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

Plainview PGS Article 56


Patti Completed CAP Duties at Cold, Desolate Marfa Then Headed to El Paso


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

This is the 56th 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.

“On one occasion, I recall, we stopped at Johnson’s ranch for a bathroom break.  We didn’t go to the house.  That was President Johnson.  At the time, he was senator or congressman or somebody and that was before he became a president of the United States.”

Patti explained that this ranch was along the Texas-Mexico border.

“The runway was quite a distance from the house.  We didn’t go to it.  The house was like a mansion practically.  We would just stop and get out and walk around the airplane for a little while and stretch our legs and just drink some water from our canteen, or whatever, and get back in.  We never went to the house.”

He said that he landed at the LBJ ranch along the border only once.

When asked if the observers were pilots, too, and if they flew any of the aircraft on border patrols, Patti explained, “Yes, there was one pilot and his wife that were there; occasionally he would go as an observer, or as a pilot and he owned his own airplane.  It was called Jax-Doll was the nickname that he put on the side of his aircraft.  It was a yellow Stinson 10A and it was hangared there.”

According to a photograph provided by Patti, the Jax-Doll II Stinson 10A at Marfa was flown by Lt. Filberts.

Patti said though that some observers were observers only and not pilots, as well.

“Ed Sieger was an observer and not a pilot – strictly an observer.  He was from Los Angeles.”

Patti said that the observers would take binoculars with them on flights along with their notepad and pencil.

When asked if the observers ever took a camera with them for patrols, he replied, “No, not to my knowledge.”

“We were kind of a way-stop for pilots who were coming in from the north and the south.  They would come in and fuel up.  We had an underground fueling storage facility and we had CAP personnel that did the re-fueling of the aircraft.”

Patti said that a man named Cato did the re-fueling of the aircraft.

“You’ll see him, a picture of him.  His name was Cato.  He looked Oriental.”

“Fuel tanks were underground.  I think there might have been two tanks.  We didn’t refuel any military aircraft there – just our own.  I never saw any military land there at all, just CAP.”

Patti explained the difference between CAP Marfa AAF Auxiliary Field Number 2 and other CAP airfields in Texas.

“Number 1 was down further south.  I think it was Laredo or Eagle Pass.  It was CAP Number 1.  We were Number 2 to El Paso.  El Paso was the main CAP facility to the Army Air Force base, which had some B-24 bombers and P-47’s.  That was our main (CAP) base in Texas there on the border in the northern part.  There were other bases in Arizona, New Mexico, and California, which I never got any information on them at all.”

“Some of the men lived in town and then some of us mechanics lived on the base.”

When talking about the airfield, Patti said that sometimes it would be lit up at night.

“I remember seeing it (the airfield) lit up on rare occasions.  I think there was a method by which the runway lights could be turned on by an airplane by using their microphone.”

Pilots could click their microphones a certain number of times when flying over an airfield in order to turn on the runway’s landing lights.  This allowed a pilot to land at an airfield that was either closed or where all the personnel were already asleep.  This functionality still exists today and pilots often use it when landing at small municipal airports.

“I’ve got a picture of the commanding officer there at the time, which was Ben McGlashon.  He was from Los Angeles.”

Patti took a picture of McGlashon landing his Stinson Reliant at Marfa.

He also took a photo of a Stinson 10A taking off to go patrol but the aircraft had no CAP insignias on it.

Even though Patti and the other men were in the CAP, the U.S. military provided all of their clothing to them.

“We had G.I. coveralls.  In the wintertime, we were there in the winter months, they gave us these flying wool boots, and pants, and coats, and helmets, and gloves.  Temperatures there in the wintertime, temperatures got down to freezing.  The wind was, persistent wind there that was blowing anywhere from, on a calm day, it was blowing maybe ten or fifteen miles an hour; and then on a windy day it would blow like forty-five to fifty miles an hour.”

The weather played its important role in CAP missions and sometimes determined if the men would even go out on patrol on a particular day.

“If it was snowing, we didn’t do much.  We tried to stay warm.”

“There is a picture of me in heavy clothing on the framework where the windmill for the pump for the water from the underground well that was there.”

When asked about the age range of the men stationed at Marfa, Patti replied, “There ages ranged, there were a few in the 20-years, but I’d say that the average was 35- to 45-year old pilots.”

When summing up his time at Marfa AAF Auxiliary Field Number 2, Patti said, “It was very desolate – unforgiving temperatures and wind and cold and desolate.  It was a place you wouldn’t want to go there; and if you did, you wouldn’t want to stay.”

His next assignment was at Henderson Field in El Paso.  He said that Biggs Field was also in El Paso and that both fields were back-to-back and practically one large base so it was referred to as Henderson-Biggs Field.

They had artillery training there.  It was also a training base for Consolidated B-24 Liberators and Republic P-47 Thunderbolt fighter planes.

“They had various different military personnel a lot of G.I’s.  We didn’t go to town that often.  We mainly stayed on the base there.”

Patti recalled one event where a man loading a belt of bullets into a fighter plane discharged the machine gun when Patti was walking near the plane.

“The 50-caliber machine gun, the guy was loading 50-caliber bullets in there and he stomped on it for some reason or another and I had to hit the dirt face down on the concrete apron and the tracer bullets were going over my head about 50 feet over the top of me going out over the desert.”

“They had some civilian aircraft there but mostly military.”

Patti did not go on anymore CAP observations missions at Henderson-Biggs.  He just performed his duties as a mechanic.

When asked if the CAP’s duty at El Paso involved monitoring any criminal behavior along the border, Patti replied, “No.  There’s one thing you have to remember.  Everything we were doing was secret; and unless you had a secret clearance, you weren’t brought into the discussion and officers didn’t socialize with mechanics.”

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.