Camp Shelby celebrates 100 years of training troops

Photo Source: Camp Shelby
Photo Source: Camp Shelby
Photo Credit WDAM
Photo Credit WDAM

CAMP SHELBY, MS (WDAM) - Juanita Wise of Hattiesburg recently visited the Mississippi Armed Forces Museum at Camp Shelby to view a new exhibit about her father, Joseph Megehee.

He was a farmer from Picayune who was drafted into the Army in 1918 and was among the first soldiers to train at Camp Shelby.

"He was so glad to have had a part (in Camp Shelby), because he talked about it all of his life," said Wise.

Camp Shelby has influenced the lives of many soldiers like Megehee, since it first opened in July of 1917.

"It's difficult to establish the number of people who've come through Camp Shelby since 1917," said Chad Daniels, director of the Mississippi Armed Forces Museum. "I would estimate that it's probably over a million."

Those one million men and women would never have trained at Camp Shelby had it not been for Hattiesburg physician Walter Crawford.  After the U.S. entered World War One, he petitioned the Army to locate a training camp in the Hub City.

"He convinced the Army to at least look at Hattiesburg, which was only 35 years old or so in 1917 and by the community support, they impressed the generals making the decision and it was put here," said Daniels.

Although the Army put a camp in Hattiesburg because of Crawford, they didn't name it after him.

Instead, it was named for a military hero from the Bluegrass State.

"The Army had already named the camps based on the troops that were going to be sent there for training," said Daniels. "The troops that were coming here were from Indiana, West Virginia and Kentucky.  Kentucky, in particular, had a large contingent and the Army decided to name Camp Shelby in honor of Isaac Shelby, the first governor of Kentucky, who was also a hero of the American Revolutionary War and the War of 1812."

In World War One, more than 50,000 soldiers trained at Camp Shelby.

In World War Two, it was over 700,000.

The camp was inactive during the Korean War, but shortly thereafter, the Mississippi National Guard took over and used it for training.

During the Vietnam War, a light infantry brigade trained there and it was used extensively for training during Operation Desert Storm.

In 2004, Camp Shelby became a mobilization center for Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom and over the next ten years, it trained more than 250,000 soldiers for those conflicts.

"We can no longer say that Camp Shelby is the best-kept secret in the military anymore, because what that did is it propelled Camp Shelby into a very national spotlight," said Col. Greg Michel, former commander of Camp Shelby. "The capabilities that Camp Shelby has is known, is known by decision-makers and they will in fact, rely on Camp Shelby again when this nation is called to defend itself again."

For now, Camp Shelby continues to train about 130,000 troops each year, from all branches of the armed forces.

And it continues to have a major impact on the local and state economy.

"Right now, Camp Shelby's economic impact to the State of Mississippi is about $417 million annually, and then to the local community, specifically in the Hub City area, it's about $70 million a year," said Michel.

"Camp Shelby has been a vital economic anchor for this community for 100 years. We want to see Camp Shelby continue to bring in projects that provide a positive economic impact to not only this state, but to the Hub City area."

A recent decision by the Department of Homeland Security could result in many more projects coming to Camp Shelby, especially at its Unmanned Flight Center of Excellence.

Just a few weeks ago, DHS selected Mississippi as its unmanned aerial vehicle demonstration site.

"That'll be a step up," said Col. Bobby Ginn, commander of Camp Shelby. "As research continues and as we go into different directions in combating terrorist organizations, not only does that help the military, but it helps (Department of Defense) organizations also and Camp Shelby is the perfect platform to do that testing."

Ginn, who has been in the Army since 1990, became the 35th commander of Camp Shelby on July 15.

He said the post has had a big impact on his family for generations and will continue to play an important role in the nation's defense.

"My grandfather was (at Camp Shelby) in World War One and my dad demobilized here in World War Two in 1945, so I've heard stories growing up about Camp Shelby all of my life and now, to have worked here for 24 years and been a part of the Camp Shelby family has meant the world to me," Ginn said.

"(Camp Shelby) means everything to the Army. They know the capability of Camp Shelby, they know how important Camp Shelby is now to the entire Department of Defense."