TYLER, TX (KLTV) - Reverand Lee Roy Williamson was only 18-years-old when he arrived at Camp Fannin to train as an army infantry replacement.
"I got to Camp Fannin September 8, 1943."
The camp had been officially dedicated in March of '43 and Williamson was in the second group of young men to be trained there as U.S. Army infantry replacements.
"What that was was preparedness for overseas as replacements."
World War II, which had been raging since December of 1941, had taken a toll on the military, and replacements were needed for the soldiers who had made the supreme sacrifice and those who had been wounded.
It's estimated that at least 5,600 men who trained at Camp Fannin would also lose their lives while serving their country and twice that number would be wounded.
"I was there in '43 and left in January of '44."
Camp Fannin, was located northeast of Tyler, Texas Williamson's hometown.
"Being a Tyler boy, I got a pass Friday afternoon to come home which all the group at Camp Fannin in the battalion, in my company said, 'you must know a congressman.'"
However, after his basic training at Camp Fannin was over, Williamson wasn't to see his home again until his honorable discharge from the Army in 1946. But he was to take part in one of the fiercest battles of the war in the invasion of Leyte in the Philippines.
"We were in combat up til Christmas time."
While Williamson avoided being wounded in battle, time spent in the Pacific did take its toll.
In addition to battle fatigue, Williamson suffered from malaria, hepatitis, yellow jaundice, and jungle rot.
He spent long months in various hospitals and still was considered a hundred percent disabled when he entered Baylor University to complete his education.
After a career in the ministry, Reverand Lee Roy Williamson returned to his hometown of Tyler.
Many of the soldiers who trained at Camp Fannin also returned to the area, some to marry sweethearts they had met while stationed here, some for business opportunities and others later in life for retirement.
What was once a large, vital, military city is unrecognizable these days. But for those who trained here and served our country, Camp Fannin will forever be a tribute to our greatest generation.