David Bailey fondly recalled the stories he had heard about the Civilian Conservation Corps Camp which was the original inhabitant of land on the northeast side of Fort Sumner before WWII.
The camp, Bailey said, was started back during the Great Depression in the 1930s by the Roosevelt Administration. It was labeled CCC Camp 23N, Bailey recalled to me in my motel room on New Year’s Eve 2009 at the Super 8 Motel on US 62-84 Highway. But that was about all Bailey knew of the camp and just that it was later turned into the glider school when the war broke out.
I whetted Bailey’s appetite by telling him how earlier in the day at the DeBaca County Courthouse I came across many articles in the Fort Sumner Leader newspaper (now the DeBaca County News) which gave me many more details about CCC Camp 23N.
An article in the Fort Sumner Leader dated April 15, 1942 talked about the camp’s former superintendent, who was killed in a car wreck near Salt Lake City, Utah on April 14, 1942.
Mr. C. E. Johnson, who was stationed at the Fort Sumner camp for about two months, was re-assigned to another CCC Camp in Mount Pleasant, Utah. He left his post in Fort Sumner on March 31 to assume his new duties in Utah on April 13. He and his wife had traveled to his hometown of Silver City first before separating.
Mrs. Johnson went to visit family in California while Mr. Johnson traveled on to Utah alone. No other details about the wreck were given.
Then on Friday, May 1, 1942, another article appeared in the Leader which stated curtly that CCC Camp 23N was scheduled to close on May 23 in conjunction with an order for all such camps to be closed except those engaged in defense work.
The buildings at the camp would be left intact, according the article, with a caretaker in charge of the grounds. Enrollees of the camp and part of the personnel were shipped to the Conchas Dam where a bombing range was to be constructed.
The first mention of a possible glider school at Fort Sumner was on May 24 when the Leader announced in a brief article that four Army officials met with local businessmen, who showed them the local CCC Camp and other facilities that might contribute to a future glider school located at the former camp site.
Excitement about a new glider school rose on Friday, June 5, 1942, when the second article about a glider school appeared. An odd, perhaps old-fashioned word appeared in the article’s headline: Glidey. The article read: “GLIDEY FLYING SCHOOL SITE STILL BEING GIVEN INSPECTION.”
Apparently glidey was a term used sometimes in those days to refer to gliders.
The article stated that the four men flew from the west coast to Clovis and then by courtesy of Bill Cutter’s Cutter-Carr Flying Service to Fort Sumner.
A new glider school at Fort Sumner “would meet the hearty approval of all residents”, the Leader commented. The article ended by stating that it was hoped the information the men obtained during their inspection tour would meet with the approval of the powers in Washington, D.C., thus indicating the strong desire of Fort Sumner residents for the economic impact of a glider school to replace the lost revenue from former CCC Camp 23N.
So much more of the history of FSAAF will be told in the upcoming months by me. A museum at the municipal airport would be a great location for the citizens of Fort Sumner and the WWII veterans to continue telling this history for decades to come.
All these stories are available online at www.researchwars.org under the FSAAF link.
The National WWII Glider Pilot Association’s website www.ww2gp.org and
Silent Wings Museum, the National WWII Glider Pilot’s Museum also both tell the story of the glider pilots of WWII.
The Silent Wings Museum website is www.silentwingsmuseum.com.
The glider pilots were also known as Winged Commandos and a website in their honor was started by Joe Hays. That website is www.wingedcommandos.org
If you were a part of Fort Sumner Army Air Field and have information which can help in my quest to write a complete history of that field, please contact me.
— Submitted by John W. McCullough, a graduate student in history at Texas Tech University. He can be reached by phone at 806-793-4448 or email: firstname.lastname@example.org