Pearl Harbor and the American entry into World War II was still a year away, and the National Guard soldiers expected to be gone from Louisiana no more than a year, with regular opportunities to get home on leave.
Indeed, the Lafayette newspaper reported in April 1941 that "ruddy, khaki-clad boys" were strolling the streets, home to spend Easter with their families.
"Sturdy health and excellent bearing predominate in the appearance of each," the report continued, "their smiles are pleasing and happy, and their reports of camp life are most satisfactory."
By August the trainees had been made part of the 31st "Dixie Division" of the IV Army Corps and were "engaged in their first maneuver action as a combat unit" in exercises in the Kisatchie National Forest in central Louisiana.
"Corps maneuvers will be followed by Army exercises and then in the last two weeks in September will come the climax of the greatest peace time war games in the country's history," the newspapers reported.
But the games turned real in December 1941, when the United States was thrown into the war by the attack on Pearl Harbor.
The ruddy, khaki-clad youths from south Louisiana were due to come home that month. Instead they were told they would serve for the duration of the war.
Editors of the Lafayette Advertiser reminisced on Dec. 20, 1943: "Memories of a night exactly three years ago will filter [tonight] into the memories of many mothers and fathers and sweethearts. . . . On this December 20, three years [later], we know [the young soldiers sent for training] have learned their lesson well from dispatches that have been received, for [our young men] are now fighting in the North African theater of war, and many . . . have already covered themselves with glory on the field of battle."
By V-E Day, when victory was declared in Europe in April 1945, the young men from Acadiana were scattered far and wide.
Thirty-one of them who were still together in a military police battalion stationed at Marseilles got the news in September that they were heading home and made it back to south Louisiana a month later.
"When Johnny Came Marching Home," The Advertiser reported, echoing the words of a famous war song, "the whole darned town congregated to meet them, even though it was midnight. ... There was quite a bit of drama enacted ... in the middle of the night. The doughboys had been gone a long, long time."
These young men had seen action in North Africa, Corsica, Sicily, Italy, France, Germany, "and in general all of the major theaters of the European war," according to the newspaper.
The full 156th infantry was deactivated in March 1946 and was reorganized in December 1946 with headquarters at Lafayette.
On Christmas Eve the Lafayette newspaper reported that the holyday in 1945 "filled the heart with a joy unknown for many years" unlike "the lonely, dreary, Yuletide seasons when our young men and women shared the feast in strange lands with strange peoples. ... The significance of the brilliant feast ... is more deeply realized ... for peace on earth, good will toward men, seems suddenly more precious, more cherished than ever before."
You can contact Jim Bradshaw at email@example.com or P.O. Box 1121, Washington LA 70589.