LAMPASAS -- On April 8, 1952, between 2,500 and 3,000 paratroopers from the 82nd Airborne Division jumped from perfectly good airplanes into gale force winds roaring across the drought-stricken Central Texas prairies.
Their mission: Liberate Lampasas.
Within hours, the scenic and secluded county seat of Lampasas County was released from the evil clutches of the Aggressor Military Government by U.S. Army and Air Force troops. The jump was the concluding exercise of Operation Long Horn, biggest Army maneuver since the end of World War II.
One paratrooper died in the jump and another 221 were injured, and 196 required hospitalization.
An Air Force pilot also died in the operation when his F-51 fighter plane collided with another plane near Evant during a simulated strafing run. The other pilot parachuted to safety, a feat in itself on this day.
Long Horn (or Longhorn) was a mock war pitting the 31st Infantry, 47th Infantry and 1st Armored Division against the 82nd Airborne out of Fort Bragg, N.C.
Long Horn and other Cold War maneuvers were designed to demonstrate first hand to American citizens what life under Communism would be like. In one sense, it could be viewed as the Reality TV of its day.
Jonathan Jerald of Triage Entertainment is pitching a script to the History Channel about Operation Long Horn and what he terms other "cold war pageants."
"These kinds of pageants were part of the Cold War culture," he said Thursday by phone from California. "What happened in some of these places reveal the nature of small town America in the fifties."
The Aggressor Military Government that took over Lampasas for a week was the brainchild of a small, permanent military staff at Fort Riley, Kansas.
The soldiers were sent to represent Aggressor soldiers of a mythical nation called the People's Republic and the Glorious Aggressor Nation. Its flag was a Lone Star on a triangular field of green.
A message from the commander of the Aggressor Forces, Alton M. Shipnock, assured the people of Lampasas he and his troops were only there to "burst the bonds by which the filthy capitalistic Wall Street war mongers" had enslaved the people of Texas since 1845.
The commander then outlined the Aggressor Country's basic doctrine, heavy on the communism.
After a week of this, the 82nd Airborne was called on to liberate Lampasas.
Afterwards, General Bruce Clark addressed the media and a few gathered onlookers. "We are bringing you something more important than rain, and that's your freedom," he said to the assembled reporters and citizens.
Army brass and media had been told the jump had been canceled.
Lt. Gen. William Hoge, maneuver director of Operation Long Horn, was quoted in the Telegram as saying the parachute regiment commander and troop commander had the authority to go ahead with the jump. The general termed it a "successful drop carried out under marginal conditions."
Marginal is one way to describe it. No one told the paratroopers, who estimated the winds were 20-to-25 miles per hour when they left the security of the plane. They were right. The Army's publicity department termed the sudden acceleration of wind speed as "freakish."
Reports said the wind was blowing 12 to 14 miles per hour at the time of the first jump, within the 15 miles-per-hour safety limit on military maneuvers.
The Telegram reported that 17 paratroopers in the first wave were blown into treetops by the wind, and that many had trouble collapsing their chutes.
One paratrooper, Cpl. Lowell Peters of Reading, Pa., said it was his roughest jump ever and he was "darned lucky" to get out with just a bruised leg.
Out in the county, especially in the area around Lometa, farmers and ranchers went about trying to repair the damage Operation Long Horn had done to their own operations.
Lometa had grown from a community of 1,000 people to one of more than 22,000, which embarked to encampments on nearby ranches.
Though the Army received easements from ranchers from San Angelo to Waco, the quartermaster corps located at Lometa.
"In town, the parking problem has become critical day or night," the Record reported.
In the aftermath of the liberation, the paper reported:
"Farmers and ranchers who bore the burden of the maneuver have gotten little enjoyment out of the whole thing because of worry over damage to fences, and misplaced livestock, and many have said, after hearing plans for another maneuver next year, that they would refuse to sign easements for their land to be used for maneuvers again.
A San Angelo columnist in 1999 wrote of Operation Long Horn: "Turkeys by the thousands died as a result of being frightened so badly they piled up and smothered to death."
The Army did not follow through with another maneuver for Lampasas County.