Camp Hulen, formerly known as Camp Palacios, was on Turtle and Tres Palacios bays just west of Palacios in southwestern Matagorda County. It reached its peak use as a United States Army training center during World War II. It was originally established as a summer training camp for the Thirty-sixth Infantry Division of the Texas National Guard after the Palacios Campsite Association donated the land to the state in 1926. The association had in mind the economic benefits a military training center would bring Palacios. Some 6,500 men came to the first training session in the summer of 1926. Beginning in July 1926 Camp Palacios had a newspaper, the Camp Palacios T-Arrow Daily, published by the Palacios Beacon; its name was derived from the symbols for the two states that largely made up the Thirty-sixth Division: T for Texas and an arrowhead for Oklahoma. In 1930 the camp, where more than $500,000 was spent on housing for the division, was renamed Camp Hulen, after John Augustus Hulen. By 1934 some 1,886 concrete tent floors had been laid for the trainees. Because the surrounding bays provided a safe range for target practice, in 1940 the United States War Department began to use the base for antiaircraft training for national guard units from across the country (the Thirty-sixth Division had moved to Camp Bowie in Brown County). In January 1941 the first draftees arrived, and the following month saw the first printed issue of the weekly Camp Hulen Searchlight, which had begun earlier as a simple mimeographed sheet. The paper ran until 1945; a few 1943 copies are housed at the Barker Texas History Center, University of Texas at Austin.
Civil contractors and the Work Projects Administration constructed additions to the camp, which eventually included some 400 semipermanent buildings and 2,825 floored, framed, and screened tents, as well as a tent theater, fire station, bakery, weather station, library, dental clinic, post office, and 500-bed hospital. At its height the installation's troop capacity was 14,560. Associated with Camp Hulen were the Indianola Battalion Camp, the Wells Point rifle range and antiaircraft firing range, the Olivia projectile area, and the Civilian War Housing Project. Camp Hulen proper encompassed some 1,460 acres and adjoined the army air base to the north, which, despite the damage done the area by a September hurricane, saw construction begin in October 1942.
Housing for soldiers' families and other newcomers was limited in nearby Palacios, and the town, a fourth of which did not even have proper sewage facilities, was temporarily overloaded by the sudden rise in population. At one time the Texas Rangers were called in to help maintain order. In November 1940 Gen. Harvey C. Allen took command of the camp and the antiaircraft artillery training center. In May 1942 Col. John K. Brown became camp commander, though Allen maintained command of the antiaircraft training center. Several other men commanded the camp before it was deactivated.
In January 1944 Camp Hulen was converted to a prisoner of war camp; the Germans housed there were farmed out to help with agricultural work in the county (see GERMAN PRISONERS OF WAR). On May 31, 1946, the War Department declared Camp Hulen surplus and returned it to the Texas National Guard. Rather than use it for summer training, the guard slowly dismantled it for scrap. Though in 1965 the site was sold to developers hoping to construct an industrial park, by 1985 the abandoned camp still remained undeveloped. The army air base became the Palacios Municipal Airport.