You shouldn't code a value attribute at all. The <html:text> tag automatically uses the value of the actionform property you specify.
I know I can simply populate the form from the action prior to this page, but this isn't the case since the page is a composition of couple of pages.
Whether the page is a composition of pages is irrelevant. The correct place to set the ActionForm property is in an Action class that forwards to this JSP. If this page is part of a tiles definition, that's fine. You can still populate the ActionForm prior to the page being displayed.