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  Texas : Feature : Aviation :

Marfa Army Air Field and Fort D. A. Russell
Marfa, Texas

Brite Building in Marfa Texas The Marfa National Bank (in the Brite Building) once served as Headquarters for the Marfa Army Air Field (1942)
TE photo

Besides being used as a locale for the movie Giant, and other films, Marfa also served as a base for military aviation when they were still using biplanes. Known as Marfa Army Air Field, they built it in early 1942 and graduated their first pilots on the first anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor.

Marfa almost had a pass to skate through the depression with the economic bedrock of having a Cavalry Post stationed there (the 1st Cavalry Regiment). Airplanes though, proved more effective at patrolling the border, and so Fort D. A. Russell (formerly Camp Marfa) was closed in 1933. It was reactivated for a few years by other than Cavalry units and then during WWII it housed WACs, several Chemical Battalions and a large German Prisoner of War Camp.

After the war it was deactivated permanently in 1946 and the buildings were sold or incorporated into the present-day city in 1949.

Wings over the Mexican Border book cover
Recommended reading

Wings Over the Mexican Border:
Pioneer Military Aviation in the Big Bend

by Kenneth Baxter Ragsdale
U of Texas Press, 1984

This is an excellent history of the fledgling air corps when they flew in and out of Johnson's Ranch while they monitored the Mexican Revolution and possible incursions across the border. Planes were sometimes filled from a drum on the back of Mr. Johnson's truck. Mr. Ragsdale tells us in this book that the first "dogfight" in history took place in Mexican skies with two American mercenary pilots (working for opposite sides) shooting at one another with pistols.

If you're fortunate enough to live in Marfa, Librarian Esther Sanchez says the book is available at the Marfa Library (915-729-4631). Michelle at the Marfa Book Company says that they usually keep two copies on hand (105 S. Highland).

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