Thursday, September 3, 2015

Historian Lonn Taylor's comment to the FERC on the Historical Significance of the Marfa Army Airfield

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Members of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission
Chairman and Commissioners
Federal Energy Regulatory Commission
888 First Street, N.E.
Washington, D.C. 20426

Dear Members of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission:

This comment is in regard to the open scoping related to the Environmental Assessment
for FERC Docket CP 15-500, the proposed Trans-Pecos Pipeline.

In consideration of FERC’s request for public comment related to environmental and cultural impacts, I respectfully submit this comment regarding the pipeline’s impact on an endangered historic site along the non-jurisdictional portion of the proposed pipeline route: the Marfa Army Air Field.

Lonn Taylor


By way of introduction and to demonstrate my authority on this subject I offer a brief review of my credentials. I am a historian and retired museum professional who lives in Fort Davis, Texas. From 1984 until my retirement in 2002 I served as Historian at the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of American History in Washington, D.C. I hold a B.A. degree in history and government from Texas Christian University and have conducted historical research for 47 years. I am the author of 8 books and numerous scholarly articles and for the past 10 years have written a weekly column on
Texas history for the Marfa Big Bend Sentinel. 

The Marfa Army Airfield: An Endangered Historic Site

The site of one of Texas’s most significant World War II Army air fields is located directly in the pathway of the proposed Trans-Pecos pipeline and will undoubtedly be adversely affected by the construction of the pipeline, resulting in the loss of an important historic resource.

In March 1942 the War Department selected the 2,750-acre site of the Marfa Army Air Field, due south of the present Marfa Lights Viewing Area, for its proximity to both U.S. Highway 90 and the Southern Pacific Railroad. The field’s planned use was for the advanced training of Army Air Corps twin-engine pilots. The land was purchased jointly by the cities of Marfa and Alpine from T.G. Hendrick of Abilene for $17,850 and then leased to the War Department for 25 years for $1.00 a year. McGough Brothers of Houston started construction of 6 asphalt runways with supplementary taxiways and 20150903-5088 FERC PDF (Unofficial) 9/3/2015 11:48:01 AM ramps and 250 buildings including barracks, mess halls, hangars, and a control tower, chapel, theatre, and officers club in June 1942. Enough buildings were completed that the first class of 300 cadets was able to start training in December 1942. Eventually a 172-unit housing area for married civilian employees, called Marpine, was added to the field. By April 1944 the Marfa Army Air Field had a complement of 575 officers, 2,144 enlisted men, and 604 civilian employees, plus about 1,000 cadets in training. The hangars housed 500 airplanes, including Cessna AT-17B and Beech AT-11 trainers and B-25 light bombers.

A total of about 8,000 men went through the Marfa Advanced Flying School at the field, with one class graduating each month between February 1943 and May 1945. The graduation ceremonies were gala events, attended by citizens of Marfa and featuring a parade, a military band, aerial demonstrations, tours of the field, and an evening dance at the officers club. Beginning in the fall of 1944 the graduating cadets included eight groups of Chinese Air Force pilots who were being trained to fly the B-25s that the U.S. government had provided Chaing Kai-Shek through the lend-lease program. The Marfa Army Air Field was one of the few flying fields in the United States where Chinese Air Force pilots were trained.

When it was established the Marfa Army Air Field was part of the Army Air Forces Flying Training Command. In June, 1944, the field became part of the Second Air Force, which inherited responsibilty for all Army Air Force pilot training from the Flying Training Command. . In June 1945 all training functions ceased and the field became a redeployment center for the I Troop Carrier Command, which was responsible for delivering airborne troops to battlefields in the Pacific.

The base was closed and declared surplus by the military in October 1946, and many of its military buildings were moved to Alpine and Marfa, but it continued to operate as the Marfa-Alpine municipal airport, serving Trans-Texas Airlines daily flights to and from the Big Bend from 1948 to 1960 and those of a smaller feeder airline, Solar Airlines of Roswell, New Mexico, in 1964 and 1965. In the 1960s the airport became a well-known site for soaring enthusiasts due to the thermals produced by the peculiar convergence of moist and dry air around Marfa and was the site of national soaring contests in 1967 and 1969. In June and July 1970 the airport hosted the 14-day Twelfth World Soaring Contest, the first such contest ever held in the United States, at which 80 pilots from 26 countries competed for the world soaring championship. The airport was permanently closed after that meet and was replaced by the present Marfa Municipal Airport on State Highway 17.

The Marfa Army Air Field had a tremendous impact on Marfa during World War II, causing the town’s population to double. Marfa citizens took the cadets and base personnel into their homes; Marfa girls attended the weekly officers’ club and U.S.O. dances and many marriages resulted. The base held open houses for Marfa residents and Marfans attended performances at the base theater, including shows given by ventriloquist Edgar Bergen and tenor Mario Lanza. The base’s color guard and band participated in parades in Marfa and at one point the base even held a beauty contest to select a young woman from Marfa to represent the base at the El Paso Sun Bowl. When the base was officially closed in October 1946 the people of Marfa held a series of goingaway parties and barbecues for the departing personnel. It continued to play a significant role in the history of the town and the Big Bend after its abandonment by the military, providing the first and only commercial air service in the entire region for twelve years and bringing glider pilots and their crews from all over the world to Marfa throughout the 1960s, culminating in the world soaring championship contest in 1970. It is one of the region’s most significant historic sites.

Today there are no surviving structures at the site, although the pattern of runways and streets is clearly visible from the air. The site, which is identified by an official Texas Historical Commission historic marker on U.S. Highway 90, is now private property and no archaeological investigations have ever been carried out there. The construction of the Trans-Pecos Pipeline could do irreparable damage to this invaluable but unexplored historic site. 

For these reasons I urge the Commission to conduct a full Environmental Impact Statement that would include proper archaeological and historical documentation of this historic property. In addition, I further urge the Commission to examine all other possible alternate routes for the pipeline. Ideally, the Commission will ultimately determine that such a project introduces too many complications because of the array of natural and cultural resources that would be impacted and that a
determination of No-Action is most appropriate.


Anthony, Allen. Little Airlines in the Big Bend. Fort Davis: River Microstudies, 1999.
Coffield, India, “Behind the Scenes at the World Soaring Championship,” Big Bend
Sentinel, June 25, 1970.
Kahl, Georgia Lee. Interview with Lonn Taylor, 8/23/15.
“Marfa Army Air Field,” Wikipedia,, accessed 8/22/15.
Taylor, Lonn. “Memories, Then and Now, of Marfa Army Air Field,” Big Bend Sentinel,
March 17, 2011.
Document Content(s)
MarfaArmy Air Field.DOC...............................................1-7

1 comment:

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