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Dalhart AAF

Dalhart Army Air Field (DAAF) was home to an advanced glider school during 1942 and early 1943.  After the base changed to a twin-engine pilots' school, the glider pilots flew their glider's to South Plains Army Air Field (SPAAF).  I visited Dalhart on Saturday, August 8, 2011 to find out more about Dalhart AAF.--johnmc.




Nick Olson and Robin Scott of the XIT Museum helped me considerably with my research work on Saturday, August 8, 2011.  I spent several hours there taking many photos of the very large WWII-era map of DALHART AAF they have in their collections.  I also began my search through the microfilm archives of The Dalhart Texan newspaper they have available in their archives.  Nick later informed me that he thought that Southwest Collections / Special Collections Library at Texas Tech had the same microfilm rolls in their archives.  I checked on Saturday, October 29 and found that they did have 103 rolls of microfilm.  Thanks for Dr. Tai Kreidler and Emily for their help that morning in locating this archival information for me.



This is a photo of the WWII-era map of DALHART AAF which the XIT Museum has in its collections.  I hope to work with Nick to have this map digitized at FEDEX Office in Amarillo so that digital jpg and bmp files of this can be made.  I did this for the FSAAF map which Ft Sumner gave me.




This photo shows the east hangar of the former DALHART AAF at the Dalhart Municipal Airport.





On Friday, September 14, 2012, I drove to Dalhart, Texas for my third research trip on Dalhart Army Air Field.  While there, I met Susan Clay, owner and publisher of The Dalhart Texan newspaper.  Mrs. Clay agreed to publishing my articles on Dalhart AAF.




Susan Clay and John McCullough shake hands and look forward to many great articles on Dalhart AAF to come soon.


ARTICLE 1 -- DALHART AAF
Published in The Dalhart Texan November, 2011.

Tech History Graduate Student eyes Dalhart AAF for research

FIRST IN SERIES ON DALHART ARMY AIR FIELD

By John W. McCullough, Texas Tech University, Lubbock, TX

Many are the stories about Dalhart Army Air Field which I have been told by many persons over the past few years.  I have been a volunteer research assistant at Silent Wings Museum (www.silentwingsmuseum.com), the National WWII Glider Pilot’s Museum, since August, 2004.  In such a capacity, I have been able to learn much about the glider program of WWII.  Joe Hays, the former Director of Silent Wings Museum, was the first to tell me about Dalhart AAF.  He said it was a very large advanced glider training field but that the glider training at that base ended in 1943 and all the glider pilots were transferred to South Plains Army Air Field (SPAAF) in Lubbock.  Hays further said that after the glider pilots were transferred to Lubbock, Dalhart AAF was changed to a twin engine pilot training site but that he did not know much about the air field in that later period.

After sending some emails to the National WWII Glider Pilots Association, I received a very detailed research paper written by Leon Spencer, one of the glider pilots who trained at Dalhart.  William McWhorter of the Texas Historical Commission in Austin also sent me some information about the air field.  Most recently, Randall “Buzz” Montgomery, who helped build Dalhart AAF in the summer of 1942, sent me a large package of papers regarding his research on the air field.

So I made plans to visit Dalhart in August for the first time to begin my own research on this air field.  I called Susan Clay, the publisher of The Dalhart Texan, just before I left for my trip and she said she would be interested in printing my articles.  I also called the XIT Museum and spoke with the Director, Nick Olson, and told him of my interest in the glider school from WWII.  In my next article, I will provide details of my first research trip and reveal topics in upcoming articles.

Veterans who trained at the field and persons who worked there are encouraged to contact me for interviews.  Readers are asked to visit my Research Wars website (www.researchwars.org) for more information and photos about Dalhart AAF.  Home phone:  806-793-4448; Mobile phone:  806-786-7018




One of two hangars from Dalhart AAF during WWII located at the Dalhart Municipal Airport.
Photo courtesy John W. McCullough

ARTICLE 2:
Three men key to landing glider school in Dalhart in WWII

This is the second article in an on-going series on DALHART ARMY AIR FIELD

By John W. McCullough, Texas Tech University, Lubbock, TX

With the country still reeling from the shock of the Japanese attack against American military forces at Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, The Dalhart Texan newspaper began asking its readers what they could do to support America’s war effort.  Calls were made for local citizens to show their patriotic pride, to conserve gas usage, to begin preparing for rationing of food, and of course to enlist their young men and women to serve in various capacities in the military.  But three important men in Dalhart had another call for the community, a call to build, to support, and to supply a new US Army Air Forces glider school.

On Wednesday, May 20, 1942, The Dalhart Texan reported that Herman Steele, manager of the Dalhart Chamber of Commerce, along with Mayor Herbert Peeples and Elmer Elliot, manager of the DeSoto Hotel had worked with officers of the US Army Air Forces for the past week and had been successful in bringing to Dalhart a new glider school.  The official announcement came from Representative Eugene Worley’s office.

 

 Mayor Peeples headed up the quest for the glider school with Mr. Steele playing a supporting role while Mr. Elliot played host to the army officers by providing them with quarters at his fine hotel, remarked the article.

But another obstacle lay in the path of these three men.  They needed the land set aside on which the glider school would be located.  That would be solved by a major bond issue scheduled for a vote on Tuesday, May 26.


The vote passed by a margin of 544 in favor to 15 against.  The special election thus authorized the issuance of $60,000 in bonds to buy 3,040 acres for the glider school which was to be located southwest of Dalhart.  Mayor Peeples said that representatives from Crummer & Co. of Lubbock and Plainview would meet with the Dalhart city council to arrange the sale of the bonds.  Thus Dalhart Army Air Field had been created on paper and would soon be constructed in the field. 

The website for the National WWII Glider Pilots’ Association is www.ww2gp.org.  Veterans who trained at the field and persons who worked there are encouraged to contact me for interviews at 806-793-4448 or email johnmc@researchwars.org.  Readers are asked to visit my Research Wars website (www.researchwars.org) for more information and photos about Dalhart AAF.






The three men who were key in brining Dalhart Army Air Field to Dalhart, Texas.
Photo from The Dalhart Texan, May 1942.



ARTICLE 3

Variety of calls made for Dalhartans to serve in early months of WWII

This is the third article in an on-going series on DALHART ARMY AIR FIELD

By John W. McCullough, Texas Tech University, Lubbock, TX

The last article described how three key leaders of Dalhart, Mayor Peeples, Mr. Elliot, and Mr. Steele, all called upon the citizens of Dalhart to do their part in the war by voting to pass the bond issue to raise $60,000 to buy the land for Dalhart AAF.

Still other calls were made for Dalhartans, both men and women alike, to do their part to support the war effort in a variety of ways.  Calls were made regularly in The Dalhart Texan for citizens to buy defense stamps and defense bonds using the payroll savings plan method.

Another article told of a US Coast Guard recruiter from Amarillo who would be at the Dalhart post office lobby on Thursday, May 28, 1942 to interview men about joining the Coast Guard.  Chief boatswain mate Jim Duffer had already signed up a large number of men both from Dalhart and Panhandle.  Enlistment was open to men physically fit between 17 and 35 years of age.

Another advertisement in the paper stated that men and women were needed as aircraft workers of all types.  Training would be given for arc and acetylene welders, radio operators, and assembly mechanics.  Mr. McPherson, of the Tipton Aircraft Company, was interviewing candidates for training at the Gushwa Hotel.

Still another article on May 23 gave details about the glider program that was soon to come to Dalhart.  The American glider program started in January, 1942 and was being expanded considerably after much initial success.

Lt. Col. Vernon M. Guymon of the US Marines organized and headed up the early glider program.  The glider program was centered at the US Marine Corps glider school at Parris Island, South Carolina.

Since the gliders are completely silent they could transport their troops over the enemy’s lines without alerting them.  Gliders could also land their men more closely together than could parachutists.

The article went on to say that two-passenger gliders were being used for training at Parris Island currently but that larger, multi-passenger crafts were being developed.

The website for the National WWII Glider Pilots’ Association is www.ww2gp.org.  Readers are asked to visit www.researchwars.org for more information about Dalhart AAF.






Advertisement from The Dalhart Texas, May, 1942



ARTICLE 4

Standard Paving Company received the contract to build Dalhart AAF in 1942

This is the fourth article in a series on DALHART ARMY AIR FIELD

John W. McCullough, Graduate Student History, Texas Tech University

In an interview at the National WWII Glider Pilot’s Reunion, former glider pilot Mr. Leon Spencer provided some very good details about the start of construction at Dalhart Army Air Field (Dalhart AAF) in 1942.  Spencer is a retired Major in the USAF Reserve.

Spencer stated that Ed Bishop, Secretary of the Dalhart Chamber of Commerce and owner of the Dalhart Texan newspaper, began campaigning for a military base in Dalhart in early 1942.  Bishop’s efforts thus complemented the efforts by Herman Steele, Mayor Herbert Peeples, and Elmer Elliot to bring an Army Air Field to Dalhart, which was revealed in Article 2 in this series.

Spencer’s research revealed that Dalhart was an ideal place for pilot training because of the flat terrain, clear weather and arid climate.  The Army Air Forces Site Board, “headed by Major M. W. Hawks in consultation with Lt. Colonel E. M. Day, a representative of the Gulf Coast Air Forces Training Center, recommended Dalhart as a site for an advanced glider training school, pending the availability of 3,000 plus acres of land southwest of the town.”

On May 27, 1942, the day after Dalhart’s 4,800 inhabitants approved a bond referendum for $60,000 to purchase the required acreage, “the US government awarded a three million dollar contract to Standard Paving Company to construct runways, taxi strips, aircraft parking ramps and approximately 350 temporary wartime buildings”.  The Standard Paving Company recruited 2,000 workers for the project, Spencer’s research revealed.

Article 3 in this series revealed that many calls were made to Dalhartans to answer the need for help in the war effort in a variety of ways.  One young man from Dalhart, Mr. Randall F. “Buzz” Montgomery, answered that call by accepting a job with Standard Paving Company to help build Dalhart AAF.

In a recent interview, Montgomery stated, “I started working at the base in July, 1942 when only three or four buildings were up.  They had just started paving the runways.  I was only 14 years old and we often worked 80 hours per week with no questions asked about the long hours as the company only had old men, young boys and a few Mexican braceros working for them.  I worked at the motor pool after school for some time.”  More details about the early construction of Dalhart AAF will be revealed in the next article.

 

“Buzz” Montgomery now lives in Montgomery, Texas and plans to visit Dalhart in 2013.  Leon Spencer lives in Prattville, Alabama.  He attends the glider pilot reunions annually.

The website for Silent Wings Museum in Lubbock is www.silentwingsmuseum.com.  Readers are asked to visit www.researchwars.org for more information about Dalhart AAF.




Randall F. "Buzz" Montgomery at age 14 in 1942.
Photo courtesy Randall F. Montgomery.






Montgomery gives details about construction at Dalhart AAF in 1942

This is the fifth article in a series on DALHART ARMY AIR FIELD

John W. McCullough, Graduate Student History, Texas Tech University

Randall F. “Buzz” Montgomery was born in Dalhart on November 4, 1927.  After announcements were made in The Dalhart Texan in May, 1942 about construction work beginning very soon on a new glider training school, Montgomery wanted to help.  In the last article, Montgomery said that he began working at Dalhart Army Air Field in July, 1942 when he was just 14 years old.

“The air field had just opened and there were three or four buildings in place and Standard Paving Company had just started paving the runways”, said Montgomery.

“The company employed old men, young boys, and Mexican braceros.”

Montgomery thinks that about 200 braceros worked on the air field along with the local help.  He said that about 40 to 50 local boys helped build Dalhart AAF, too.

Montgomery remembered the names of many of those Dalhart boys who worked at the air field:  Clyde Hambright, Richard Selby, Bill Bearden, Jimmy Newman, Alvin Eaton, Joe Lee Williams, Lloyd Ranel, Billy Brown, Bobby Matthews, Ed Miles, Charles Taber, Henry Weckel, Billy Wright , Arthur Waight, Leo Kitch, W. J. Black, Roy Kinnison, Buddy Matthews, Don Miller, Jimmy Newman, Zack Stringer, Bob Wilson, Howard Keyser, Howard Moore, A. W. Swafford, Charles Young, Charles Davis, Harold Hudgins, Billy Sechrist, Afton Martin, Claude Thompson, Lewis Gallett, Billy Moore, Alton Porter, and T. R. Mansker.

As for the old men, Montgomery said that about 1,200 of them were hired to help build the air field.  Many of these men came from outside the Dalhart area.  He believes that he has some of their names recorded somewhere but did not have them available for this interview.

Montgomery worked as a lumber truck swamper and delivered lumber to most of the buildings while they were under construction.  The buildings included barracks, offices, hangars, and a hospital.

“Some of the buildings were made of brick while others had wood frames with black tarpaper sides.  Most of the buildings had several windows along with pot belly stoves for heat.  The cold wind blew through the buildings so they were impossible to keep warm”, recalled Montgomery.  Latrines were located outside of the buildings.

In addition to working at the air field, Montgomery also worked at a local funeral home for Odell Walker.  While there, Montgomery helped embalm 54 bodies which were killed in 1943 during training at Dalhart AAF.

“As I recall, about 6 or 7 men were killed in a single glider training accident one night when a glider struck a concrete building on a nighttime approach.”  One man aboard the glider survived.

“The other men who were killed during training at Dalhart AAF all died during the twin-engine training period at the air field.  Most of these accidents were in B-17’s and happened near the base”, said Montgomery.  However, one B-17 flew into a thunderstorm near Ore City, Texas on a cross-country training trip and crashed.

Montgomery remembers another crash which was not in a B-17.  Instead it was in a twin-engine trainer.  “It flew into the mountains and crashed somewhere near Taos, New Mexico.”

After construction on the air field ended in late 1942, Montgomery switched to working the night shift in the motor pool as a driver.  He also continued working at the funeral home but left both jobs in May, 1944 to work as a roughneck in the oil fields.

He graduated from Dalhart High School in May, 1945 then joined the US Marines at age 17.

Montgomery is now 85 years old and lives in Montgomery, Texas.  He plans to visit Dalhart in 2013.

More about glider pilots can be found online at www.silentwingsmuseum.com.  Readers are asked to visit www.researchwars.org for more information about Dalhart AAF.



Randall F. "Buzz" Montgomery in 2011 at WWII reunion.
Photo courtesy Mr. Montgomery.



Dalhart AAF also had two auxiliary air fields, Italian POW camp

This is the sixth article in a series on DALHART ARMY AIR FIELD

John W. McCullough, Graduate Student History, Texas Tech University

In the last article, Randall F. “Buzz” Montgomery gave many details about the barracks and other buildings at Dalhart AAF which he helped build, along with many others, when he was just 14 years old.

In addition to the very large, main air field at Dalhart, there were also two smaller auxiliary air fields.  One air field was located about 8 miles west of Dalhart between US 87, which goes to Texline, and US 54 which goes to Tucumcari, New Mexico.  Montgomery made several trips to this auxiliary air field in an army sedan to give a ride to the chaplain who provided Catholic Church services for the Italian Prisoners of War (POWs) located there.

He remembered that there was more than one runway at the west auxiliary field.  There was no control tower but there was a windsock.  Fighter planes, pilots, and their ground crews were housed there.  The fighter planes would train with the B-17’s from the main air field.  The B-17s were brought to Dalhart AAF after the gliders were moved to South Plains Army Air Field (SPAAF) in Lubbock in early 1943.

Montgomery supplied a copy of the Dalhart AAF Auxiliary Field No. 2, General Layout Plan for this article.  It is dated August 1, 1943.  The diagram shows three runways, a NW-SE runway, a NE-SW runway, and a N-S runway which also had a large apron adjacent to it.  The runways were 150 feet wide and 2000 feet long, according to the diagram.

There was a front gate but no fence around the west auxiliary air field.  It was built as a training site for pilots, but Italian POWs were housed there, too, during harvest time.  There were barracks which quartered the Italian prisoners separate from the student pilots.  There were about 35-40 prisoners in each of the barracks.

Other similar barracks were used to house the student fighter pilots and their ground crews.

The Italian POWs lived at the west auxiliary field for a few months during the summer of 1943 and performed agricultural work at nearby farms.  The POWs had a large P on the back of their jackets and another large P on their pants legs.

The POWs came from the much larger Italian POW camp at Hereford.  Montgomery remembers many times seeing the POWs being trucked through Dalhart on their way to area farms.

“They seemed very content to be prisoners and very happy to be out of the war“, recalled Montgomery.

About ten years ago when Montgomery performed some of his own research on Dalhart AAF, he interviewed several Dalhartans and was amazed that many of them did not know if the POWs were Italians or Germans.  Montgomery was later able to determine that the POWs were, in fact, Italians from the Hereford POW camp after he found a master’s thesis on the subject.

Montgomery also spoke with Nora Lynn Spencer Gilbert, a former schoolmate of his, about her father, Dan Spencer, and his interaction with some of the Italian POW’s.  Mr. Spencer was one of the original investors and founders of the Dalhart Pigman Savings & Loan.  He graduated from high school in Texline.  Mr. Spencer brushed up on his high school Latin and was able to speak to some of the POWs, said his daughter Nora Lynn.

The east auxiliary air field was very similar to the west air field except that it was located about 8 miles northeast of Dalhart on US 54 which goes to Stratford, Texas.

“There were P-38 fighters at the east air field along with many other types of fighter planes; but no POWs were ever housed there”, said Montgomery.

Both auxiliary air fields along with the main Dalhart AAF site, which is now Dalhart Municipal Airport, are viewable online on Google Maps.

Montgomery is now 85 years old and lives in Montgomery, Texas.  He plans to visit Dalhart in the fall of 2013.

More about glider pilots can be found online at www.silentwingsmuseum.com.  Readers are asked to visit www.researchwars.org for more information about Dalhart AAF.





Dalhart AAF Auxiliary Field No. 2
Image courtesy Randall F. Montgomery.





WACO CG-4A glider from Dalhart AAF crashed in January, 1943

This is the seventh article in a series on DALHART ARMY AIR FIELD

John W. McCullough, Graduate Student History, Texas Tech University

On January 26, 1943, a WACO CG-4A glider crashed just after a nighttime takeoff from Dalhart Army Air Field.  In recent interviews with Major Leon B. Spencer, US Air Force Reserve (ret), and former Dalhart resident Randall F. “Buzz” Montgomery, they recalled many details about this crash.

Major Leon Spencer was a glider pilot in WWII and trained in a WACO CG-4A glider at Dalhart AAF before being transferred to South Plains Army Air Field (SPAAF) in February, 1943 to complete his training.

Spencer performed research on the glider that crashed at Dalhart AAF, which occurred just before he arrived at Dalhart for training on February 7, 1943.  Spencer said that a Douglas C-47 Skytrain was towing a WACO CG-4A glider down the runway for a nighttime takeoff when a problem quickly developed.

Many C-47’s were towing WACO gliders into the air that particular night for training.  Glider pilot students had to be proficient both in daytime and nighttime flying.  On this particular night there was no moon, so it was very dark which made the flying even more difficult.

According to Spencer’s research, glider pilot Ted Moore reported that shortly after takeoff, as the glider was gaining altitude, the tow rope accidentally came loose.  The glider was too low to make a 180-degree turn and land on the airfield, so it had to make a landing in the dirt fields just beyond the base.

Aboard the Waco glider were Flight Officer Bradford K. Root, who was the flight instructor, and five advanced glider students:  Staff Sergeants, Claude C. Bruce, James A. Hyatt, Ernest J. Forbes, Philo N. French, and Bernando Fernandez.  Spencer added that there was possibly another student glider pilot on board, Staff Sergeant Harold Kolom.

Like the other glider pilots, Spencer believes that F/O Root knew that the terrain surrounding Dalhart AAF was flat with no obstacles for miles around and thus would afford a reasonable landing area even at night.  However, there was one obstacle directly in the path of his glider on that night.

F/O Root had not been at Dalhart very long and so he probably did not remember about the lone building located about a mile north of the airfield.  According to Spencer, the building was built in 1910 by Bob Troup, a contractor and local resident of Dalhart.  The building was a cinderblock slaughterhouse with a couple of windows.

Buzz Montgomery, who was a resident of Dalhart at the time and worked at the airfield, remembered the glider accident but thought that the building into which the glider crashed was someone’s home.  Montgomery also thought that “Uncle Dick” Coon had built the structure but at a much more recent date than 1910.

Mr. R. S. “Uncle Dick” Coon was a major businessman in Texas.  Coon lived in the DeSoto Hotel whenever he visited Dalhart on business, according to Montgomery.  He may have built the DeSoto Hotel, too, but Montgomery is not certain of that.  When he was away from Dalhart, Coon stayed at the Rice Hotel in Houston.

“He was legendary figure in Dalhart:  a landlord, an investor, and an entrepreneur.”

Coon was involved in the ranching business around Dalhart and acquired a lot of oil and gas mineral rights, as well.  He traded a lot of cattle on the market, said Montgomery.

He built many of the buildings in downtown Dalhart.  The sidewalks around these buildings were covered with a roof.  Coon brought this idea to Dalhart from his trips to Havana, Cuba from where he obtained the idea.

“He always carried $100 bill in his billfold and was known to donate that $100 bill to a needy person or family from time to time.”

“Coon also donated the money to build the senior citizen center in Dalhart which is still there today”, recalled Montgomery.

On the night of the glider crash, Montgomery was working as a civilian driver in the motor pool at the airfield.  He worked the evening shift from 4:00 p.m. until midnight.  He was only 15 years old at the time.  Although he did not hear of the glider crash that night, his good friend, Jimmy Newman, told him about the tragedy the next day.

More about the glider crash at Dalhart AAF will be revealed in the next article.

Montgomery is now 85 years old and lives in Montgomery, Texas.  He plans to visit Dalhart in the fall of 2013.  Spencer lives in Prattville, Alabama and attends the glider pilot reunions annually.  The next glider pilot reunion is scheduled for September 12-14, 2013 in Kansas City, Missouri.

More about glider pilots and their upcoming reunion can be found online at the National WWII Glider Pilots’ Association website at www.ww2gp.org.  Readers are asked to visit www.researchwars.org for more information about Dalhart AAF.





C-47 Skytrain during takeoff towing a WACO CG-4A glider.
Photo courtesy Charles Day, Secretary of the National WWII Glider Pilots Association.


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