MARFA ARMY AIR FIELD
MARFA ARMY AIR FIELD. Marfa Army Air Field began in 1942, when the War Department selected the Marfa area as a site for training United States Army Air Corps pilots. By February 1942 the department had let a contract for a Class A airport, costing $2,281,794, where training in the Cessna AT-17 would provide an intermediate step from single-engine to multi-engine planes. McGough Brothers of Houston was the general contractor. Marfa and nearby Alpine each voted $10,000 in bonds to buy the land for the airfield, 2,750 acres, from T. G. Hendrick of Abilene at $6.50 an acre. The towns, in turn, leased the property to the War Department for twenty-five years at one dollar a year. A federal court directed C. T. Mitchell, Mrs. Bertha Holmes, the John A. Lawrence estate, and the Gage estate to deliver 1,809 acres for four auxiliary landing fields. In June 1942 Col. Gerald Hoyle, project officer, arrived and set up his temporary headquarters in the Marfa National Bank building. Hoyle served as base commander until June 1943.
The first cadets arrived on December 5, 1942, and entered flight training two days later. Members of this class completed their courses by February 12, 1943, and received their silver wings. A class completed training each month until the final graduation in May 1945. Some graduations were without fanfare, but a majority were thrown open to the public, with aerial demonstrations, tours, refreshments, and a dance. The base at first was designated Marfa Army Air Field, Advanced Flying School, but at the arrival in June of Hoyle's replacement, Col. George F. Hartman, the name was changed to Marfa Army Air Field, Army Air Forces Advanced Flying School. Hartman served four months, and was replaced by Col. Donald Phillips. In October 1943 the scope of support personnel was enlarged, when two Women's Army Corps officers arrived as a vanguard of enlisted WACs. Phillips promoted public relations. For example, in April 1944 he arranged a Pan-American Day celebration, with military and civilian dignitaries from Mexico and the United States attending.
In June 1944 Col. A. J. Kerwin Malone assumed command, and the War Department transferred Marfa Army Air Field to the Second Air Force, headquartered in Colorado Springs, Colorado. During Malone's tenure (ten months), 2,500 cadets were graduated. The classes included regular trainees, Chinese nationals, and Air Transport personnel. On-the-line pre-pilot training and mechanics courses were added, and B-25s, AT-11s, and AT-6s were added to retrain pilot returnees. In April 1945 Col. Henry R. Baxter, the fifth and last commander at Marfa Army Air Field, arrived. He supervised two graduation services. On May 4, 1945, the local newspaper announced that the May graduating class would be the last. In June Marfa Army Air Field became a redeployment center for the Troop Carrier Command, with some 2,400 men to be sent there to train with C-46 and C-47 aircraft. The field was renamed the 818th Air Base Unit. The end of World War II halted these plans. More than 500 veterans from various squadrons arrived at the base for redeployment or discharge. By December 1945 Colonel Baxter was one of only two pilots at the field. On the thirty-first, Marfa Army Air Field was closed.
Big Bend Sentinel, February 6, 1942, May 4, 1945. Cecilia Thompson, History of Marfa and Presidio County, 1535–1946 (2 vols., Austin: Nortex, 1985).