Copyright © 2021 Roswell Daily Record
Copyright © 2021 Roswell Daily Record
By Janice Dunnahoo
Special to the Daily Record
The following article, shared with permission of the editors of New Mexico Magazine, written by Roswell’s own Georgia Redfield, describes in detail the beginning of the Roswell Army Air Corps (Walker Air Force Base.) Georgia Redfield left our archives and many local newspapers with wonderful, descriptive stories of life in these parts, for many years. Growing up here in the ’50s and ’60s, these are the memories many of us share. How wonderful it would be to still have our base!
By Georgia B. Redfield
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New Mexico Magazine
October, 1942 issue
“Before one realized that construction had gotten well underway on the new Roswell Army Flying School, it had appeared, almost as a mirage city suddenly emerges in the desert country.
“The base is a city in itself, with huge modern buildings that have sprung up since January of this year. Wide, smooth streets and runways are laid over deep worn cattle trails and rutted buckboard and chuckwagon tracks of the early cattlemen.
“The immense acreage comprising the Air Base is a part of the vast early day grazing lands used by the cattle herd of John S. Chisum who, in 1867, brought the first herds to this section and became known as the ‘Cattle King of the Pecos Valley.’ The Roswell base, a bombardier training school, one of several under construction in New Mexico, will be a permanent rather than temporary base for the training of advanced flying cadets from primary or basic training schools. Originally, the Air Base plant was planned to cost around $6,000,000. Through the sale of Moffett Field to the Navy, however, a more recent allotment from the government, several additional millions became available for enlargement of the base.
“On June 19, two more large tracts of land, 1,894 acres owned by the state, and 1,800 by individuals, were taken over by the government, through condemnation actions, for enlargement of the acreage of the base. Just as Roswell citizens take pride in New Mexico Military Institute, called the ‘West Point’ of the West, they will now be able to boast, as well, of possessing one of the leading Flying Schools of the United States Army Air Corps.
“Recently, through courtesy of Col. Alvin C. Kincaid, commanding officer, I toured the base with Lieutenant Ralph H. Ayer, public relations officer.
“From the central control tower one may see the entire pattern of record-breaking construction. Buildings are located on wide streets, and a great deal has been accomplished on a landscaping program with planting of trees, shrubbery, cacti and sections of lawns for beautification of the grounds.
“What are considered by the engineers as ‘world records’ are the 372,800 square yards of soil-cement paving completely laid in 25 days, on the flying field runways and landing mats. A record day’s run, with all-out in man power of the personnel on the job (including even the inspector) was 28,000 square yards.
“Buildings include administrative offices, several sections of barracks, in which each cadet has a private room; an immense warehouse, a hangar repair shop, classrooms, mess halls and kitchens, a modern hospital and medical department in close proximity to the barracks. A Red Cross unit, operating independently from the Air Base administration, is installed in a separate building. A complete fire department is also located on the grounds. All the sleeping quarters, including the cadets’, are air conditioned, for the men often work around the clock and sleep during the warm daylight hours.
“Even the chapel, with the exception of the spired front and entrance way, conforms to the regulation plan of all the post buildings. However, the interior with its high ceiling from which chandeliers hang by chains from metal flanges, is perhaps more artistically designed than any of the other buildings. Lighter wood panels, serving for acoustical as well as decorative purposes, form the lower section of the 117 by 37 feet auditorium.
“Regular Sunday services are held, and there are song and music services by the choir, composed of the cadets. The chapel has already proved to be a popular place for marriage ceremonies of cadets and of officers since the building was completed and opened June 11. On an opposite street from the chapel we visited the picture theater, equipped with a stage, comfortable seats, good lighting and facilities for vaudeville and plays as well as motion pictures.
“Next on the tour came the post exchange building, containing a post office department to which mail is delivered twice daily via Roswell, and a six-chair barbershop, offices, dressing rooms, restrooms and storage spaces.
“Sections of the large central room of the post exchange are divided into refreshment centers and newsstands where the current magazines and local and out of town newspapers are sold as well as smokes and various other articles found in any similar store.
“In the next building visited is the centrally located kitchen with two large mess halls on each end. They are scrupulously clean and equipped with every modern convenience for cooking and serving meals cafeteria style three times a day. There are huge roasting ovens, high pressure cookers and baking ovens. A marvel of an enormous half globe shaped aluminum cooker for great quantities of cream gravy, holds the appalling amount of 40 gallons. There were huge shredding machines for preparing vegetables for salads. Four 15 gallon aluminum containers were full of salad, and more in preparation for the evening meal. Immense baking pans of meats, potatoes and golden brown parsnips were being taken from the oven.
“As the grand finale of the afternoon came the jeep ride. Strapped in, and cautioned by the officers to ‘hold on tight,’ all the thrills which came on a first roller coaster ride were experienced, especially when going across the ridges.
“Men in Army uniform swarm the streets and highways. In large numbers they are seen in stores and at various churches and places of amusement in Roswell and other nearby towns.
“With the additional 600 or more in attendance at New Mexico Military Institute, Roswell has truly become a military base instead of the cattle trading center in a big stock raising country it started out to be.
“The boys came from everywhere in the United States, from the finest to the most humble homes, but they all stack up about the same, and they are a fine stalwart bunch — the pick of the country, physically. And the people of Roswell have taken these boys to their hearts. Dinners in private homes, picnics and dances, and barbecues have been given for the enlisted men as well as the high-ranking officers. Picnic supper parties have been given at the Bottomless Lakes State Park — where some of the flying cadets have already enjoyed the swimming, boating and fishing. There are rodeos, roping contests, ranch parties and horseback riding. Weekend trips to the mountains have been planned, especially for big game hunting in the fall, when deer, wild turkey and even bears are plentiful.
“There won’t be any lonesome soldier at the flying school if Roswell people can help in entertaining.
“An example is the recent Country Club barbecue, given by the Roswell businessman to officers at the base, the Air School Band furnished most of the music, with Bernard Sikardi, a cadet, assisting with his piano accordion. There was singing of old time songs by all guests present, and Lt, Col. Armstrong, director of training at the base, sang some air corps songs.
The band, through the courtesy of Col. Kincaid, commanding officer, will give a series of concerts weekly in a Roswell Park.
“So while the flying school cadets, executives and officers work all hours of the day, there is still time for plenty of entertaining and lots of pleasure for themselves.
“Every official, as well as all the men in training, are intent on their particular phase of work at the Air Base, but the flying men seem to be the most active. Long before we leave our beds in the mornings, the planes are off with a roar and loud droning, and they keep flying all day until late into the night.
“A thrilling site when one is wakeful at night, is the miracle of flying ships — which we have begun to regard too casually cruising across moonlit skies like huge fireflies.
“The aviation cadets assigned to the Roswell bombardier school must have had nine weeks of instruction in fundamentals, 12 weeks of specialized bombardier training, and five weeks in gunnery. The tests and all examinations are rigid. There is no getting in by the skin of the teeth. The trainee must know his subjects thoroughly and under quick constant observation he must have been quick thinking, cool headed, physically fit at all times, and apparently tireless under long hours of study.
“Some, although they may be in perfect physical condition, are unable to pass the test for entering the advanced classes of training in the Roswell Bombardier School. The cadets come to the Roswell Flying School from the primary and basic schools. The bombardier, on graduating, is given a rating of Air Craft Observer, and is commissioned a second lieutenant in the Air Force Reserve, with an assignment to combat or non-combat duty.
“The preliminary physical requirements for Air Corps are the same as for the U.S. Army Reserve Officer Commission, except for higher standards of vision and hearing. The height, minimum 60 inches, maximum 76 inches; weight, minimum 105 pounds, maximum 200 pounds; age, 16 to 26, both inclusive. A complete physical examination is required and must be passed, however, before a cadet is eligible to enter any flying training for flying duty.
“If single or married, applicants must sign a statement that dependents have sufficient means for support.
“Pay for the aviation cadet is $75 a month and $1 a day for subsistence.
“Pay on commission as second lieutenant, Air Force reserve, is from $183-$245 per month. The aviation cadet receives free quarters, uniforms, clothing and equipment, medical care and hospitalization, and the second lieutenant has one uniform allowance of $150 when commissioned.
“The aviation cadet receives nine weeks instruction in fundamentals before flight training is undertaken. This includes military training as well as preliminary groundwork. On completion of this training, he is sent to an elementary flying school for nine weeks and to a basic school for another nine weeks. He is then sent to such a school as the Roswell Flying Base for the remaining nine weeks required for his training. Upon the successful completion of the course, the cadet receives his wings.
“The first graduation of officers at the Roswell Flying School was held in July.”
Janice Dunnahoo of the Historical Society for Southeast New Mexico Archives can be reached at 575-622-1176 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.