By Martha Cenkci
DALLAS--Nov. 22, 1963, was likely a typical fall day in North Texas for employees of the Southwestern Division, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which was headquartered in Dallas. Just as it does this year, Nov. 22 fell on a Friday in 1963, so a weekend was in the works. From their offices in downtown Dallas, SWD employees would have been taking care of their responsibilities as engineers, biologists, economists, hydrologists, foresters—the vast array of disciplines that make up the Corps.
The difference in 1963 was that the President of the United States would be in a lunchtime parade close to the SWD offices. So chances are good that some employees would have planned a short walk over to the parade route at the lunch break.
Those who might have done so are long since gone from SWD, and they left no written, official memories of that day. So 50 years later, we don’t know about the personal recollections of that day, but we do know about the infrastructure that the Corps’ Southwestern Division was building in the region, and some of the projects that were bringing value to the Nation.
Much of that activity was a reflection of the times. The Kennedy years represented a time of new and energetic beginnings, as the President sought to carry out his campaign pledge to “get America moving again.” Some of his economic plans launched the longest sustained expansion since World War II, and much of the nation’s infrastructure, a half century old and in need of repairs today, was built or begun during his presidency.
“The election of John F. Kennedy in 1960 brought a new White House attitude toward water projects," according to D. Clayton Brown, PhD, in his book The Southwestern Division: "50 Years of Service."
Another historian noted, “the Kennedy Administration’s extravagant approach to water policy was a direct contract to the penury of the Eisenhower years. The new president promised a high level of federal activity in water and power projects, and a generous program of appropriations for new starts.”
The tremendous activity is reflected in new reservoirs: between 1960 and 1965, 25 new reservoirs were authorized within the SWD region. With new reservoirs came recreation, and the Corps began to recognize the need for recreation as a vital part of operations and maintenance. In 1962, Brig. Gen. Carroll Dunn, the SWD commander at the time, instructed the SWD Districts to make better use of funds that the Corps was beginning to receive for recreation. Also in 1962, Senate Resolution 342 cited outdoor recreation as a project purpose for which funds could be allocated.
Beginning in 1961, the Corps restricted military construction to 17 Districts. Two of them were the Fort Worth District and the Albuquerque District. In addition to the standard military building construction projects, Fort Worth, Tulsa, and Albuquerque Districts were also responsible for building missile silos—in particular, the Atlas F, which was the nation’s first Intercontinental Ballistic Missile.
Typical of the work being done is a recollection by Mr. Jimmy Baggett, now the assistant chief, Engineering and Construction Division, at the Fort Worth District. Baggett was actually working at the District at the time of the assassination:
Projects included a great deal of civil works projects, which included San Antonio Floodway work, flood improvement projects in the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex along with multi-purpose lake and hydropower plants as well as supporting several military installations.
“We also had some of the Camp Gary work, which was a military conversion into a Job Corps facility in San Marcos,” he said.
Along the Texas coast, SWD was busy with hurricane protection projects. Hurricane Carla in 1961 was the most intense hurricane to hit the Texas coast in the 20th century and played a role in subsequent calls for protection. Congress provided for a Texas Gulf Coast Hurricane Study in 1961. In 1962, construction began on the Texas City Hurricane Protection Structure, the Galveston Seawall extension was completed, and Congress authorized the Port of Freeport, as part of the Flood Control Act of 1962.
In all mission areas, the Southwestern Division saw a marked increase in the building of the regional infrastructure during the Kennedy Administration, an increase that would continue under President Lyndon B. Johnson.
It was a time of high hopes, and building upon those hopes for a better country for our children and our grandchildren. The infrastructure that our predecessors built still serves us today, a sure testament to the Corps’ motto of “Building Strong,” and an impetus for us to continue the Corps’ tradition of service and value to the Nation.