November is National Aviation History Month! According to the Government Printing Office, the month is “dedicated to exploring, recognizing and celebrating America’s great contributions and achievements in the development of aviation. Aviation history refers to the history of development of mechanical flight — from the earliest attempts in kites and gliders to powered heavier-than-air, supersonic and space flights.” This post explores the history of Army Air Fields in Texas using items from our holdings.
Written by Rachel DeShong, Map Curator and Coordinator for the Heart of Texas Regional History Fair
On December 8, 1941, the day after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, the United States declared war on Japan. Immediately, the United States government embarked on expanding their military operations as quickly as possible. These efforts included both recruitment and the building of new military installations. Texas offered ideal conditions for military installations as there was plenty of land and relatively warm climate year-around. When World War II ended, there were a total of 65 army air fields in the state of Texas alone. These air fields not only infused the local communities with some much needed income, but also brought in a large influx of young men and women from across the country.
To commemorate their training experiences, air field personnel created souvenir booklets, yearbooks, and postcards. The booklets and yearbooks (called “mug books”) were composed almost entirely of photographs and documented the lives of the cadets rather than the history of the air field. Only a few examples include any historical element, and those that do are very brief. Images depicting physical activity, daily messes, and classrooms were common. The yearbooks shared similar styles with high school yearbooks with elaborate covers and individual photographs of each cadet along with their name, their hometown, and sometimes their aviator call sign. One such yearbook in our collection from the Pampa Army Air Field includes the embossed name of the cadet on the front cover and signatures like those one would find in a typical high school yearbook.
These materials also provide a sneak peek into the cadets’ personal lives. Often included in these books are humorous drawings and captions with inside jokes. Others document the various extracurricular activities that the cadets participated in including sports, listening to music, and reading. Several even include images of their camp mascots which, contrary to what one might expect, tended to be furry, cute, and cuddly. The Amarillo Army Air Field claimed two puppies, a kitten, and a fawn as their post mascots. Other details hint at the romantic lives of the cadets such as the wedding photograph of an unidentified couple from the Blackland Army Air Field or the numerous illustrations referencing the cadets’ perpetual lack of female companionship. Some books also contain a section dedicated to the memory of cadets who died during training. While providing valuable historic insight to training and military installations, these resources help to humanize the pilots and remind us that they were just like us.