Along Highway 97, near the scenic resort community of Sunriver in central Oregon, is a sign erected in 2009 that reads, “Historic WWII Veterans Highway.” Some of the vehicles on the highway pass the sign and then turn onto Sunriver, while most of the traffic continues rapidly. Many of the drivers passing the sign do not know the exact location of Camp Abbot or its historical significance. However, the Camp Abbot trainees constituted the largest military training exercise in the history of the Pacific Northwest.
Construction on Camp Abbot began in late 1942. Less than two years later it closed. Housed in a cathedral of pine trees, Camp Abbot was a hive of activity while a training center for the United States Army. Thousands trained here. The remoteness did not diminish their enthusiasm to become combat engineers, they were an elite group.
The afternoon sun shines atop the trees in the clearing of what is now the Sunriver Community and Deschutes National Forest. It takes some imagination to understand what life must have been like for those who train in this now silent forest.
In need of a rapid 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 facilities, Camp Abbot was built simply 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 apprentices 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’s closure in 1944. Infantry, armor, artillery, air forces, engineers, and support units were trained in specific combat problems, such as attack and defense of a river line and an assault. and occupation of defensive positions.
Before the training began, army engineers had to complete infrastructure projects such as the construction of airfields, supply depots, and a Signal Corps battalion as a communication network in the maneuvering area. Army fighter jets were used to support the ground forces. These exercises simulated actual combat and lasted several days, often around the clock.
Occasionally, civil roads such as US Highways 97 and 395 and Cascade Mountain highways had to be used during exercises. Residents were warned to be careful and obey the instructions of the military police 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 operation.
The exercise dubbed the “Oregon Maneuver” was considered a success. With the participation of more than 100,000 American soldiers and airmen, it is considered the largest military training exercise in the history of the Pacific Northwest. Upon completion, the participants were sent to North Africa for staging before engaging in combat operations in Italy. A division went to Hawaii to prepare for the invasion of the Philippines and fight 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, north of the small town of La Pine and south of Bend, had only one function during its 14 months of existence: to serve as a training center for the WWII Corps of Engineers. Some of the land from the former army camp was sold for development in the mid-1960s and turned into a luxury resort community. A building from the original camp remains. The still beautiful log officers club is now known as the “Great Hall” and is rented out for events such as conventions and weddings. Some guests know instantly, they have entered a page of history.