Camp Tyson brought James Wilson to Paris
|Parisian James Wilson is one of the few remaining soldiers who were stationed at the former Camp Tyson barrage balloon center at Routon. Wilson (standing third from the right) stands with fellow soldiers at the camp in front of one of the Army's barrage balloons.||
James Wilson (third from left) stands with fellow
members of the medical detachment at the entrance
to their headquarters at Camp Tyson.
|By SHANNON McFARLIN
P-I Staff Writer
When James Wilson relaxes in his
Whitehall Circle home in Paris, he
can look back on a unique experi-
He is one of the few remaining
former soldiers who served at Camp
Tyson, the U.S. Army's barrage bal-
loon training center that was located
"When we had a reunion a few
years ago, there were quite a few
of us there, but the last one we had
hardly anyone was there."
Wilson's memories of the camp
are significant because, he saw it
grow and operate from its beginning
until the camp closed.
It was like a city unto itself, he
said, with its own hospital, news-
paper, chapels, library, theater, post
office, cafeteria, soda fountain,
laundry, recreational facilities and
housing. The camp even had its own
Wilson served in the medical
detachment and he arrived at the
camp just a few weeks after Pearl
Harbor was attacked on Dec. 21,
"When I arrived, there were just
a few barracks completed," he said.
"It didn't look anything like it ended
Construction at the camp began
Sept. 4, 1941, using civilian labor,
many of whom were local men or
men who moved into the county to
work on the project.
Wilson's memories are aided by
the collection of photographs he has
of the camp and the medical corps,
as well as his copy of the camp's
yearbook which was published in
The book contains pages of formal
portraits of officers and soldiers
who served at the camp, as well as
candid photos of camp activities.
According to the yearbook, the
camp covered 1,600 acres and
contained 400 buildings, 10 miles
of asphalt road, and five miles of
The book also states that even
before the United States entered
the war, the U.S. Secretary of War
initiated the organization of a bar-
rage balloon camp to be located
someplace in the country to train
personnel to use the balloons as a
Many people who know about
Camp Tyson ask why it was built
so far from either coast. The book
states it was decided the camp
would be located "away from regu-
lar air lanes, so as not to endanger
Wilson said the camp was a site
of excitement and activity, but the
personnel there never forgot the
seriousness of their mission.
When Wilson was "twenty-one
years and one day old," he registered for the draft in Fort Mills, S.C.
"I was drafted in the Army and the
first place I was sent was Fort Jack-
son, S.C., then on to Fort McClellan
in Alabama for my basic training."
His next stop was Camp Polk
(now Fort Polk), La., where he was
assigned to the medical detachment.
"They asked us if anybody had
any skills," he recalled. "Well, I had taken typing in high school, so I was assigned to be a clerk for the medical supply. I typed index cards for the medical warehouse."
It was there that he learned he was
one of 20 other men in his unit who
would be sent to Camp Tyson, of
which they had never heard.
Likewise, they did not know that
the camp would be a barrage balloon training center when they were dispatched there.
Wilson was promoted to corporal
soon after he arrived, with steady
promotions to sergeant, staff ser-
geant and first sergeant during his
stay at Camp Tyson.
"When we got here, there was
tremendous work going on; the
civilians were building the camp
from the ground up. I can vividly
remember the red gravel streets,"
Eventually there were 15,000
troops stationed there, he said.
"That's more people than there is
in Paris now," he said. "It was like a city. Well, it really was a city."
According to the Camp Tyson
yearbook, the camp was officially
opened in January 1942. The first
soldiers to arrive were the 302nd
Battalion and they sent their first
balloon aloft at the local camp on
Feb. 13, 1942.
The camp was operated like any
other Army camp, with regimented
daily routines, he said.
a.m., we had reveille,
"Every Army had it's own
Wilson played baseball and bas-
I enjoyed that; we got to go to
different places and play, so I
got to see a lot of the area that
Wilson also one of several camp
soldiers who met and married
local women. He and his wife, the
former Anne Thompson, dated for
two years before they married.
In addition to providing an impor-
tant service for domestic defense,
the camp also played a significant
role in the development of Henry
County, especially Paris, Wilson
"It really did a lot to improve
Paris, economically and culturally,
The need for the barrage balloon
diminished once the atomic bomb
was developed, Wilson said.
"When they perfected the bomb
site, that made the balloon facil-
ity obsolete" and the camp closed
before the war was over in 1945.
Wilson stayed at the camp until
the summer of 1944, but his service
to his country was not over.
From there, he was sent to Cali-
fornia to be shipped overseas. "First
we went to New Guinea, then to
Luzon in the Philippines, and then
on to Okinawa, Japan. We were
there when the atom bomb was
dropped on Japan," he said.
"When the war was over, we went
to Seoul, Korea, to serve with the
army of occupation."
He was discharged in November
Upon his return to Paris, he was
encouraged by his father-in-law,
Judge Jim Thompson to accept a
position at the Kentucky-Tennessee
Clay Co., which became his lifelong
He became manager of the Ten-
nessee division of the company and
worked there 38 years.
Since his retirement in 1982, he
said he has "been doing a lot of
His hobbies are gardening, golf
and playing the organ, which he
taught himself largely from instruc-
tion manuals. He bought an organ
in 1950 even before he knew how
to play it.
The couple is active at First
Christian Church in Paris, where
they are the oldest couple.
He and his wife are charter mem-
bers of the Paris Country Club and
he served as president for three
terms. They are the only charter
couple remaining in the club.
He served four years both as a
magistrate in the old County Court
and a county commissioner and 12
years on both the county budget
committee and the old county nurs-
ing home board.
The Wilsons have one son, James
H. Wilson Jr., who lives in Colorado
Springs, Colo., and one grandchild,
Joseph Wilson, who attends college
Wilson said his experience at
Camp Tyson was a milestone in his
life in more ways than one.
"I served my country and it
brought me here to Paris."
Tyson Barrage Balloon Pictures
from the U. S. Library of Congress Web Site.
The Paris Post-Intelligencer
December 14, 2004 Edition ~ Used by Permission
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