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Traveling Texas with Nancy Deviney - August, 2006

Traveling Texas with Nancy Deviney                       August 2006


I once bought a fish feeder for our pier on eBay, and another time I bought a silk flower corsage.  Some people shop eBay, the World’s Online Marketplace, on a daily basis while others, like me, use it for those hard-to-find items.

Founded in 1995, eBay.com is a place to trade on a local, national and international basis and offers everything from collectibles to cars.  I met a fellow not too long ago who has almost filled up a whole museum with an array of collectibles from eBay including caps, banners, military uniforms, field mess kits and hand grenades.

The Ghost Squadron…

All of this military memorabilia, and a whole lot more, is part of the Maxine Flournoy Third Coast Squadron Museum located near the Alice airport, not too far off Highway 44. 

This Alice museum has only been around since 1999, but it is a part of the mystical Commemorative Air Force (CAF) with origins in the early 1950s in Mercedes, Texas.  There are over 11,000 members worldwide in the all-volunteer CAF with over 70 Wings, Squadrons and Detachments in 27 states from coast to coast as well as Australia, France, New Zealand and Switzerland.

Their mission is to save and maintain, in flying condition, an example of every aircraft that flew during World War II (WWII).  Today the CAF operates a fleet of over 140 aircraft known collectively as the Ghost Squadron.

The Maxine Flournoy Third Coast Squadron…

What is known today as the Maxine Flournoy Third Coast Squadron had its beginnings in the 1980s and was known then as the Corpus Christi Wing.  Due to lack of commitment to the CAF mission, the Wing disbanded.

For several years Brownsville and San Marcos were the only South Texas cities hosting CAF squadrons.  In 1997, an attempt was made to revive interest in the Coastal Bend area, and an organizational meeting was held at a bank in downtown Corpus Christi.  Thirty-five to forty people attended this meeting including ex-military, members of the original Corpus Christi Wing, active duty military and other interested men and women.

Through newspaper and radio advertising, interest spread and by 1998 approximately sixty members formed the Third Coast Squadron.  But, as luck would have it, promises unfulfilled by various local governmental entities made it very difficult for this new CAF squadron to find a home.

For months, the men and women of the Third Coast Squadron met in temporary quarters throughout Corpus Christi, all the while searching for the perfect site for their flying museum dedicated to the preservation of World War II aircraft. 

In 1999, when a local newspaper ran a story outlining their homeless plight, a former World War II WASP (Women’s Air Force Service Pilot), Maxine Flournoy of Alice, came to their rescue.

General Eisenhower’s Aide…

One of those Third Coast Squadron members, “Colonel” Paul Emmons, was on hand to greet me on that rainy day in June when I visited their headquarters and museum.  They are headquartered adjacent to the Alice Airport in a building that once housed an aviation service.  Located just east of Alice between State Highway 44 and Farm Road 665, the museum not only houses a wonderful collection of World War II and other military items but also has a hangar full of vintage aircraft.

Paul has been involved with the Third Coast Squadron since 1997 and has held several offices.  Currently he is the Museum Curator, and he takes that responsibility very seriously.  Paul spends most of his free time at the museum and is very familiar with every item on display, having purchased several of them on the eBay marketplace. 

His personal tour led me through the various rooms of the museum, and he pointed out the numerous display cases honoring local veterans, both living and deceased, including Jim Yawn, Bill Findley, George Reed, Harry Hill, Carey Wooley and Servando Lopez.  The families of these men have provided personal items such as uniforms, medals, photos and the like to tell their stories about World War II.

Other notable display cases feature the military careers of Maxine Flournoy and Jean Tanner, former WAAC (Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps) member who served as an aide to General Eisenhower in Algiers.  Ms. Tanner now resides in Corpus Christi and, along with Mrs. Flournoy, is a member of the Third Coast Squadron.

Philanthropist Lucien Flournoy…

Back in 1999 when Alice businessman and philanthropist Lucien Flournoy and his wife Maxine read that the Third Coast Squadron was searching for a home, they thought about their empty aviation service building and hangar sitting on five acres near the Alice airport and wondered if it would fit the bill.  Within a short time, arrangements were made for the Third Coast Squadron to finally have a permanent home.

For several years, the squadron leased the facilities and after Mr. Flournoy’s death in 2003, it was his wish that the property be given to the local organization.  On September 18, 2004, a special ceremony was held on site to officially rename the squadron the “Maxine Flournoy Third Coast Squadron”.

Jethro Culpepper…

Today’s CAF was originally known as the Confederate Air Force and got its start in 1951 when a former WWII flight instructor and native Texan named Lloyd Nolen purchased a P-40 Warhawk.  The group that would become the Confederate Air Force first got together in 1957, when Nolen and four friends who all lived in the Mercedes, Texas area, joined forces to purchase a P-51 Mustang.

One of the group painted “Confederate Air Force” on the P-51 Mustang, and the group now had a name.  In short order, the Confederate Air Force filed for non-profit status, established headquarters at Rebel Field in Mercedes and granted the honorary rank of “Colonel” to each member.  The CAF’s fictitious commander-in-chief was given the name Jethro Culpepper in keeping with the Southern spirit of these mystical flyboys.

In 1958, they made their second purchase, and in 1960, began their serious search for other WWII aircraft to preserve.  During this pursuit, Nolen and his friends found, much to their dismay, that little or no effort was being made to preserve the aircraft that helped win the war.  No one, not even the Air Force or Navy, was attempting to preserve even one of each type of these historic aircraft for display for future generations.

Tora, Tora, Tora…

By 1967, the CAF had acquired one of each of the ten American fighter planes from WWII and had signed movie contracts for films depicting air battles of WWII.  The CAF members were commissioned to do the actual flying in these movies with one of the most famous being “Tora, Tora, Tora”.  In fact, one of the aircraft that appeared in that movie, a replica of the Japanese bomber known as KATE, is on display at the Alice museum.

As the aircraft collection expanded, the group eventually outgrew Rebel Field in Mercedes and moved down the road to an old aerial gunnery school in Harlingen that they renamed Rebel Field.  This remained the headquarters of the Confederate Air Force until 1991 when they moved to the dryer climate and more central location of Midland. 

By 1991, the CAF fleet had grown to 100 and more with membership approaching 10,000 men and women around the world who shared the common interest and goal of preserving and teaching the history of World War II airpower.  Various Wings, Squadrons and Detachments, so designated by location and membership, began the annual tradition of Air Shows throughout the United States, bringing to life the power and fury of those old warbirds that are responsible for preserving the freedom of all Americans.

In 2002, the name of the Confederate Air Force was officially changed to Commemorative Air Force.  Several corporate sponsors found the word “Confederate” questionable and threatened to pull their sponsorship monies if this change was not made.

Keep ‘Em Flying…

The CAF motto has always been “Keep ‘Em Flying” and this is made possible by the work of the many members who are or have been actual aircraft mechanics.  The day I visited the museum, there were several men in the hangar working on one of the planes.  Members are from all walks of life, and many are not pilots or veterans or aircraft mechanics.  Paul Emmons is an example of a non-veteran member with an extraordinary commitment to the mission of the CAF.   His dad and uncle were both WWII veterans and aircrew members, and his interest was heightened by their memories.

Persons age 18 and older are automatically commissioned Colonels in the CAF, and the Alice group has members age 80 and older.  High school students are also welcome to join the organization and are called Cadets.  The Alice High School ROTC (Reserve Officer’s Training Corps) Unit has cadet members in the Maxine Flournoy Third Coast Squadron, and Paul commended these young people for their work, under the guidance of Captain Paul Hill, with the squadron’s local projects.

American Hero…

Maxine Flournoy has been called an American Hero and not only for the generosity that she and her late husband showed in providing a home for the Third Coast Squadron.  She was one of 1,100 women who successfully completed flight school and training in Sweetwater, Texas in 1943 to become a member of the WASP (Women’s Air Force Service Pilots).

 Twenty-five thousand women volunteered for this program but less than five percent were accepted and graduated.  The WASP program was initiated so that women could be trained to perform vital flying duties in non-combat situations.

Upon graduation, Maxine was sent to Hondo, Texas where she flew AT-7 and C-60 aircraft delivering parts, breaking in new engines and helping to train navigation cadets.  She occasionally was able to co-pilot cross-county flights to Los Angeles to visit her mother.  It was a challenge preparing for these long eight-hour flights because there were no sanitary facilities installed in the aircraft for ladies.  As a result, Maxine would avoid liquids for 36 hours prior to each journey.

The WASP program remained a civilian unit until it was disbanded in 1944.  Just as legislation was close to being signed to enable these women pilots to become members of the United States military, it was found that enough men had been recruited and trained to keep up with military demands.

WASP pilots flew every Air Force plane in use at the time.  They ferried aircraft from the United States to Europe, pulled targets in combat training and flew military personnel where needed.  Thirty-eight WASPs were killed on active duty.  Maxine Flournoy and her fellow WASPs were vital members of the force that won World War II.

Warbirds…

My tour of the museum would not have been complete without the close-up views of the four WWII warbirds in the Third Coast Squadron hangar.  In addition to the replica of the “Tora, Tora, Tora” Japanese bomber known as KATE (Nakajima in Japanese), on loan from the CAF headquarters in Midland, there are three others, all privately owned.

The authentic bright yellow bi-plane known as a PT-17 Kaydet Stearman Trainer sits in a corner of the hangar but is the first thing you see when you get there.  This two-seater has wings made of wood but covered in fabric and the fuselage in made of tough, welded steel.  This type of aircraft was used at the Naval Air Station in Corpus Christi during WWII to train pilots.

The P-64 training aircraft is the only existing replica of the original six P-64 aircraft built in 1939 in the United States for the Siamese government.  The Army Air Force confiscated all six planes in December 1941 because of the fall of Siam to Japan.

At the front of the hangar is the L-2 Liaison class aircraft also known as a Grasshopper.  This small, lightweight plane was used as an air ambulance and for reconnaissance because it could easily take off and land on an unprepared airstrip.

In a back corner of the hangar, restoration of a Navy SNJ (T-6) is underway and books and charts are scattered around offering guidance to those dedicated men who are undertaking this task to preserve history. 

 At the front of the hangar, looking strangely out of place amidst these old warbirds, is a life-size Blue Angels aircraft motion simulator.  This type of unit is used to train future Navy Blue Angels pilots.

For more info…

As always, I run out of space before I run out of words, so you will have to explore this historic museum in Alice for yourself to learn everything.  Oh, and don’t forget to ask to have a dog tag made.  They have a machine on hand just for that purpose. 

I’ll never look at eBay quite the same again, knowing that a little bit of history is available for anyone, including a museum, to buy.

Many thanks to Colonel Paul Emmons for his wonderful tour.  The museum is open on Saturday and Sunday and during the week for school groups.  Contact Paul at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it for more information.  The museum also has a wonderful way to honor your veteran with its memorial program.  Call Colonel John Alebis, Projects Chairman, at 361 664-5005 for memorial information. 

The Herb & Katherine Miller Memorial Chapel/Library is the latest addition to the Maxine Flournoy Third Coast Squadron Museum and will be dedicated on September 2 of this year.

 

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