. It would inspire a pack of red wolves to begin howling. That troubled the young boy because he had read about the big bad wolf. Brister had six siblings. His dad was a farmer but made barrel staves and was foreman of a team of loggers who cut the staves to the right dimensions. Although he only had a third grade education, his dad married Brister’s mother who was a school teacher. She had gotten her teacher’s certificate in a two year normal program. The old local school in the 1930s was a single room building for first through 12th grade. Later, the schools would be consolidated and Brister would be the third class to start there. Brister’s mother taught school until she retired in 1973. She passed away at the age of 93. Brister lived in Sieper until he entered college in 1952.

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Delano Brister witnessed the Louisiana Maneuvers in 1941. The operations took up much of central Louisiana including the area where Brister lived. [Annotator’s Note: Brister highlights the various landmarks which mainly includes local highways indicative of where the operations occurred.] Many local highways were upgraded for the maneuvers. That resulted in travel delays. A trip to his Aunt’s home normally required a short duration. With the roadwork, the trip was prolonged due to reroutes. While on one trip, the family was detoured into the midst of the opposing Blue and Red Armies involved in the simulated warfare. Each soldier wore an armband to indicate his assigned army. The family found themselves in the middle of the horse cavalry and a pack 75 which was unknown to Brister. He only knew it was a small cannon [Annotator’s Note: a pack 75 is a 75mm artillery piece that can be disassembled in the field for mobility of transport by horse or mule]. The cannons were being fired across the road being used by the Bristers. They stopped to observe what was happening and noticed a blimp overhead. He has subsequently decided that the craft probably carried umpires for the operations below [Annotator’s Note: in the simulated warfare of the two armies, there had to be judges or umpires to objectively assess progress and losses of each force.]. Most of the soldiers carried wooden guns. There were wooden tanks camouflaged in the trees. There must not have been enough equipment to support the troops [Annotator’s Note: the Arsenal of Democracy would not go into high gear until after the attack on Pearl Harbor later in the year]. The Brister brothers supported the Blue Army because they felt that blue was friendly and red was not. They visited a Blue Army machine gun position near their home. When they returned home, a group of 21 Red soldiers asked their father if they could sleep in the barn. He agreed to allow the platoon size group to do so as long as they did not smoke and set the barn on fire. Meanwhile, the Brister boys went to their Blue Army friends at the machine gun position and told them about the opposing Reds in the barn. The Blue troops went to the Brister barn and captured the enemy soldiers. That is the kind of unpredictable thing that happens in war [Annotator’s Note: Brister chuckles at the recollection]. Another incident involved an old bridge near Sieper. [Annotator’s Note: Brister goes on to discuss the various creeks and rivers that migrate around the local area.] Brister made a career in the Army flying helicopters and fixed wing aircraft. He received his inspiration to fly from the Louisiana Maneuvers. During that time, he saw the L4 airplanes [Annotator’s Note: the Piper L-4 Grasshopper was a light, monoplane with a small engine used for observation purposes.]. Brister’s trainer at Fort Eustis, Virginia was Henry Won [Annotator’s Note: surname spelling is not certain]. He was the same man who had sold the first nine Piper Company L-4 aircraft to the Army. They were used in the Louisiana Maneuvers and several of them were parked in the trees near Brister’s grandmother. Young Brister enjoyed touring the cockpit with the soldiers. He would watch as the planes dropped flour sacks on enemy positions. That simulated bombing runs. The primary function of the L-4 was to adjust artillery fire. That was the beginning of Army aviation versus Air Force or the Air Corps. It was a big influence on Brister. He would go on to fly the similar L-19 aircraft [Annotator’s Note: the Cessna L-19 Bird Dog was also a light, observation aircraft]. The Army asked permission from the local civilians for the use of their property. Most were very accommodating. The story about the 84th Division “the rail-splitters” from Ohio will be told later. They camped out near Brister’s grandmother’s home. The mess hall was near her house. The soldiers would provide things that the Brister family did not have. Much of the local infrastructure was originated during the Maneuvers. There was a black engineering unit during the war that built a road across the Calcasieu swamp. It is called Price’s Crossing after Brister’s great grandfather who had moved there in 1859. The area between the Calcasieu River and the Sabine River had been designated a no man’s land. Both Spain and the United States claimed it after the Louisiana Purchase. That resulted in it being known as a no man’s land. The river ran about a mile from the Brister property. During the Civil War, Brister’s great grandfather was in the Calcasieu Rangers. Their job was to patrol the no man’s land and capture any runaways, carpetbaggers, or deserters. After the Battle of Mansfield, the Rangers were involved in firing at gunboats descending the river. They surrendered when the war ended. Camp Polk affected several families as it developed. Families had to move out. The same thing happened with Camp Claiborne. Claiborne had areas on it for firing ranges for A-10 aircraft [Annotator’s Note: the Fairchild Republic A-10 Thunderbolt is also known as the “Warthog.”]. Alexandria Army Airfield would eventually grow into England Air Force Base. Brister remembers the B-17s [Annotator’s Note: Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress was a heavy bomber] and P-40s [Annotator’s Note: Curtis P-40 Warhawk was a pursuit (or fighter) aircraft] that flew out of Alexandria. They would fly over at treetop level. It was exciting for the young boys. One B-17 flew over while the children were at school recess. The students saw it was in peril and that things were being dropped out of the aircraft. Then the flyers jumped out of the plane. They all got out safely but the plane crashed.

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Delano Brister knew that the planning headquarters for Colonel Eisenhower [Annotator’s Note: Colonel Dwight D. Eisenhower would go on to become the Supreme European Allied Commander in the Second World War.] and some of the other Louisiana Maneuvers leadership was in the nearby Bentley Hotel in Alexandria. As a sideline, Brister’s uncle was in the horse cavalry. He entered service in 1942 and was discharged in 1946. He did his training at Fort Riley, Kansas and then went on to Fort Clarke which was passed San Antonio in West Texas. Since 1852, the fort had been used to prevent different Indian tribes from coming up from Mexico to harass Texas ranchers. His uncle was with the Buffalo Soldiers [Annotator’s Note: the black troopers were referred to by the Native Americans as Buffalo Soldiers because of their hair or fighting spirit similarity to that of the buffalos] in the 9th Regiment. They deployed to Africa and were assigned to Patton [Annotator’s Note: General George S. Patton]. They disbanded as horse cavalry but stayed with Patton. During the Normandy invasion, his uncle and the regiment would serve Patton by setting up his forward headquarters as he headed toward Germany. His uncle once joked that after establishing the new forward base, Patton told him that he was too late. Patton said that he was still moving forward another ten miles. The black troops who served alongside his uncle were not allowed in forward units but worked at loading out supplies. After the war, they loaded the Liberty and Victory ships for the voyages back to the states from the port of Marseilles, France. During the time of the Maneuvers, there was a cordial relationship between the military and the civilian population. There was a bridge over Sieper Creek that had been designated as destroyed. It looked just fine to the leader who came upon it. He asked the soldier sitting next to it to confirm that bridge was alright. Instead, the soldier said he could not talk because he was shot the day before [Annotator’s Note: Brister laughs at the story]. When a tank came down the road toward the Brister home, it was the first time the family had seen a real tank. The track marks are still in the road. The tanker had an old map showing an unused roadway across Sieper Creek. Most people had forgotten the road was even there since it had been unused since 1910 or 1920. Brister’s father remembered the road and confirmed its existence to the tanker. His only caveat was that the tank would have to cross the creek. The tanker said that it would be no problem for the vehicle to get across and proceeded onward. The soldiers used the local people to gain intelligence about the area terrain. The summer weather was hot, but the troops had their own water in their canteens and in Lister bags for extra supplies [Annotator’s Note: the military adopted a 36 gallon canvas water storage bag which had multiple spigots to supply troops with canteen refills. It was referred to as a Lister or Lyster bag.].

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Delano Brister came in contact with the 84th Infantry Division while it was in training from Camp Claiborne prior to deployment. It was an Ohio Division. One of the battalions camped on Brister’s grandmother’s property around a big pound. They were there during a severe winter when ice formed on the trees. Half the division came down with pneumonia. The damp cold of North Louisiana could be very bitter. The men learned how to keep themselves, and particularly their feet, dry during that cold weather [Annotator’s Note: the 84th Infantry Division would go on to serve during the Battle of the Bulge with another set of extremely harsh winter conditions to contend with during December 1944.]. A mess hall had been set up about 200 yards from Brister’s grandmother’s home. Three soldiers including the mess sergeant became good friends to the family. They were offered the comfort of spending the night in the family house. One of the men and Brister’s brother became pen pals and communicated throughout the war and even long afterward. The soldier was from Akron, Ohio. Even though the region was well supplied with game, the soldiers did not do much hunting. They lived on their K-rations. Brister was particularly fond of the chocolate bars. Even though they were very hard to bite into, he loved when the soldiers gave them to him. One day, Brister and his brother came upon two soldiers who had been camped with their unit near the family home. They told the boys that the unit had gone off and left them. They were hungry and asked for food. The boys felt compassion for the men a returned to their grandmother’s kitchen for some food for them. After leaving the men, the brothers subsequently found out that the two were actually deserters. They did not feel too well about their generosity after hearing that news [Annotator’s Note: Brister laughs about the incident].

Annotation

Delano Brister had a career in the United States Army. The Louisiana Maneuvers made a great impression on him. He attended Northwestern University [Annotator’s Note: Northwestern Louisiana University is in Natchitoches, Louisiana]. He graduated in 1956. He and two others were offered a Distinguished Military Graduate. Had he not accepted, he would have been offered a commission in the reserves instead of the regular army. The former would have meant that he would have been in service for six months and then in the reserves for six years. He took the three year stint as a regular army officer with the understanding that if he liked it, he would make a career of it. He wanted to be in aviation because of the influence of those L-4 aircraft [Annotator’s Note: the Piper L-4 Grasshopper was a light, monoplane with a small engine used for observation purposes. Brister first observed them in use in the Louisiana Maneuvers.]. He made a career of 24 years in Army Air. He retired as a lieutenant colonel. One of his first assignments was in Korea in 1959 and 1960. This was after the Korean War. He flew over Pork Chop Hill, Heartbreak Ridge, and the Chosin Reservoir [Annotator’s Note: all three locations were the sites of bloody and contentious fighting during the Korean War between United Nations forces and the Chinese and Korean Communists.] while working with Army Security Agency. He flew the six passenger L-19 Beaver [Annotator’s Note: the de Havilland Canada DHC-2 Beaver was a light observation aircraft.]. It was made in Canada by the de Havilland Company. Brister loved the plane. The bush pilots in Canada used them. The old reciprocal engines have now been replaced with jet engines. Brister’s role with the Security Agency over Korea necessitated him shuttling documents concerning enemy radio traffic intercepts. Those feeds would eventually be shipped to the NSA [Annotator’s Note: NSA—National Security Agency] in Washington. He woke up early one morning in Korea to the sound of tanks. His base was located between Kimpo Airport and Seoul. One of the Korean divisional generals was in the process of overthrowing the government. Brister was instructed to take his Bird Dog [Annotator’s Note: the Cessna L-19 Bird Dog was a light, observation aircraft] and ascertain if any other divisions were advancing into town to oppose the coup. Park Chung-hee was the officer in charge of the division involved in the action against the government. Brister was ordered to fly him and some high ranking American officers over to the east coast of Korea for a meeting to determine what Park’s intentions were. Park’s brother was in North Korea and the American government needed to understand the prospective new leader’s objectives. Brister returned to Korea just before his retirement. He was amazed at the changes in that country [Annotator’s Note: the Korean peninsula had been devastated by the three year Korean War between 1950 and 1953. An uneasy armistice was established with tensions continuing to this day.].

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Delano Brister’s grandfather had a barn on his property that was used once during a military training operation by a communication unit. The unit utilized carrier pigeons for carrying messages banded to their legs. The messages went to and from other units. Delano remembers that some of the pigeons did not get the word that the training was over when it ended. The birds returned to the barn. After that point, they became the family’s pigeons. If he had retained some of the messages, they would be interesting today. During the war, German POWs held at Camp Claiborne built a four to six inch pipeline strung along the highway. It probably was used to supply water. While observing them, Brister bought a box of Cracker Jack at a local store. It had a star in the box as a surprise. A German prisoner saw the prize and pinned it to Brister’s collar. Afterward, he stepped back and saluted the young boy as if he was a general [Annotator’s Note: Brister laughs as he gestures the mock salute]. One POW attempted to escape from Camp Claiborne. The other POWs turned him in. There was no place for him to go anyway. After Brister’s second tour in Vietnam, he was stationed in Germany. He ran a railroad with all the assets in Europe. It was strange for a pilot to be running a railroad. There was former German POWs working for him. One was particularly funny. He joked about picking very small cotton balls while he was interned in Arizona. Brister had his office at Camp King [Annotator’s Note: near Oberursel in Germany]. It had been used to interrogate enemy pilots. The problem for Brister was that the one way mirror was set so others could see into his office, but he could only see his reflection while at his desk. There were also Italian POWs in the area around Brister’s Louisiana home when he was a youth. The positive influence of the military camps on the local economy and civilian community, as well as, military retirees is profound. There has always been a good relationship between them. Edward R. Murrow, or some other commentator, made a very negative comment about Leesville at one point. That was provoked likely because of the death or harsh treatment of his son during training there [Annotator’s Note: Army training Camp Polk, and subsequently Fort Polk, is near Leesville, Louisiana.]. That incident occurred in the 1940s or 1950s. Some of the landmarks used during military training during the Second World War are still in use today. Leesville would not be what it is today without the military facilities. Prior to the military installations, ranching and farming were the main occupations in the area. Not only are the locals happy to have the military, but many of the citizens are retired former military personnel.

Annotation

Delano Brister has had a fun run. Although he does not miss the uniform, he does not regret a bit. The soldiers laid their lives on the line for their country. He hopes most citizens understand that. For his last flight in Vietnam, he was flying with the 199th Light Infantry Division. It was commanded by General Fred Davison [Annotator’s Note: General Frederic Ellis Davison], the first black leading a brigade sized unit to make general. Brister was his aviation staff officer with 21 pilots flying for him. He and those pilots still stay in touch. Brister was flying with the General over one of his companies engaged in an action below. It was the Old Guard unit, the 2nd and the 3rd Infantry Regiment. They also provide troops to guard the monuments in Washington. A couple of men of D Company were wounded. The General had a console in the back of the aircraft that he used to communicate with his units. There was a medevac helicopter attempting to extract the wounded but the tree line prevented them from doing so. The chopper pulled back and, simultaneously, an artillery round landed amongst the troops below. Suddenly, there were 40 wounded. Brister and the General were only six miles from the friendly helipad. He told his superior officer that he would drop him and his console off at the pad and call in an additional five Huey helicopters [Annotator’s Note: the Bell UH-1 Iroquois or Huey helicopter filled numerous roles in Vietnam.] to attempt an extraction of the wounded. While he was returning to the helipad, Brister informed the Huey pilots that they would be going in on a rescue mission. There was no time to blow the tree that had obstructed access. The medevac helicopter came out and Brister lowered into the hot landing zone. VC [Annotator’s Note: VC—Viet Cong] fire was coming in very fast as Brister’s gunners attempted to defend their chopper. Two wounded men were loaded aboard. They had their lower legs blown off below the knees. They were brought to the hospital about ten miles away. Five days later, Brister was on his way home. Over the Philippines, the plane captain turned on the radio broadcast that said Armstrong [Annotator’s Note: Neil Armstrong and Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin were the first men to land on the moon. The date was 21 July 1969.] landed on the moon. Although never wounded, Brister’s helicopter was significantly shot up. It was definitely the guys on the ground that paid the price.

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