Stephen F. Austin State University

Part V - The Rest of the Story (January 2014)

Part V - The Rest of the Story
By Marvin Mayer

Over the course of the last five months, I have attempted to show the Camp Fannin "story" from the perspective of its role as a prisoner of war encampment. In the course of those articles, the economic benefits derived by the City of Tyler, many of its individual residents, Smith County, and other east Texas counties and their residents were mentioned more than once. If you read the prior articles, you will know those benefits were significant. Surviving American soldiers, civilian workers employed at the camp, and indeed, some of the German prisons themselves chose to remain in or return to Tyler after the war. But not everyone involved in the Camp Fannin "project" was a winner.

In 1941, Europe already was engaged in what would become World War II. Many in this country preferred to ignore Hitler and his attacks on England, Poland, France, Austria, and other sovereign nations. Feeling the Atlantic Ocean isolated America from the bloody fighting in Europe, we turned a blind "isolationist" eye to what was happening there. We preferred to let the Europeans fight their own war. All of that isolationism ended on December 7, 1941.

Americans no longer shied away from combat. Remarkable events took place in this country, as tens of thousands of young men enlisted in various branches of the military, factories were converted to production of war machines, and gas and food rations were imposed on citizens nationwide. Everyone had to make sacrifices to support the war effort. Here in Smith County, Texas, several families sacrificed considerably more than just tightening their belts, planting victory gardens, and driving less. This is their story.

In 1894, for $2,800 William P. Walsh purchased in excess of 300 acres of farm land several miles north of Tyler. There, he and his wife Mary raised seven children. The children in turn produced seven children (William and Mary's grandchildren,) and the Walsh's were a "fixture" in Smith County.

Following the attack on Pearl Harbor and the flood of enlistments mentioned above, there arose a need for a place to train soldiers and airmen. Using its power of adverse possession, a/k/a eminent domain, the War Assets Administration seized the Walsh property as part of the property on which to build Camp Fannin. Even though other families similarly dispossessed of their land were paid an amount considered far less than the "going" rate, the Walsh family received no compensation.

Mr. Walsh filed suit against the government seeking to get a fair price for his property and/or to get a guarantee that the land would be returned to them after the war. The court denied his appeal. According to the historical marker (shown below) erected on the site, at least six other individuals and three businesses also were "victimized" by the War Assets Administration. Mr. Walsh retained approximately 2.5 acres and that property remains in the family today.

Mr. Walsh and his neighbors had been led to believe the property would be restored to its original condition and that he and his neighbors could repurchase it. Instead, a hospital had been built on 700 acres, and that property, including the hospital, was sold to the State of Texas.

The Walsh family has accepted the loss of their land and a part of their heritage. Indeed, they are proud of the state-of-the-art UT Health Northeast hospital standing on what once was their land. Mr. Walsh's grandson, William Walsh, said some of those whose land was taken were able to get their land back, and the government paid them what amounted to lease payments for the time the property was used as a training base … and POW encampment. He was not one of the compensated ones.

In the previous five articles, only the positive events have been highlighted. It was my intent to show that not everyone benefited from the decision to create Camp Fannin. Several families, including the Walshes, sacrificed more than others. So, as the late Paul Harvey used to say on his syndicated radio program, "And now you know the rest of the story."