February 2011

2011 Elections of Trustees/Officers – Annual retreat – Gen. Howard Davidson – Gen. Herbert A. Dargue – Financial Statement – Aerodrome/Columbus Airport

Election for 2011 resulted in the reelection of Trustees Lethin, Maxwell and Wehner; 2010 appointed Trustee Efferson was elected to his first term.  Trustees are elected by the membership at large.  At the board meeting following the election, Trustees reelected Wehner President, Maxwell as Secretary, and Efferson as Treasurer.  Trustees serve two year terms, four elected for odd years and five for even.

The Annual Board Retreat will be held this year on March 25th at the Black Range Lodge in New Mexico’s Gila National Forest.  The evening of the 24th, Trustees, Advisory Board members and their spouses will take part in a program provided by Trustee Ric Lambart.  Past President Gene Valdes will lead a ‘skull’ session on the 25th for both boards dealing with planning for present year, and a look at our vision for the future.

Julia Cheshire of Panama City FL and Julia Pyatt of El Prado NM will be visiting us in Columbus on Monday, February 24th.  Ms. Pyatt is making a documentary about the China-Burma-India (CBI) Theater of WWII.  Her grandfather (and Mrs. Cheshire’s father) General Howard C. Davidson commanded the 10th Air Force there.  His early career included First Aero Squadron duty in Columbus and Mexico with Pershing’s Punitive Expedition.  Pyatt will be accompanied by Emmy and Peabody Award winning photographer/documentary filmmaker Doug Crawford.

Mrs. Cheshire has very graciously donated photos from her father’s scrapbooks to FASF, and will be exhibiting these during her stay.  FASF and the Columbus Historical Society are planning a luncheon in their honor on that day.  A reception in their honor will follow at 1:30 and will be open to the public.  They will also be guests that evening at the FASF board meeting.  We are delighted that these folks will be visiting.

In addition to a magnifying glass, the statement below needs a little explanation.  The property and closing costs do reflect expenses for closing only one of the donated Wilson properties.  We have not yet been billed for the second.  Both are shown on the balance sheet at a rough market value as of Dec. 31.  Do you know anyone who would like one or two pieces of prime commercial land in Columbus, New Mexico…?  If there are questions, contact James Efferson, Treasurer, at 575-519-1100.

The statement reflects stability, not growth.  That we have managed to hang on to our core membership through the ongoing financial nightmare speaks well for the foundation.  So far, we have received no governmental support, local or otherwise; no surprise in this, the poorest county in one of the poorest states.

Herbert  A. Dargue
November 17, 1886 – December 12, 1941

By Ken Emery

Herbert A “Bert” Dargue was born in Brooklyn, NY.  He taught school briefly and at nineteen he was principal of a combined elementary – junior high, then entered West Point and graduated in 1911, when he was sent to the Philippines with the Coast Artillery.  There he applied to the Aviation Section of the Signal Corps and started flight training in March, 1913.  Dargue soloed in April and received his pilot’s certificate in July. Before leaving the Philippines he collaborated with Lt. J. O. Mauborgne to successfully develop a two-way radio for use in flight; he received a letter of commendation for this.

Dargue was sent to the North Island flight school to be an instructor, then in December, 1915 joined the First Aero Squadron in San Antonio.  He arrived in Columbus with the squadron on March 15, 1916.  His plane was the first to be reassembled so he took it up for a short flight and “crossed the border just a little…”  Thus, he was the first pilot to venture into Mexico though Foulois and Dodd made the first official visit the next day.

Bert’s adventures in Mexico would require a whole essay – the flight into Mexico when he spent a lonely, cold night near Janos; the mob scene outside Chihuahua where he was saved by a photographer (and his own wits); and a 60 plus mile hike with Willis after their plane crashed summarizes his Punitive Expedition.  Between these events, he did some successful flying.

His assignments for the next decade were mostly in flight training.  He served again at North Island, then at Fort Sill.  A special assignment was to teach the Chief of the Air Service, Major General Mason Patrick, to fly!  Fortunately the “over 60” general proved to be a natural.

Dargue commanded the Army Pan-American Flight in 1926.  This goodwill tour left San Antonio December 21, five Loening Ducks, each with two pilots.  The route circumnavigated Central and South America ending in Washington D. C. on May 2, 1917.  Only four planes returned.  Dargue’s plane and another collided and both crashed.  Dargue and his co-pilot bailed out and survived.  The other pilots didn’t.  A replacement plane joined for the rest of the flight.  The pilots were honored with the Distinguished Flying Cross, the first ever given.

Major Dargue took command of the 2nd Bombardment Group at Langley Field in 1930.  On October 2, 1934, he became Assistant Commandant of the Air Corps Tactical School at Maxwell Field.  This was followed by command of the 19th Wing at Albrook Field, Canal Zone in October, 1938. He was now a Brig. General.  He served as Chief of the Air Corps Inspection Bureau in Washington D. C., then in 1941 as a Maj. General, he successfully demonstrated the value of the long range bomber in the joint field maneuvers in Louisiana.  This led to the Army including strategic bombing in their battle plans.  Later that year, he became commander of the 1st Air Force at Mitchell Field.  Shortly after, the bombing of Pearl Harbor occurred and Gen. Dargue was chosen to replace Gen. Short in Hawaii and to determine why the U. S. was so unprepared.  He and his staff left immediately is a B-18 which, as usual, he piloted.  They arrived in Phoenix late afternoon on December 12 and then continued toward Hamilton Field in California.  It is unknown why, but somehow they got off course and at about 9:45 p.m., flew into the side of a Sierra Nevada mountain near Bishop, California.  The plane and their remains weren’t found until spring.

Bert Dargue had an exciting military career with several close calls.  His career was also successful as he held many responsible command positions.  And he contributed in other ways.  Not as well known as Foulois, Mitchell and Arnold, nonetheless he was a strong proponent of the Air Service as a separate branch.  With Foulois and Gorrell he worked to convince the Armed Services that strategic bombing could be a major factor in warfare.  He proved it during the field maneuvers in Louisiana.  When inducted into the National Aviation Hall of Fame, the citation read:

“For exceptional contributions to American airpower and Army aviation and to the eventual establishment of an independent Air Force, as well as his skill as both pilot and problem solver, Herbert A. Dargue is enshrined with pride and honor into the National Aviation Hall of Fame.”

The “ Major General Herbert A. Dargue” , an aircraft repair vessel, served in the Pacific in World War II.  How many Army men have had a ship named for them?

                 Herbert A. Dargue

 Born                Brooklyn, New York
Died                Bishop, California
Served             U. S. Army:   1911 – 1941
Rank                Major General
Commands: Pan-American Goodwill Flight 2nd Bombardment Group (Langley Field)
(Asst) Air Corps Tactical School (Maxwell Field) 19th Wing (Albrook Field, Canal Zone)
First Air Force (Mitchell Field)
Awards: Distinguished Flying Cross, Distinguished Service Medal (posthumously), National Aviation Hall of Fame

 FAS Aerodrome and the ColAir Field

By Ken Emery

The old Columbus Airport (ColAir) is easily located from the air with the aid of an old VFR Chart.  The assumption has long been made that it grew out of the First Aero Field of 1916-17, but until a short time ago the actual location of the aerodrome has been unknown.  Where were they positioned in relation to one another?  How much were the two congruent?  The only known map to show the army field suggests that the south portion of it underlies the east end of the ColAir field.  (Our recent Parcel #1 purchase contains part of the aerodrome, and a major part of ColAir.

Literature on either is sparse.  The Columbus Courier reported on April 7th, 1916, that the Army was building an airfield; apparently work on the field didn’t start until the Squadron flew into Mexico on March 19th. FAS was based at Colonia Dublan and San Jeronimo through April then returned to Columbus.  First Aero continued to use the airfield until August, 1917, when it was posted to Europe.  The field continued in use until at least 1923 when Maj. Heffernan flew to El Paso in 18 minutes, an unofficial record that lasted but a short time.  Camp Furlong (Pershing’s original base) was winding down, and the airfield fell into disuse.

The Deming papers start to mention Columbus’ airfield in 1928.  “The Columbus airport is coming into use again,” reported the Graphic on October 2nd.  Five planes had landed in a six day period and townspeople were working on the field.  “When completed, the field will be one-half mile square…”  (Neither field actually fits that dimension.)  At about the same time, a “large” Standard Oil plane circled the town, apparently signaling distress.  Cars were driven to the field to light it with their headlamps, but he plane hit a car on landing and demolished both.  No one was hurt, but the plane’s passenger was “shook up” and decided to take the train to El Paso.

The airport volunteers must have done a good job, because by 1929, Standard Airlines, flying Fokker F-7s, was stopping in Columbus on it’s Tucson to El Paso run.  Jack Frye, Founder and President of Standard, sent to complementary round trip tickets to two Columbus teenagers as a reward for their work on the field.  The boys flew to ELP on a Friday night and back on Sunday morning.  Frye may have flown into Columbus himself.  He possessed the first commercial license issued by Arizona, and made the first scheduled flight into Tucson.  After several sales and mergers, Standard became TWA; Frye was it’s president from 1934 through 1947.

Other airlines used the field.  Scenic Airways and Universal Airways are mentioned in the newspapers of the time.  Notably, Miss Amelia Earhart landed at Columbus on November 30th, 1929, and spent the night with the Koch and Johnston families.  It was unintended, as she was enroute from Los Angeles to Omaha, and couldn’t find the Deming airport… draw from that what you may.

The actual evolution of the airfield from the days of the Punitive Expedition to “…one-half mile square…” to ColAir is unclear.  Information gaps exist.  Newspaper accounts are episodic and sporadic; Columbusrecords from 1916 to 1940 make no mention of either field.  It seems that the village had no official interest and the work done on the field was private.  (Ed. Note: little has changed in that regard.)  How the aerodrome of the First Aero Squadron morphed into ColAir is at best uncertain.

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