Tag Archives: World War II

Today in Texas History – January 14

Fort Hood, TX, Postcard on eBay | eWillys

From the Annals of the U.S. Army – In 1942, Camp Hood near Killeen was activated as a temporary camp in preparation for active operations in World War II.  The temporary camp, was named for Confederate general John Bell Hood.  The Army initially acquired about 180,000 acres, and it was estimated that the camp would cost $22.8 million for the land, facilities, and development of utilities. The date of completion was set for 15 August 1942.   Almost 300 families were displaced by the acquisition. The communities of Clear Creek, Elijah and Antelope were demolished during construction.  The base was designed with large open spaces for the training of mobile anti-tank units to be deployed in Europe and elsewhere.

Fort Hood is now one of the largest military installations in the world in terms of size and the number of Army and civilian personnel stationed at the site. Fort Hood had a total population of 53,416 as of the 2010 U.S. Census making it the most populous U.S> military installation in the world. Fort Hood covers 214,000 acres making it one of the largest military bases in the world by area.

Today in Texas History – February 13

From the Annals of Aviation –   In 1943, the first class of military aerial navigators arrived at San Marcos Army Air Field.  Texas bases were widely used to train aviators during World War II.  More than 10,000 navigators were trained in San Marcos and elsewhere in Texas.  During the Korean War, SMAAF was the largest helicopter training base in the U.S. In 1953 the field was renamed Gary Air Force Base, in honor of 2d Lt. Arthur Edward Gary, the first San Marcos resident killed in World War II. The base was transferred to the army in 1956 and renamed Camp Gary. It was closed in 1963. The site is now used as the Gary Job Corps Center and San Marcos airport.

Today in Texas History – October 26

From the Annals of the Great War –   In 1944, Major Horace S. “Stump” Carswell, Jr. was killed in action in China.  Carswell, a native of Fort Worth, had enlisted in the U.S. Army Air Corps after Germany invaded Poland.  After extensive training, he entered the Pacific Theater of Operations in April 1944, as pilot and operations officer of the 374th Bombardment Squadron of 308th Bombardment Group of the 14th Air Force.

On his last mission, Carswell was flying a B-24 Liberator on a single-aircraft sortie against a Japanese convoy in the South China Sea.  He scored two hits on an oil tanker after making a successful second low-level run over the now-alerted convoy.   His co-pilot was wounded and the B-24 had two engines knocked out, a third damaged, a leaking hydraulic system, and a punctured fuel tank.  Despite the damage, Carswell managed to gain enough altitude to reach land, where he ordered the crew to bail out. Eight did, but the bombardier’s parachute was damaged and he could not jump with the others.  Carswell stayed with the bombardier and the wounded co-pilot, and attempted to land the badly damaged craft but was unsuccessful. The aircraft crashed against a mountain, and all three aboard were killed.

Carswell was posthumously awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor for giving “his life…to save all members of his crew” and for “sacrifice far beyond that required of him.” In 1948,  Fort Worth Army Airfield was renamed Carswell Air Force Base.

Today in Texas History – February 18

From the Annals of Heroism –  In 1943, First Lieutenant Wilma Vinsant “Dolly” Shea of San Benito graduated with the first flight-nurse class of the U.S. Army Air Corps at Bowman Field, Kentucky.  Shea had received her nurse training at John Sealy Hospital in Galveston, and had worked as an air nurse for Braniff Airlines before she enlisted in 1942. Shea completed rigorous training for flight nurses which included jumping, with heavy pack and fully clothed, into water twenty feet deep and gaining shore unaided.   Shea was posted to the European Theater during World War II.  On January 15, 1945, Dolly Vinsant married Maj. Walter L. Shea, an air force navigator from the Bronx, New York.  Shortly thereafter she was promoted to first lieutenant.  Shea had completed her hazardous-flight quota, the maximum number allowed under United States Military regulations.  However, her commander reluctantly granted her request “to make one more trip.” She was killed in action on April 14, 1945 when her evacuation plane which was carrying wounded GI’s to hospitals behind the front line was shot down over Germany. She was one of only three women in the Army Nurse Corps known to have been killed by direct enemy action.  Shea was awarded the  Air Medal, the Red Cross Medal, a Special Citation from President Harry Truman, and a posthumous Purple Heart.  She was honored by her hometown through the Dolly Vinsant Memorial Hospital.

Image from sanbenitohistory.com

Today in Texas History – December 8

From the Annals of WWII –  In 1941, Captain John A.E. Bergstrom was killed in the Japanese raid on Clark Field in the Philippines. He was the first casualty from Austin.   He was honored by his home town in renaming Del Valle Army Air Base after him.  DVAAB was constructed in the summer of 1942 on 3,000 acres leased from the city of Austin and activated in September. The base was renamed Bergstrom Field on November 11, 1943, and later Bergstrom Air Force Base.  The base was converted to civilian use in the 1990’s and now serves as Austin’s airport.  It retains the name of  Austin Bergstrom International Airport in honor of his sacrifice. 

Today in Texas History – November 20

From the Annals of Journalism – In 1941, writer Hubert Renfro Knickerbocker gave a speech at Southern Methodist University in which he advocated for United States entry into World War II.  After his address, HRK engaged in a heated debate with students who opposed his views.  Knickerbocker was born in Yoakum, Texas and graduated from Southwestern University in Georgetown.  He moved to New York and began a distinguished career in journalism. HRK later relocated to Munich, Germany, with the intention of studying psychiatry, but witnessed Adolf Hitler’s Beer Hall Putsch in November 1923.  He resumed his journalism career becoming chief Berlin correspondent for the New York Evening Post and the Philadelphia Public Ledger. In 1931 Knickerbocker won the Pulitzer Prize for his articles describing and analyzing the Soviet Five-Year Plan. With the Nazi takeover in 1933, however, due to his strong opposition to Hitler, he was expelled from Germany.  He forecast the coming conflagration in his book Will War Come to Europe and after the outbreak spent much of his energy attempting to convince Americans that the U.S. should join in the fight against Nazism.

Veteran’s Day

Thank a veteran for their service to our country today.  We may not always agree with the causes in which they have been engaged to serve their country, but that can never detract from the sacrifice that many have made.

Red’s grandfather (whom he never met) fought in World War I in France and his Dad fought in World War II in France, Belgium and Germany. Dad never said much about his service – only that he was an ambulance driver and that he kept a rifle in the ambulance even though he wasn’t supposed to.  “I wasn’t about to be the only soldier in Europe without a weapon”, as he put it.  When Red looked at some of his letters from the war, it became clear that he had served much of the time in a Battalion Aid Station.  That is a unit that operates just behind the front lines and is the first place that wounded and dying soldiers are taken.  So he probably was transporting wounded soldiers from the front to medical units.  Red cannot even imagine the suffering and death that his Dad witnessed first hand at an age when all Red was thinking about was drinking, smoking, partying and trying to get a date (in between studying and going to class).  Dad may have even had a tremendous sense of guilt for having come through the war “without as much as a scratch thanks to the Nazis” as he put it.   Only much too late, Red realized that he had to forgive his Dad for being somewhat emotionally withdrawn and extremely cautious for the rest of his all too short life.

So Dad, thanks for your service and Red, for one, will never forget what you endured for your country, friends and family.

Today in Texas History – September 2

From the Annals of World War II – In 1945, Fleet Admiral Chester Nimitz signed the Instrument of Surrender with Japan that ended World War II. Nimitz, who was from Fredericksburg, was named commander in chief of the Pacific Fleet shortly after Japan’s 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor and ultimately had command over all of the Pacific Theater with the exception of Gen. Douglas MacArthur’s Southwest Pacific sector.  Nimitz was responsible for implementing the offensive that eventually brought the Japanese to unconditional surrender. Nimitz and the representatives of Emperor Hirohito (who did not later commit seppuku) signed the peace treaty aboard the battleship USS Missouri in Tokyo Bay.

In 1964, Fredericksburg initiated a plan to honor its most famous son.  A  local group established the Fleet Admiral Chester W. Nimitz Memorial Naval Museum in the old Nimitz Hotel on Main Street in Fredericksburg. From this humble beginning arose the excellent National Museum of the Pacific War.  If you have not been there, you need to go.

Today in Texas History – June 15

From the Annals of the Race Riots –  In 1943, an estimated 3,000 people marched on Beaumont City Hall after workers at the Pennsylvania Shipyard learned that a white woman had accused a black man of rape.  Some 2000 workers and another 1000 hangers on surrounded City Hall. The woman involved could not identify the suspect among the black men held in the city jail.  That did not deter the mob which dispersed into smaller bands and began breaking into stores in the black section of downtown Beaumont and terrorizing black neighborhoods in central and north Beaumont.  Many in the mob carried guns, knives, axes and other weapons which they used to assault any black they could find.  Several restaurants and stores were pillaged, a number of buildings were burned, and more than 100 homes were ransacked.  Authorities arrested more than 200 people.  Another fifty persons were injured, and three–two blacks and one white–were killed.  Ultimately, martial law was declared with troops entering the city after most of the rioting had ceased.

The riot was the result of increasing racial tension caused by the rapid expansion of the city’s population during the World War II boom.  The city was unprepared for the influx of workers and the strict segregation of the races had broken down because of inadequate housing, transportation and the need for workers in the wartime industries.  Blacks were being put into to skilled labor positions which aggravated the white racists.

In addition to these factors, southeast Texas was a hotbed of Ku Klux Klan activity and the local chapter was planning to host a regional convention on June 29.  It was expected that they would attract 15,000 to 20,000 of their fellow racist scum from all over the South to hear Imperial Wizard William J. Simmons speak. The Klan meeting was widely reported and aggravated existing racial tensions.  And at the same time, the black community was preparing for its annual Juneteenth celebration, scheduled for Saturday, June 19, when hundreds of East Texas blacks were expected to come to Beaumont.

Yes, not all race riots were started by minorities.

Photo from beaumontenterprise.com.