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Pyote Army Air Field, the “Enola Gay” and “The Swoose”

pyoteaaf

(Image credit: aircraftboneyards.com)

The origin of the name of Pyote, Texas is unknown, but possibly derived either from a mispronunciation of the word “coyote” by foreign railroad workers or it was a variation of the word peyote, the name of a local cactus plant.  Pyote is located roughly about halfway between Pecos and Monahans in Ward County, Texas.  It has had two notable “boomlets” in its history, the first after oil was discovered in the area around 1920 and a second during World War II.

We came across the name of this air field while reading “A Higher Call” by Adam Makos, a wonderful book that relates the fascinating story of a wartime encounter between Charlie Brown, pilot of a wounded United States Army Air Corps B-17 Flying Fortress bomber and Franz Stigler, pilot of a German Messerschmitt Bf 109 fighter.  Many months prior to their fateful meeting in the skies above Germany, Pyote was casually mentioned in the book as the location where Brown had picked up his B-17 crew at this Texas air field, though there is no further discussion of the air field in the book.

Pyote began its life as an air field when the United States Army Air Corps chose it (along with other locations similar to it) as the site of a B-17 training base, partly because of its sparse surrounding population and the usually aircraft-friendly West Texas weather.  Construction began in the fall of 1942.  The air field featured two runways of 8,400 feet in a V and connected by a taxiway that completed a triangle.  At its peak, Pyote housed some 6,500 individuals and was used to train B-17 pilots on precision bombing methods.  Due to an abundance of West Texas rattlesnakes in the area, it took on the nickname of “Rattlesnake Bomber Base.” For a time, it was the largest B-17 training base in the United States.

Pyote Army Air Field was in active use as a B-17 base until the B-29 Superfortress came on line and became the focus of wartime training.  The facility was later renamed Pyote Air Base.  At the end of the war, it was decommissioned and became an aircraft storage depot.  Many different aircraft models were stored here.  Some were historically significant, such as the well-known “Enola Gay,” the B-29 that carried the atomic weapon that bombed Hiroshima, Japan before it was transferred to the Smithsonian Institution.

Also stored there was the possibly less well known, but very interesting aircraft known as “The Swoose,” a B-17D that saw extensive time in the South Pacific during the war. “The Swoose” had the distinction of being in service from the beginning to the end of the war and now resides at the United States Air Force Museum at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Ohio. Officially, it was Boeing B-17D serial number 40-3097.  It served in the Philippines, Java and Australia being assigned to both the 14th and 19th Bombardment Groups.  In 1943, it was reassigned to Panama and remained in service until 1953.

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(Capt. and Mrs. Frank Kurtz and “The Swoose” – image source unknown)

This particular B-17 began its service life going by the name of “Ole Betsy” and flew several missions immediately after December 7, 1941, including the first combat mission against the Japanese in the Philippines within hours of the Pearl Harbor attack in Hawaii.  In early 1942, it suffered heavy damage from Japanese fighters.  The damage was repaired in Australia including a tail section grafted on from another B-17, and the aircraft was returned to service.  It later became the transport for Lt. Gen. George Brett in the spring of 1942 and was renamed “The Swoose” (half swan, half goose) by Weldon H. Smith, a crew member, after the subject of a then popular novelty song.  Most of the time it was flown by Lt. Gen. Brett’s pilot, the highly decorated Captain Frank Kurtz.  Eventually, many of the guns were removed, but the aircraft remained in service until the end of the war, being used as a high speed transportation vehicle for Lt. Gen. Brett.  After the war, it was stored at Pyote before being conveyed for a time to the Smithsonian Institution and then finally to the Air Force Museum at Wright-Patterson, where it is currently in the process of being restored.  It’s believed to be the only surviving B-17D in existence.

Captain Frank Kurtz had been a swimmer in the 1932 and 1936 Olympics.  He had aspirations of becoming an airline pilot before the war.  He had taken some of his flight training at Randolph Air Force Base outside San Antonio, Texas.  Flying figured into his whole life.  His wife Margo Rogers Kurtz is the author of a book about the couple called My Rival, The Sky.  They are also parents of veteran actress Margo “Swoosie” Kurtz, who was named for this historic aircraft.

During the Cold War years, Pyote was reconfigured as an “early warning” radar station and it served in that capacity from around 1958 to 1963.  Today the shells of only a couple of structures remain.  The outline of the runway and taxiway can still be seen from the air and satellite maps just south of Interstate 20 and there is a museum dedicated to the base in nearby Monahans.

Links:

Rattlesnake Bomber Base Museum

Pyote Army Air Field – AirplaneBoneyards.com

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Posted by on December 12, 2019 in aviation, world war 2

 

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Pearl Harbor Survivor Stories – December 24, 1941

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(Image credit: americanhistory.si.edu)

On Christmas Eve, December 24, 1941, the Abilene Reporter News carried a short article under the headline “Pearl Harbor Survivors Tell Stories of Courage.”  It was a United Press article out of Pearl Harbor, Hawaii a few days earlier.

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Posted by on December 7, 2019 in world war 2

 

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Law Officers Killed by the Barrow Gang: Major Crowson (Victim Number 6)

The headline of the Corsicana Daily Sun, January 16, 1934, read “Noted Texas Desperado Shoots Down Guards On Eastham Prison Farm,” referring to Clyde Barrow. Though Clyde was directly involved in the prison break, the headline overstated Barrow’s role in the death of one guard and the serious injury of another. Guard Major Crowson (Major was his given name) was said to have been shot point blank in the abdomen by convict Joe Palmer.  Another guard by the name of Olin Bozeman was shot in the hip, apparently by convict Raymond Hamilton although in early accounts, various other prisoners were said to have shot the guards.  Bozeman recovered from his wounds, but Crowson succumbed to his gunshot wound some eleven days later, after identifying Palmer as the one who shot him.

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Jimmy Dean

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(Image credit: Associated Press)

Jimmy Ray Dean was born August 10, 1928 to George Otto and Ruth Taylor Dean in Seth Ward, Hale, Texas which lies just outside of Plainview.  At that time, the family was to be operating a farm.  Ruth was Otto’s second wife, but by the time Jimmy was 11 or 12, Ruth was listed as a single parent, working as a seamstress out of her home in Seth Ward.  From that point on, the family consisted of Ruth, her sons Jimmy and Don.  Ruth later is said to have become a barber to support her family.  At an early age, Jimmy learned to play the piano, accordion, harmonica and guitar as he worked around the family farm.  He was active in the local Baptist church there in Seth Ward and attributed his interest in music to his mother and the music in church.

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Posted by on November 28, 2019 in biography, entertainers

 

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Major Horace S. Carswell

The former Carswell Air Force Base in Fort Worth was named for Horace Seaver Carswell, a Medal of Honor winner from North Texas.

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(Image credit: Findagrave)

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Posted by on November 21, 2019 in biography, heroes, medal of honor, world war 2

 

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LBJ’s Family Tree – Selected Members

Lyndon Baines Johnson was born on August 27, 1908 to Samuel Ealy (Jr.) and Rebekah Baines Johnson in Stonewall County, Texas.  Not intended to be a complete listing all of his ancestors, the following represents a number of them and is based on information mainly from newspaper accounts and traditional genealogical sources.

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Posted by on November 14, 2019 in biography

 

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Lady Bird Johnson

Lady Bird Johnson was born Claudia Alta Taylor in Karnack, Harrison County, Texas in 1912.  Her father was Thomas Jefferson Taylor II, who owned a general store and used the profits to acquire farmland that he used to plant cotton.  At one time he owned 12,000 acres of land dedicated to raising cotton.  Claudia’s mother was the former Minnie Pattillo.  Thomas and Minnie were married in 1900 and both had originally come to Texas from Alabama.  Claudia was the youngest of three children and the only daughter born to Minnie and Thomas.  The family legend is that a caretaker had given the nickname Lady Bird to her, saying that she was as pretty as a lady bird.

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Posted by on November 7, 2019 in biography, texas women

 

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