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

Plainview PGS Article 51



Steve Patti Helped Secure the US-Mexican Border by Flying for the CAP


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

This is the 51st article about Clent Breedlove’s Plainview Pre-Glider School at Finney Field.

In the last article, details were revealed about Truman C. Meinecke’s branch of the Civil Air Patrol (CAP) in Plainview and Clent Breedlove’s CAP in Lubbock during the war.

Security on the home front ranged from security guards and airport police on the ground at Finney Field north of Plainview and Dagley Field and Breedlove Airport in Lubbock to the Civil Air Patrol in the sky guarding the airways, borders, and sea lanes of the United States.

Colonel Steve Patti of the CAP certainly remembers his part in protecting the borders of the United States during the war.  In a recent interview, Steve Patti told of his many experiences in the CAP in Texas near the Mexican border.

“My experience with Civil Air Patrol on active duty was on the coast in the Gulf and then on the border, the southern border, Mexican border in Texas,” explained Patti.

When asked about border crossings between the United States and Mexico versus the remote areas where the CAP patrolled, Patti said, “If there was a road they would be crossing, there would be someone there to check them.  In our case, we were out of the city area.  We were doing the remote areas though.”

“Along the Mexican border, the area that I was involved with, was the southern part of the Texas border, Laredo, south of Laredo, and then Brownsville and the part from Marfa to El Paso.  So it was very remote, like in the Big Bend Country – primitive there.  There were no roads on the American side and very few roads (on the Mexican side), because it was such mountainous terrain and so forth.”

Patti remembered one flight along the Rio Grande river when he was the observer in a Stinson 10A aircraft.  He and the pilot were surprised to find a man crossing the river into the United States.

“In one instance that I can best recall, we were flying about 50 feet above the river and the river was kind of in a curve and wasn’t a straight line and we were flying in a small, two-place Stinson 10A.”

“We came around the corner, around the bend, and the river was shallow at that particular point; and he had his shoes off, and he had his shoes in his hand and when we came around, he was mid-stream in the river and he looked up at us and I looked down at him.”

“We were, you know, like 50 feet above him when we went over him and he just looked startled that we caught him crossing the river.”

“I just wrote down what I saw and where it was and the time of day and described the individual the best I could in a short time frame.”

“Then there were times that we were in an area on the Mexican side, it was fields, you know, flat ground, and there were dirt roads, more so on the Mexican side; it was more populated with small towns and stuff.”

“There was vehicle traffic on the Mexican side.  We would just kind of fly along behind them with a pair of binoculars in slow-flight, you know, put the flaps down, and just kind of slow-flight behind them and I would get the information: the type of car it was, the color, the make of car possibly.”

“If it was possible, we would fly behind the guy on this dirt road, and he was doing 45, 50 miles an hour on the dirt road and there is no traffic, and with a pair of binoculars I would try to get the license plate and at the same time, I would look to see, you know, how many occupants were in the car and any other pertinent information of the individuals:  which direction they were going, the time of day – that sort of information.”

“Then when I would get back to the base, I would report to the intelligence officer and give him the information, go into more detail that I didn’t write down.”

“We would check the cars on the Mexican side as well as on the American side, if there was someone in an unpopulated area that was driving a car.”

“In the way of protection, we carried a Thompson sub-machine gun.  That’s the old-fashioned kind like Bonnie and Clyde used or in the St. Valentine’s Day massacre.”
The Thompson sub-machine gun was a .45 caliber weapon and Patti said that he thought that it held around 20 or 30 rounds of ammunition.

“Sometimes, some of the guys would carry a side-arm.  I didn’t personally, but the pilots would have a side-arm.  They were given to us before we took off.  We’d carry water and maybe a snack bar to munch on in case we made a forced landing.”

“We were out of radio contact.  The radios that we used were, you know, historic stuff now.  They were tube type and you had to extend an antenna out behind the airplane in order to use the transmitter.  The frequencies were low frequency transmissions so there was no radio communication with anybody unless you were within just a few miles of their location.”

All of this border security might seem excessive today; however, following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor and the landing of eight German agents on Long Island, New York on the night of June 12, 1942, protecting the home borders was of great concern.

The arrest of the eight German saboteurs was front page news and was especially topical due to the fact that a motion picture with a very similar theme had been released only about six months earlier.  All Through the Night, starring Humphrey Bogart, Conrad Veidt, Frank McHugh, Phil Silvers, and Jackie Gleason, told the fictitious story of German agents operating in New York City under the direction of Berlin.  The German-American actor, Conrad Veidt, directed the spy ring.  Their mission was to blow up a U.S. Navy battleship in order to start hostilities with the United States.

One of the many missions of the Civil Air Patrol was to prevent such acts of sabotage whether in New York City or West Texas and to prevent incursions of spies into the United States.

More about the history of Finney Field and the CAP 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.