Historic Weekend For WWII Vets Who Trained In East Texas - KLTV.com - Tyler, Longview, Jacksonville |ETX News

4/3/05-Smith County

Historic Weekend For WWII Vets Who Trained In East Texas

"We've gathered before you today to pay tribute to those of the greatest generation of Americans," Chaplain Sidney Spain, a retired major with the U.S. Army, said, in front of hundreds of people gathered at UT-Health Center, which occupies part of the site that used to be Camp Fannin.

Of the millions of World War II veterans, a small number who trained at Camp Fannin, stood waiting for the unveiling of the centerpiece of a memorial a long time in the making.

Perhaps it was appropriate that the man who created the life-size, bronze statue was also a veteran, albeit of the more recent Vietnam War.

"I'm honored to do this..." was all Garland Weeks could say, before choking up and leaving the podium.

Weeks stirred up memories in the men who marched on the camp grounds some 60 years ago.

"We lost so many, so many... Excuse my voice, but it will break on something like that," Tommy Slaughter, a retired buck sergeant from WWII, said.

Emotional moments for the veterans, 1500 of whom now die every day.

"We've been working on this thing for 15 years, you see, and it was quite a thing to see," Kenneth James, a retired WWII sergeant first class, said.

"This piece does not represent a man necessarily in mortal combat," Weeks said. "This represents what they would have been doing on a regular training day."

He added some of his personal touches to the monument, including something from his father who fought in World War II. If you look closely, you can find a cattle brand hidden on the statue. Even more hidden are shell casings used at the camp in the 1940s.

"And we melted those down and used that as part of the material that we cast the piece out of," Weeks said.

More obvious are real pine cones from the surrounding area dipped in bronze -- all part of a lone soldier that now stands where 250,000 once marched.

The Camp Fannin Association says this past weekend was their last organized 3-day reunion. They say because of the number of veterans that are dying each year, future reunions will be much shorter than that.

Julie Tam, reporting.

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