Along Highway 97, near the picturesque Central Oregon resort community of Sunriver stands a roadside sign erected in 2009. It reads, “World War II Veterans Historic Highway.” A few of the highway vehicles pass the sign then turn into Sunriver, while the majority of traffic quickly continues on. Many of the drivers passing the sign don’t know Camp Abbot’s exact location, nor of its historical significance. Yet, Camp Abbot trainees made up the largest military training exercise in Pacific Northwest history.
Construction of Camp Abbot began in late 1942. Fewer than two years later it closed. Located in a cathedral of pine trees, Camp Abbot was a beehive of activity while a United States Army training center. Thousands trained here. The remoteness didn’t dampen their enthusiasm to become combat engineers, they were an elite group.
The afternoon sun is ablaze on the tops of the tress in the clearing of what are now the Sunriver community and the Deschutes National Forest. It takes some imagining to understand what life must have been like for those training in this now hush forest.
In need of a prompt combat engineer training facility, the War Department established and developed Camp Abbot along the Deschutes River near Bend, Oregon in five-months. Unlike army forts, built as permanent installations, Camp Abbot was built merely as a temporary facility. It was one of only three World War II combat engineer training centers in the United States, the other two being Fort Belvoir, Virginia and Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri.
The first trainees arrived in March 1943. Ten thousand soldiers trained in 17-week cycles. More than 90,000 combat engineers trained at Camp Abbot before the base closed in 1944. They trained in infantry, armor, artillery, air forces, engineers and support units in specific combat problems, such as an attack and defense of a river line and an assault and occupation of defensive positions.
Before training began, army engineers had to complete infrastructure projects such as construction of air fields, supply depots and a Signal Corps battalion as a communication network in the maneuver area. Army combat aircraft were used to support ground forces. These exercises simulated real combat and ran several days, often round the clock.
Occasionally civilian highways like U.S. Highways 97 and 395 and Cascade Mountain roads needed to be used during exercises. Residents were warned to use caution and obey directions from the military police when traveling anywhere in the maneuver area. In November 1943, the army declared that they would repair roads damaged by tanks and other heavy vehicles used in their operation.
The exercise christened “Oregon Maneuver” was deemed a success. Involving more than 100,000 American soldiers and airmen, it is regarded as the largest military training exercise in Pacific Northwest history. Following completion, participants were sent into North Africa for staging before participating in combat operations in Italy. One division went to Hawaii to prepare for the invasion of the Philippines and fighting in Okinawa. Another division landed in France and participated in combat operations in northern France, the Rhineland and central Germany.
Camp Abbot, located in the High Desert just north of the small town of La Pine and south of Bend, had just one function during its 14-month existence – to serve as a World War II Corps of Engineers training center. Some of the former army camp’s land was sold for development in the mid-1960’s and became an upscale resort community. One building remains from the original camp. The still beautiful log officers club is now known as the “Great Hall” and rented for events such as conventions and weddings. Some guests know instantly, they have stepped into a page of history.