By Don McAlavy: CNJ columnist
Just prior to the beginning of Clovis Army Air Field in 1942, that air field was the Clovis Municipal Airport. In 1941-42, Clovis High School classes were conducted in the old hangar at the air field. Ramon P. Vargas learned to be an aircraft mechanic there.
“There were instructors from Albuquerque,” said Vargas. “One other instructor was Carl Miller, who later taught machine shop at the high school in Clovis. “The main part of the old 1929 hangar was used for the classroom. The first plane they used to work on was a Piper Cub.”
Vargas said he liked flying model airplanes and one Sunday morning was out near the hangar flying one of the model planes when he heard that Pearl Harbor had been bombed. World War II had started.
“Then in May, 1942,” said Vargas, “with the war cranking up, the Army Air Corp contracted with the Cutter-Carr Flying Service out of Albuquerque. They provided mechanics and instructors to teach pre-glider cadets. The cadets came from all over the country. Cutter-Carr taught the cadets how to fly and land a small prop-driven plane alone. The trick was to land with the engine off. Some called it dead-stick flying.”
After Ramon Vargas graduated from CHS, he was hired by Cutter-Carr as a mechanic. Vargas told me that on May 22, 1942, the Clovis News Journal announced the first squadron of 67 planes to be used in glider training was on its way to Clovis. The first 200 fliers who arrived would began the glider training course. Immediately, the Army Air Corp began leasing three or more tracts of prairie land, near Clovis, as auxiliary landing sites for the plane and gliders.
Reese Cagle of Clovis was one of the instructors.
Later they had to pilot engine-less gliders in war zones, transporting soldiers in commando type raids behind enemy lines. Training started June 1, 1942.
“In the winter of 1942,” Vargas said, “the training school was moved to an airport near Tucumcari as construction of the Clovis Army Air Field had begun on Aug. 18, 1942. The glider training would interfere with the airbase construction. Following that 1942-43 winter the school ceased to exist at Tucumcari.”
The old hangar was torn down beginning on Aug. 18, 1942.
On June 11, 1943, Vargas was drafted into the service and was sent to the Amarillo Air Force Base, where as a junior airplane mechanic he spent the duration of the war being sent from one air field to another. Japan surrendered a month before Vargas was to graduate as a B-29 bomber flight engineer.
After his discharge in November of 1945, Vargas came back to Clovis and went to work for Toots and Leonard Goedeke at the flying service outfit at the dirt runway airport at 14th and Thornton, about where the present Muffley Funeral Home is today. The Goedeke airport was a private airport and one of its projects was to train cub cadets, mostly high school students. One was a CHS classmate of mine who is also an historian — H. A. Kilmer, who is now a retired railroader.
Later Ramon P. Vargas became one of the best commercial painters in Clovis. He died on Christmas Day, 1994.
Don McAlavy is Curry County’s historian. He can be contacted at: firstname.lastname@example.org