Welcome W. Wilson Sr. Speaking at FEMA 50th Anniversary
Good morning everybody and welcome to the FEMA 50th Anniversary celebration, as I look across the room we are glad you all are here, as I look out this is the FEMA family, so we really do appreciate all of you being here. Whether you are a former employee or State partners or Federal and State elected officials, travel representatives once again we thank you for being here and being part of the celebration.
We’ve heard some stories about Welcome Wilson and last night I had the honor of meeting Welcome for the first time and going to dinner and sharing some stories and the stories I have heard certainly if you had 2 people that you wanted in your corner would have been Bill Otter and Welcome Wilson Sr. fighting for you. And Welcome worked very closely with Bill and other Federal officials and State officials and local officials to get the FRC and make it a reality in Denton. Welcome was appointed by President Eisenhower as a Five State Director of Civil and Defence State Mobilization which at that time was a division of the Executive Office of the President. In 1966 he was appointed Special Ambassador to Nicaragua by President Lyndon Johnson, he was a witness to the atom bomb test in Nevada in 1954 and the hydrogen bomb test in the Pacific ocean in 1956, Welcome received the Arthur S. Flemming award as one of the 10 outstanding young men in Federal Service in 1958, the Texas Business Hall of Fame named Welcome Wilson Snr as legend and honoree in 2011 and he was also named the Entrepreneur of the Year at the Houston Technology Centre in 2011, please help me welcome Welcome Wilson. (applause)
Thank you, Tony, thank you I am so happy to be here and I’m so happy to get re-acquainted with some of my contemporaries who are here today, Roy Appleton for example, Leroy Williamson, Betty Gage, I have many fond, fond memories of Denton, Texas. I have some notes here, actually I have a photographic memory but sometimes I’m out of film. Now a days Chasity I only remember the important things, whatever they were. In my short remarks I’m gonna make 2 points, first I would like to paint the picture of America in the 1950’s, a different time. In 1951 I think it was, no 1946 Winston Churchill made his famous iron curtain speech in Missouri, an Iron Curtain was dropped all across Europe and that was the case, the threat of nuclear war was very, very real and very, very nearby. Let me give you an example, before I was appointed by Eisenhower I had been Director of Civil Defence in Houston, Texas working for Judge Roy Huff Hines the Mayor, well nobody worried about traffic, nobody worried about the economy, nobody worried about global warming, people worried about nuclear attack, everybody and I give it one example, once a year we had what you call Operation Alert and we would shut down the entire city, the entire city would be shut down, all the street cars off the street, people would have to go in the buildings and honker down and all that kind of stuff, and the effect on the economy must have been tremendous, nobody gave it a thought, everybody thought it was so important that Houston, Texas be ready for a nuclear attack.
One other quick representatives of those days, as Director of Civil Defence in Houston, I put ID tags on 200,000 children, ID tags why, so that when they were killed we could identify them. Now is that gruesome or what, but people in those days were expecting an attack. Now, so it’s in that context that this centre was built, the Federal government had a facility outside of Washington DC called, High Point, the now call it Mount Weather, that shows you FEMA influence and in that facility the President of the United States and the Cabinet Officers would be housed in the event of an emergency, it was bomb proof and all the rest of it and so forth. So, they wanted the same facilities for the regional offices, so as part of the Executive Office of the President they wanted the Regional Directors in Dallas, Fort Worth to have a facility that the Federal Government could be run out of in the event Dallas Fort Worth was blown off the face of the earth. So that’s what this headquarters was built on. The second thing was that we were the first alternative to High Point, meaning that if high point was out of communication whether is was destroyed of out of communication the Regional Director of the GSA in Dallas or Fort Worth actually would be sitting here running the entire GSA in the country and the same with the health department and the housing department and so forth, so that this headquarters was to be the centre of government in the event that the national headquarters was out of touch, and guess who would be the Commander in Chief, me is that a scary thought or what.
So, anyway it was a tense time and a interesting time and Frank Ikard had such a big part of it that he was our Congressman from Denton, he was also later the President of the American Petroleum Association for many years. Alright, so how did we get this centre, the National Director Leo Hoegh, who was a former Governor of Iowa told we Regional Directors that one of the regions would be selected to build the first underground centre, there was a little support for it in the Congress by the who was always parsimonious in those days about money. So, he said that I want each of you to compete to see where the centre would be located. And he said whoever wins the competition we’ll put the centre there and so forth. So, I came back to where Denton, where Bill Otter was President of the Chamber of Commerce, Roy Appleton was President of the Newspaper and we started organizing a campaign. So, the first thing we did was promise that we would pay for the land, we didn’t have to write the cheque then thank heavens, but we promised that we would. So that when the legislation was finally passed it didn’t provide any money for land. The second thing is we started a campaign, Bill Otter and others Roy and Riley Clarke Cross and Hoferd Russell, just on the side, when Dallas Fort Worth airport was being built knowing that my future was going to be in real estate I went down there and found this great piece of land, a mile from the airport for $500.00 an acre. I begged Hoferd to join with me and buy it and he said that overpriced farm land will never be worth anything and so forth, so anyway we didn’t buy it and we didn’t get rich but thanks to Bill Otter and by the way the Otter family lived at the end of the block where we lived, they lived on the end of the block and we lived in the middle, what was the name of the street, Woodhaven and we had great memories from Woodhaven.
But we worked laboriously week after week after week putting pressure on the Congressman and so forth, we talked to the Speaker of the House, the majority leader of the Senate, Lyndon Johnson, and who by the way played a special part because he was thinking of running for President of the United States, so 1959 he ran in 1960, so in 1959 he was very alert to doing things that would help Denton Texas. But any way after many weeks of campaigning and so forth we finally got the money for it.
FEMA 50th Anniversary
The first thing that we had to do is to get the Director of the Office of Civil and Defence Mobilization to designate Denton as the first choice. So, one day he telephoned me, I was in Washington, I had an office in the Executive Office Building right next to the White House and by the way in the afternoon I could look out my window from my office and there would be the President of the United States Dwight Eisenhower hitting golf balls, I can’t tell you what a warm feeling it gave you to see the President of the United States out there hitting golf balls, you thought the country must be in great shape. But anyway, so finally we and Denton Texas, Bill Otter, Roy and others convinced the National Director that we could get the political support to get the money, the problem was the money. So, when we finally convinced the Director he called me in his office and he said, alright if you can get Lyndon Johnson the majority Leader of the Senate, and Sam Rayburn, the Speaker of the House and Albert Thomas the Chairman of the Independent Office of Appropriations Committee to call me within the next hour we will put it in Denton, Texas. So, we got on the phone I called Frank Ikard, who was very influential by the way, John you here, there is John he worked for Frank and so he got immediately through to the Speaker of the House, I called Walter Jenkins who was the Chief of Staff to Lyndon Johnson and Albert Thomas, and sure enough within 30 minutes all 3 had called the Director. So then he said alright Denton gets it if we can get the money and so that’s when the work began and thanks to Bill Otter and Roy and many other people we were successful in getting the facility approved for Denton and to raise the money and I want to thank all of those here for your service to this great country of ours and these gentlemen for their service, I have been a businessman for most of my life now and I can’t tell you I recognize the great sacrifice that people make when they work for the Federal Government and the job that they do, thank you very much. (applause).
Wow you know` everybody else presented something to the Administrator so I’m gonna do too, this is a photograph when LBJ came to the site in Denton, Texas and over here the sign says site of the Nation’s first Federal Underground Centre and that’s Johnson and a guy with dark black hair, I’m not sure who it is, but anyway I would like to present this to you. (applause)
Welcome and I’d like to give to you our one of our FEMA coins along with one of our Regional coins for your commitment to this facility, thank you very much.