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Walker airfield's secrets revealed

By RANDY GONZALES

rgonzales@dailynews.net

There was a German spy collecting intelligence on the B-29 bombers at Walker Army Airfield during World War II.

Or so the story goes.

Steve Arthur, a local authority on the former air base at Walker, presented a slide slow and lecture Friday at Hays Public Library.

The "German spy" story turned out to have an innocent explanation.

"Supposedly, somewhere off to the northeast of the air base, there's a spot where supposedly a German spy was set up," Arthur said. "He was radioing information about B-29s back to Germany. At the time, the B-29 was classified; nobody even heard of it at this point."

Arthur said the "spy" was trying to transmit from there "because it was up high, able to get better reception."

"The story goes there was a guy who had a bakery in Russell was actually a German spy," Arthur said. "They used this area because it was plausible -- somebody of German descent could mix into the population and nobody would ever question it."

Arthur researched the story and found a different answer. A Russell man with a short-wave radio did transmit at the location, but no, he wasn't a spy.

In fact, he was Agnes Meier's uncle. She was in attendance for Arthur's talk, and spoke about her uncle, Alex Meier. She said her uncle knew about the spy story, but didn't tell anybody it was him. He wanted to be able to use the spot to transmit without anybody bothering him.

"He just didn't tell anybody," she said with a laugh. "There was a cave up there, became known as the 'German cave.' "

Arthur said Meier's radio was causing problems when he was transmitting in town, thus the move out into the country.

"He apparently had enough power he was blowing out people's receivers in Russell," Arthur said. "That's why he chose to go out there."

Arthur, who lives in Victoria and is the director of Ellis Public Library, became interested in Walker Army Airfield when he was in college. He did a graduate project on it, and he built the model of the air base that is in Forsyth Library on the campus of Fort Hays State University.

Upon looking at the model, one might think it is an impressive display. Not to Arthur.

"I hate it," he said. "I really would have liked to spend a lot longer on it, because it was kind of a rush job."

Arthur does look fondly upon the base, and the military personnel who inhabited it. Built in 1943 and in use through the end of the war in 1945, the base was home to up to 5,000 military and civilian personnel, who were trained to fly the B-29.

When casual observers think of the B-29, they think of the planes that dropped the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Arthur said.

"People only remember two dates," Arthur said of when the atom bombs were dropped. "The reality of it is, there were hundreds of air crews and thousands of men who died paving the way for that event.

"This is part of their story."

The air base at Walker was the place to be, Arthur said. There were dances on Friday nights, when local high school girls were sent out to the base by bus. It was its own little community, with a barber, PX, wedding chapel -- you name it.

"Walker was the cultural hub of Ellis County in this time period," Arthur said.

Now, what remains of the base is one hangar tenuously still left standing. Even the massive runways are overgrown with weeds.

"It's just such a special place in my heart now," Arthur said. "Going out, seeing the condition it is, just kills me."