The Commemorative Air Force Rio Grande Valley Wing has a new home in Los Fresnos, Texas.
Embracing the challenge that a new venue presents, volunteers are preparing to host the first – at this airport – CAF Airshow on June 22 and 23, 2019.
“There’s a pattern. We were in Harlingen for 30 years, in Brownsville almost 30, if we get kicked out of here in another 30 years it’s fine with me, for none of us guys will be here, and it will be someone else’s responsibility. That is the way we see it,” said David Christopher, CAF RGV museum director, when asked if this airport will finally be their permanent home.
His bold statement struck a chord. Images of these airplanes, jeeps and bicycles in junkyards and important documents shredded and gone forever rushed through my mind. Artifacts recycled into the modern era of expendability, outdated, irrelevant history to people who don’t recognize rotary dial telephones. Photographs of heroes, of those who did not think twice about serving our country gone forever. Incapsulated digitally as a distant and interpersonal record. A chill ran down my spine as I heard more about the future of the Rio Grande Valley’s CAF.
Approaching the Cameron County Airport in Los Fresnos and seeing the hangar for the very first time was like stepping into a Humphrey Bogart movie set.
“The Port Isabel Cameron County Airport was built in 1942 when there were no paved roads in and out of the Valley; it was an amazing challenge to build this large concrete building in one year. Material had to come by train or barge and transporting it to this isolated place must have been quite the logistical challenge,” said David Hughston, an active member of the CAF’s RGV Wing and veteran pilot who will fly his Stearman – a 1947 PT 17 biplane used for military training – during the airshow.
“The building design used was the same everywhere else in the country. San Marcos and Brownsville airports house identical buildings, but the one in Brownsville is hard to appreciate due to surrounding buildings.”
Hughston added: “The airport was an auxiliary base to the Harlingen Air Gunnery School everybody knows about. Few people know about this one. It was designed to train air gunners too, but from ground-based machine guns. There were several shooting ranges north of where the airport is now. A little train towed a target around in a circle so the guys could shoot at it. There are millions of shells still out there.”
The Cameron County airport has a significant history of its own. The airport closed after WWII, and reactivated during the Korean war, and closed and reactivated one more time during the Vietnam war. Hughston and the rest of the CAF volunteers believe the airport would be their ideal permanent home for the valuable mix of CAF, war museum, and airport history. I can’t think of anybody who would not agree.
Inside the hangar is the small museum, much smaller than the former museum in Brownsville, yet still well worth the visit. There is a section dedicated to the RGV’s history as it relates to WWII. A striking enlarged photograph on display of Japanese war planes coming into Pearl Harbor from the mountains to avoid radar taken by a Japanese captain who peeled off the first wave of planes to take the photograph of the first bomb on US ships. The bomb missed its target creating a geyser instead. There is also the telegraph machine used in Brownsville when news of the Pearl Harbor attack was received among several other valuable treasures.
Women played an important role for a couple of reasons, Christopher explained.
“The first was to hold aerial targets so gunners could practice hitting the targets and the second was to ferry aircraft from the factory to England or Hawaii. In those days Individuals were assigned to an aircraft they would always fly,” Christopher said.
“After completing their 25th mission, pilots could go home. Some became gunnery instructors. They were needed to train the 30,000 pilots turning out every year at the height of the war. Some 300,000 airplanes were built between December of 1941 to August of 1945.”
The CAF RGV Wing’s dream is to build a 5,000 to 6,000 square foot museum adjacent to the airport plus an additional building for offices, meeting rooms and needed spaces. The plan is to search for grants. Donations are always welcome and appreciated.
One way to support the CAF’s mission is to head out there and have some good-old-time fun. Purchase tickets online at rgvcaf.org for $12 a person. There is no admission cost for children under 12. Tickets at the door will cost $15 per person. Parking begins at 9:00 a.m. with plenty of time to visit the museum and trade show and admire the vintage airplanes. Flying begins at noon and is planned to last about 2 ½ hours.
Throughout my visit to the Cameron County Airport I sensed passion and enthusiasm eradiating from the busy volunteers swarming about like bees in their new colony. What will the future hold they must wonder? They remind me of a quote by Mahatma Gandhi that says: “A small body of determined spirits fired by an unquenchable faith in their mission can alter the course of history.”
Let’s help them keep history alive in Cameron County!
Additional Ticket Information
Sales end on Jun 23, 2019
Ticket good for one adult, one day only. Children under 5 free with VIP adult. Entry into AIRSHOW! 2019 VIP tent includes: -Private, covered, front-row seating – Catered lunch and snacks – Bottled water, sodas, juice, and beer – Private parking directly behind V.I.P. tent *Group rates available. Contact us for more info.
Advance General Admission tickets with FlightLine Club- $22.00+$2.97 Fee
These tickets are available for purchase until 12:00am on the day of the show. Ticket good for one adult, one day only. Children under 12 free with adult; $5 per child entry to FlightLine Club. FlightLine Club tent includes: – Covered seating – Premier seating – Private access to restrooms – Direct access to beverages.