Fort Chaffee: Elvis, POWs, Refugees and Movie Stars


Bet the title has you wondering where the heck travel has taken me to now? Well, not far from my last posts – Fort Smith, Arkansas. While wandering around the area I heard of Fort Chaffee but honestly couldn’t really find it in most of my material and online proved to be a challenge as to where it actually was. But, alas, I followed some instructions in a tourist pamphlet and found Chaffee Crossing – a unique blend of just about everything but their website describes it more accurately:

Chaffee Crossing is the premier economic development engine of Arkansas at the center point of the nation’s crossroads. It is a 7,000 acre redevelopment where natural resources, transportation, affordable living and national history converge.

On the search for history I finally found the Museum of Chaffee History.  It is one of the barracks of the National Guard turned kinda-visitor-center. But let’s start with some history on Fort Chaffee…

Originally, it was Camp Chaffee that served as a training camp for the soldiers during World War II. The first soldiers set foot on camp December 7, 1941, the day Pearl Harbor was bombed. The acreage for the camp had been purchased from over 700 property owners. The camp also housed over 3,000 German POWs from 1942-46.

In 1956 Camp Chaffee changed designation to Fort Chaffee, indicating the permanence of the installation. And in 1958 Elvis Presley received his first military haircut at the Fort. In the Museum of Chaffee History there is a reproduction of the barber room including the chair that Elvis sat in and a great docent to share the story.

 

Fort Chaffee has also served several rounds of care and housing for refugees. From 1975-76 the Vietnam refugees (Indochinese Resettlement Program). Over 50,000 refugees of the Vietnam war came thru Fort Chaffee as part of the program, receiving medical screenings/care, sponsorship and relocation. Then in 1980 the fort became host to more than 25,000 Cuban refugees – some were a bit more rowdy and burned two buildings during their stay. They were relocated to more secure buildings after the riots.

The grounds were turned over to the Arkansas National Guard officially on September 27, 1997 and Fort Chaffee became Chaffee Maneuver Training Center for Light Combat Forces. This included turning over some 6,000 acres to the state for development of what is now Chaffee Crossing and includes Janet Huckabee Arkansas River Valley Nature Center.

After 9/11, the Center became a closed post and has since served the Arkansas National Guard as well as being temporary housing for the refugees from Hurricanes Katrina and Rita in 2005.

The Center also served the movie industry over the years, including:

  • “A Soldier’s Story” in 1984, starring Howard E. Rollins, Jr.
  • Neil Simon’s “Biloxi Blues” in 1988, with Matthew Broderick
  • “The Tuskegee Airmen” in 1995 with Laurence Fishburne and Cuba Gooding, Jr.

 

Part of the “Travel With Me!” series

Travel With Me Rural Areas

 

 

 

 

 

Other links for Fort Chaffee:

Previous Travel With Me! posts.

 

2 thoughts on “Fort Chaffee: Elvis, POWs, Refugees and Movie Stars

  1. I wonder if anyone has ever done an “Elvis Slept Here” series of posts? Because he traipsed across so much of the South and represents so vividly a particular era in time.

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