John W. McCullough
On my second research trip to Fort Sumner, I traveled once again early on the morning of New Year’s Day to arrive in time to talk to various persons around town about their memories of the WWII air field and their thoughts on creating a museum at the same site.
I left Lubbock about 8:30 a.m. on Dec. 31 and was greeted by Gary and Elaine Gaintner at the Billy the Kid Inn on US 62-84 with a warm welcome and ample room for my research materials.
I called Ron Sena of the Fort Sumner city office to arrange a time for me to photograph the grounds of Fort Sumner Army Air Field (FSAAF) again.
Ron arrived at the north entrance about 1:30 p.m. to unlock the gate for me. A hard, cold, driving winter wind sliced in from the northwest contrasting the bright, sunny day. Tumbleweeds piled six-feet high on the chain link fence, trying their best to blow away down the prairie but held back — if only temporarily — by said fence.
Ron left with instructions for me to call him when I was through photographing. It was too cold for Ron and he was using his day off from work for refrigerator repairs at the house.
I was alone on the grounds, driving slowly through the stark, quiet buildings, driving slowly backwards through time imagining what bustling activity and rich life once reigned at this air field. I was also thinking ahead to the future and what new challenges and tasks lay ahead for Fort Sumner if a WWII museum were to be opened on this site.
Like the tumbleweeds trying to blow on past and fade into the unknown, so too are the many memories from the veterans and townsfolk of FSAAF quickly fading away, gone with the wind.
I took many photographs and refreshed my own memories of the layout of the old air field from my first trip on December 31, 2009, when Richard Terrell gave me a guided tour.
Since my last trip, I have a much clearer understanding of the purpose and contents of FSAAF — and a much better vision of a future WWII museum commemorating this air field and its many veterans.
After spending 45 minutes on the grounds, I struggled to close the chain link fence gate in the 50-plus mph winds with gusts probably approaching 70 mph. I decided to give Ron a break and lock up myself so he could enjoy the holiday with his family.
Back at the Billy the Kid Inn, I began compiling notes and making a few phone calls. My next stop was to see David Bailey and discuss my plans for a future museum, Fort Sumner’s fourth museum.
Since my last visit, I have emailed many persons who read my original article and have spoken to several on the phone. The De Baca County Records office gave me a very large map of FSAAF last New Year’s Eve day 2009.
The map shows the many hangars, buildings, barracks, and POW compound which once comprised FSAAF. I put a copy of the digitized map onto a CD and mailed to Scot Stinnett of the De Baca County News and former mayor David Bailey, co-owner of Dave’s Venture Foods.
After finishing my work at the inn, I drove to David’s business late on the afternoon of New Year’s Eve day 2010 to meet with him again. David and I had a long talk about Fort Sumner, past, present, and future, and I laid out my plans for a WWII museum at the old air field site.
This museum, I told David, would be built on the grounds of FSAAF and would tell the story not only of the original glider school but also of the twin-engine training school, the German and Italian POW camp, and of local veterans such as Williams S. “Deak” Parsons — the “Atomic Admiral” and his younger half-brother Bob Parsons.
I told David, “The Air Force may have taken away your air field, but it cannot take away your history and your heritage from WWII and that history can be used upon which to make money for Fort Sumner.” David thought the idea was splendid and agreed that such as museum should be built.
On New Year’s Day, I drove once again to Roswell to see Bob Parsons and interview him about his time in the Marine Corps in WWII and talk about his ideas regarding a museum at Fort Sumner.
Bob was staying with his daughter Diane. Bob thought a museum at that old air field would be a fine addition to the village of Fort Sumner and gave me some ideas on who to contact.
I asked Bob about the many murals painted on the buildings in Fort Sumner. Bob said he painted four of them but was not sure who painted the other murals. I asked him why there were no murals depicting FSAAF and all its various missions during the war: Glider school, twin-engine training base, and internment camp. He was not sure why someone had not painted murals of that.
I told Bob that FSAAF was an important part of Fort Sumner’s history and that a mural painted in honor of it would help stir up interest and excitement in a WWII museum. He agreed that a mural of the old air field might be a good idea.
Back in Fort Sumner that night, I stopped by Fred’s Packaged Goods Store and spoke with owner and manager Ron Gauna. I described the presentation I would like to make to the Fort Sumner city council and business leaders this coming summer of 2011.
Ron proposed using his restaurant as the meeting place so that he could serve lunch which would then be followed by my presentation. I agreed and thought was a very good suggestion. I told Ron I would contact many persons in Fort Sumner again by email and phone call once I returned home to Lubbock and try to arrange a date for this luncheon and presentation. I also encouraged Ron to attend the National WWII Glider Pilot’s Reunion this October, 2011 in Oklahoma City.
I will be there along with Joe Hays, Director of Hangar 25 Bomber Museum, a WWII museum in Big Spring, Texas. If Fort Sumner could send a detachment of persons such as Ron Gauna, David Bailey, Scot Stinnett and Mayor Wendell Bridges to this reunion then they could introduce themselves to the leaders of the Glider Pilots’ Association (GPA) and convey to them their desire to open a museum which would tell the story of the advanced glider school which once existed there.
After returning home to Lubbock, I began work on my second research website and on January 4, I launched the site online. The website, Research Wars, includes a link named FSAAF which includes all my research on the air field and my plans for a museum to commemorate the base. I will use this website as a central organizing place not only for my research on FSAAF but also to keep track of the plans and progress made toward a future museum. Everyone can view this website at: www.researchwars.org
Much works needs to be done to make the FSAAF Museum happen and many people will need to be involved. I already have received a call from Alan Sparks of the Fort Sumner Development Committee who received my graduate school research card from the two women who work at the Bosque Redondo Memorial museum.
I made a trip there late in the afternoon of New Year’s Eve 2010 before visiting with David Bailey. Sparks was very interested in my plans for a museum at the municipal airport where FSAAF once stood.
Many veterans of FSAAF will need to be contacted and the National WWII Glider Pilots’ Association can possibly help me with that endeavor. Their email address is: www.ww2gp.org
I am a member of this group as well as a volunteer research assistant at Silent Wings Museum in Lubbock. Silent Wings Museum is the National WWII Glider Pilot’s Museum.
Persons may view their site at: www.silentwingsmuseum.com
Many interviews of these veterans of FSAAF will need to be recorded of their stories and I will need to obtain copies of any photographs they may have. I still have much work to do just reviewing the many newspaper stories from WWII about this air field. But that work will pay off in very big dividends both in historical rewards for me as well as historical richness and financial profits resulting from a new WWII museum for Fort Sumner.
Please contact me by email or phone call with any information you may have about FSAAF. I plan to be back in Fort Sumner in July to give a presentation to civic and business leaders and interested parties about a future WWII museum commemorating their former WWII air field, Fort Sumner Army Air Field.
John W. McCullough is a graduate student in history at Texas Tech University in Lubbock. He can be reached at 806-793-4448 or email: email@example.com