story is about a mystery involving the flag staff that once stood at Camp
Howze, a sprawling World
War II Army base at Gainesville.
But first, I need to provide a little insight into the character of L.A. Wilke,
manager of Gainesville’s
chamber of commerce during the war.
If Granddad ever had an argument,
I never saw it. And I sure never argued with him. Not that he couldn’t get angry,
but Granddad was a confident, decisive man. To use a favorite term of his, when
he believed someone had stepped out of line, he usually “read them the Riot Act.”
It was one-way communication, not an argument.
He never lacked for an
opinion and was not shy about expressing it. Finally, not to engage in stereotyping
on the basis of national origin, but recall that his last name was Wilke. His
grandfather came to Texas in 1850 from Germany.
Now back to the mystery.
browsing though a digitized newspaper archive looking for something else, I recently
came across a five-paragraph, back-page Associated Press story in the Feb. 2,
1947 edition of the San Antonio Express. As it was well-designed designed to do,
the one-column headline caught my eye: “2 Towns Fight For Flagpole.”
I read on.
With the war against Germany and Japan more than a year-and-a-half
in the past, the federal government was busy in 1947 disposing of surplus property
connected to the late horrendous global conflict. Everything from cavalry posts
built during the Indian-fighting days to huge tracts of land to heavy equipment
and plumbing fixtures were on the auction block as the U.S. ratcheted down its
Among the no longer needed items was the 75-foot flag
pole that had stood in front of the post headquarters at Camp
Howze from its activation on Aug. 15, 1942 to its closure in 1946. Every day
during that period, the Stars and Stripes went up that staff at 7:30 a.m. to the
bugler’s call of “Revelie” and fluttered down at 6 p.m. to “Retreat.”
And while the world was a much more peaceful place that distant winter, a degree
of post-war ill will had arisen between the cities of Gainesville
and Bonham. Both North
Texas communities wanted that flag pole. Bonham
intended to put it in front of its Works Progress Administration-built high school,
sought the staff for use in some manner of war memorial.
Hearing of the
matter, Granddad strapped on his figurative helmet and joined the battle.
Wilke, manager of the chamber of commerce during the war years, said he had extracted
a promise from successive camp commanders that Gainesville
would be given the flagpole and the mural in the officer’s club,” the AP story
Unfortunately for Gainesville,
which was home away from home for several hundred thousand GIs and their families
during the war, the federal War Assets Administration had sold the flagpole to
the Bonham public school system. (The
cost was not given in the news story.)
Knowing Granddad, I expect he got
on the telephone as soon as he heard about it and called the Texas office of the
WAA as well as someone in Bonham to assert
I imagine he also fired off letters to others in the government and perhaps appealed
the matter to the Congressmen he knew. Of course, the speaker of the house was
Sam Rayburn –
a graduate of Bonham High School.
Realizing that money talked and promises
civic leaders planned to send a delegation to Bonham
to offer to buy the flag from the school district. But J.B. Golden, Bonham’s
school superintendent, had said no soap to Granddad’s successor on the Gainesville
chamber, John S. Hardy.
Annoyingly, the AP did not follow up on the flagpole
story. That means the sale probably went through and Gainesville
lost out on the handshake deal my Granddad had made.