Along Highway 97, near Central Oregon's quaint resort community, Sunriver, is a roadside sign erected in 2009. It reads: "Historic World War II Veterans Highway." Some of the road vehicles pass the sign and then turn into Sunriver, while most traffic continues quickly. Many of the drivers who pass the sign do not know the exact location of Camp Abbot, nor its historical significance. However, Camp Abbot trainees were the largest military training exercise in Pacific Northwest history.
Construction of Abbot Camp began in late 1942. Less than two years later, it closed. Located in a pine cathedral, Camp Abbot was a hive of activity as a US Army training center. Thousands trained here. The remoteness did not diminish their enthusiasm to become combat engineers; they were an elite group.
The afternoon sun is burning in the treetops, in the clearing of what is now the Sunriver community and Deschutes National Forest. It takes some imagination to understand what the life of those who train in this now silent forest must have been like.
In need of ready training for combat engineers, the War Department established and developed Abbot Camp along the Deschutes River near Bend, Oregon, in five months. Unlike the army forts, built as permanent facilities, Camp Abbot was built only as a temporary facility. It was one of only three WWII 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 was closed in 1944. They trained in infantry, armor, artillery, air forces, engineers, and support units on specific combat problems, such as attacking and defending a line of the river and an assault and occupation of defensive positions.
Prior to the commencement of training, Army engineers had to complete infrastructure projects such as airfield construction, supply depots, and a Signal Corps battalion as a communications network for maneuvering. Army fighter planes were used to support ground forces. These exercises simulated real combat and lasted several days, often without stopping.
Occasionally, civil roads such as US Highways 97 and 395 and Cascade Mountain roads needed to be used during the exercises. Residents were advised to be careful and obey military police guidelines when traveling anywhere in the maneuvering area. In November 1943, the army declared that it would repair roads damaged by tanks and other heavy vehicles used in its operations.
The exercise called the "Oregon Maneuver" was considered a success. Involving over 100,000 US soldiers and airmen, it is considered the largest military training exercise in Pacific Northwest history. Upon completion, participants were sent to North Africa for preparation before participating in combat operations in Italy. A 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, Rhineland and central Germany.
Camp Abbot, located in the High Desert, north of the small town of La Pine and south of Bend, had only one function during its 14 months of existence – serving as a training center for the WWII Corps of Engineers. Some of the former military camp land was sold for development in the mid-1960s and became a luxury resort community. One building remains of the original field. The still beautiful wooden officers club is now known as the "Great Hall" and rented for events such as conventions and weddings. Some guests know instantly that they have entered a story page.