CLENT BREEDLOVE
CIVILIAN PILOT TRAINING PROGRAM
PRE-FLIGHTS PROGRAM
1939-1945

Plainview PGS Article 46

Allen had several buddies who died in the glider crash of January 1943


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

This is the 46th article about Clent Breedlove’s Plainview Pre-Glider School at Finney Field.

David A. Allen, Jr. was born in December 1920 in Poynor, Texas southwest of Tyler.  He is 95 years old today.  On October 17, 2015, he gave an interview about his time training as a glider pilot in WWII.

After training in Breedlove’s pre-glider school at Finney Field north of Plainview, Tex., David Allen travelled to Wickenburg, Ariz., for basic glider training.  After that he headed to Albuquerque, New Mex.

He stayed briefly in a holding place for glider pilots in Albuquerque in September 1942 before leaving for Dalhart Army Air Field in October of that year.

Allen recalled that many of his fellow glider pilots at Plainview and Wickenburg travelled with him to Albuquerque, but after that they separated and went to different schools.

He did not recall of any his fellow glider pilots at Dalhart AAF being with him either at Plainview or Wickenburg.

He said that Dalhart was the first site where he ever flew a WACO CG-4A glider.

“It was.  The (glider) training started there.  It was just experience; that’s it.”

When asked about what type of powered aircraft were used at Dalhart AAF to tow the gliders into the air and up to altitude, Allen replied, “I think C-47’s as far as I remember, C-47’s.”

When asked about the glider crash that occurred at the slaughterhouse on January 26, 1943, Allen said that he knew three of the victims very well and had these comments to make.

“We had a serious accident there; I recall the names of those who were killed, part of the names.”

“The trainees were Claude Bruce, Forbes, Frenchie, or French.  I can’t remember there was a – I don’t know whether it was Italian, or Spanish, or what he was – another student, and then the instructor.  I don’t remember the instructor’s name.”

“Well, it was just unfortunate.  As I told you, three of my buddies were killed in the crash.  They lived in the barracks with me.”

“I knew three of them real well.  The fourth one, I didn’t know him because he lived off-base; and the instructor, I didn’t know the instructor.”

According to Randall F. “Buzz” Montgomery and the Dalhart Texan, there were seven men aboard the ill-fated glider, five of whom died immediately upon impact.  Those five men were:  Flight/Officer Bradford K. Root, instructor; Staff Sgt. Claude C. Bruce; Staff Sgt. James E. Hyatt; Staff Sgt. Ernest J. Forbes; and Staff Sgt. Philo N. French.

The two other men aboard the glider that night who initially survived were Staff Sgt. Bernando Fernandez and Staff Sgt. Harold Kolom.

Fernandez and Kolom were sent to the base hospital at Dalhart AAF.  Fernandez died on February 8, 1943.

Kolom’s condition was listed as “steadily improving” according to the Dalhart Texan but no other mention of him was made in the newspaper after February 10.

As for the search parties that were organized that night to look for the missing glider, Allen said that he was not asked to participate in the search.

“No sir.  No sir, we were flying and they called flying off and sent us back to the barracks.”

“When they crashed, they called off the training when they were searching for the plane, for the glider.”

He explained that even though he was participating in the training on the night of the crash, he was actually on the ground at the time when news reached him that a glider was missing and that all flying had been cancelled.

Allen attended the funeral of his fellow glider pilots and served as a pall bearer.  The surviving glider pilots from the victims’ group were pall bearers, too.

He said that they had all of the funerals at the same time at the base chapel.

Oddly, Allen said that the glider pilots did not receive any special instructions or training about how to avoid a crash like the one in which the fateful glider was involved with the brick slaughterhouse.

In a recent interview, Charles Day, national secretary of the National WWII Glider Pilots Association, Inc., provided information from his archives showing that Harold Kolom later participated in two glider operations in Europe.  Kolom flew in Market-Garden and Bastogne according to Day.

Major Leon B. Spencer, USAFR (ret) was a glider pilot who trained at Dalhart AAF and added this about the aftermath of the glider crash.

“On Wednesday, January 26, 1994, fifty years after the fatal glider crash, the City of Dalhart held memorial services for the victims.  The National World War II Glider Pilots Association presented the city with a memorial plaque containing the names of all six deceased glider victims”, stated Spencer.

The plaque was placed in the local XIT Museum.  Representing the National WWII Glider Pilots Association was:  Ray Welty, Wing 4 (Texas) State Commander; past Wing 4 Commander, Leroy Erwin; National Wing Commander, Phil Casaus; Vice Chairman of the Executive Council, Theo Moore, and other guests including some glider pilots who trained at Dalhart Army Air Field. 

The mayor of the city of Dalhart, the honorable Gene Rahil, headed the local delegation which included Kevin Cadwell, president of the Dalhart Chamber of Commerce, Dessie Hanbury, director of the XIT Museum, and the welcoming committee from the Chamber of Commerce. 

The memorial service was conducted by Phil Casaus who introduced Dalhart Mayor Rahil and Judge David Field of Dallam County and Judge Ron Gordon of Hartley County.  Theo Moore led the group in the Pledge of Allegiance and gave a detailed history of the CG-4A glider.

Ray Welty gave the invocation, and John Devlin, a local Dalhart resident and a glider pilot member, introduced attending glider pilots Claude Bond of Lubbock, and Tony Colaccino, who graduated with the first class at Dalhart.

The memorial plaque will be permanently displayed in the XIT Museum for future generations to view.  The plaque not only honors those forever young airmen who died in that tragic accident but also honors all glider pilots who made the supreme sacrifice and who proudly wore their silver “G” wings.

More about David A. Allen’s glider pilot days in WWII will be discussed in the next article.

Readers are asked to visit the Breedlove-CPTP website at www.breedlove-cptp.com for more details about the glider program of WWII.

Anyone with information about the Plainview Pre-Glider School at Finney Field should contact John McCullough at (806)793-4448 or email johnmc@breedlove-cptp.org.