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

Plainview PGS Article 55


Patrolling Mexican Border Kept CAP Busy, Whereas Time in Marfa Was Lacking


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

This is the 55th article about Clent Breedlove’s Plainview Pre-Glider School at Finney Field.

Steve Patti was a mechanic in the Civil Air Patrol during WWII.  He often flew in Stinson 10A aircraft as an observer off Marfa Army Airfield, Auxiliary Field Number 2.

When asked about the purpose and details of the patrol missions along the border, Patti explained, “Well, we basically knew what we were supposed to do which was to gather whatever information was available.”

“We were looking for anything and everything and we didn’t determine whether it should be pursued any further – the intelligence officer, I don’t know what he would do with it.”

“You have to remember that this was untrained people that were doing something that had never been done before.  There were no ground rules other than they wanted to get as much information as they could on something that looked suspicious; and from the air you’re limited as to what you can do.  That information would be given to the intelligence officer and you never asked any questions.  They wouldn’t tell you anything anyhow.”

“We were looking for anything that was suspicious that might be construed as being someplace that they shouldn’t be or trying to cross the border whether they were Caucasian or in uniform or whatever; but the information in training that I got wasn’t really that detailed.  The pilot was pretty much savvy to what he was supposed to do and he knew it and then he told me to write down what he saw.  So, it wasn’t as fine-tuned as it is today.”

When asked more about the man whom Patti observed crossing the Rio Grande with his shoes off, Patti said, “He was Mexican.  Practically everybody on both sides of the river was Mexican.”

“We knew we were looking for something that would be detrimental to our country and people normally wouldn’t be doing what they were doing if they were crossing the border.  We would just report what we saw and it was up to the intelligence people that got the information as to what they wanted to do with it.”

“When I would go out, we didn’t get much training as being mechanics.  They didn’t have any schools or anything as to what to look for.”

“If they (civilians) were crossing the border, we’d write down the time and place and a description of the persons.  If there was a car, we’d write down the time and place and a description of the car and the number of people.”

Patti said that they not only were looking for vehicles or pedestrians who looked suspicious but also for any aircraft that appeared questionable.

“If it was an airplane, we would write down the position where we saw the airplane, the altitude, the type of aircraft, time of day and that sort of thing.”

“Like the one that I saw when I was on one of the patrols, I saw Twin-engine Beech, a Beechcraft – a C45.  It was a C-45, okay, because it had windows.  It was low altitude.  We were flying in and out of clouds along the border.  We were about five hundred feet elevation at the time and it was in a very desolate area that this twin-engine Beechcraft was south to north across the river at the same altitude that we were flying at, there were some stratus clouds, and he disappeared into that cloud as he went by, he disappeared into that cloud.  I don’t think he ever saw us but I saw him going across in front of us.”

“It took all of 15 seconds that you had a chance to see what type of aircraft it was and which direction and altitude; and it had no markings that I could see on the airplane.”

When asked if he also jotted down information about anyone riding on horseback or on mules along the border, Patti replied yes, but noted that the U.S. cavalry that used to patrol the border with Mexico stopped doing that because it would take several weeks to see from the ground what CAP could see in two hours from the air.

“We were looking for anything and everything that we could find whether they were suspicious, or not; if we saw somebody on the border crossing the river, we’d make a notation.  It wasn’t my decision to say that it was suspicious.  It was the intelligence people that would determine what to do with it.”

When asked if the CAP personnel were specifically told to look for spies, saboteurs, or espionage agents during their border patrols, Patti chuckled, “I think that we all pretty well knew that without having to say it; that’s why we were flying the border to identify and see what was on the border.”

“If I saw a woman with two little kids walking along the border, I’d make a notation of it; but you wouldn’t classify that as suspicious.”

Patti explained that the intelligence officer was different from the commanding officer of the auxiliary airfield.  There were other officers there including an engineering officer.

“George Felt was our engineering officer.  He was in charge of all maintenance of aircraft and he was a pilot himself but he didn’t fly any missions; but he had assistant maintenance officers, like Dean Rankin was one, I forget the other guy’s name, they were already licensed mechanics.”

“Then there were people like myself who had very little knowledge but we were learning as we went along.  They showed us how to do stuff:  how to grind valves, and how to overhaul an engine, or change oil, or replace magnetos or props, or do brakes, or recover an aircraft.”

“When I was all done, I got my mechanics license certification.  I had so much good training.”

“When I left CAP and was called to active duty in the Air Corps.  They didn’t send me to a training base, they sent me directly out to an active military air base, which was Clovis, New Mexico and put me on the flight line.”

“They assigned a B-17, a B-24, a B-25, AT-6, the Stinson L-5, and a C-46.  The training I got in Civil Air Patrol, they were confident that I knew what to do and how to do it.  I could rivet.  I could do engine changes, cylinder changes, like I did on a B-29 which came into Clovis, New Mexico.”

As far as trips into Marfa for recreational time, Patti said, “Well, there was nothing to do in Marfa.  People there were ranchers and that sort of thing and there were very few houses in Marfa itself.”

“There were nothing more than one-story buildings in the city of Marfa at the time.  They had one movie theater and didn’t have any changes to the movie for a whole month.  Usually going to the movie, you could only go once a month.”

“On occasion, there was a USO function, dance, you know, where the military was invited there.  The closest military that we had was the cavalry and we didn’t get along with the cavalry.  We had taken away their responsibility of doing the border.  They didn’t like us very much.”

“There weren’t that many women, young women, that went to dances so it wasn’t that entertaining really.  They didn’t serve food or anything.”

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.