I never know where I’m going to find something interesting to write about for the blog, and more often than not, I find story ideas in unexpected places. One was when we pulled into a rest stop on Interstate 20, just west of the small town of Pyote, Texas.
After using the restrooms, we went inside the main building just to take a break from the road for a few minutes and discovered that this area of west Texas played an important role in the Allied victory during World War II. For it was here that the largest bomber training base of the war trained aircraft how to fly the massive B-17 Flying Fortress and B-29 Superfortress bombers and use their weapons to eventually bring our enemies to their knees.
Pyote and the surrounding area was perfect for this kind of training, boasting 360 days a year of good flying weather. The United States Air Force had not been formed yet, and flying duties were handled by the Army Air Corps at that time. The government leased a huge tract of land from the University of Texas and built Pyote Army Air Base, which would eventually be home to more than 6,500 people, both aircrews there for training before they were shipped overseas and a large support staff of instructors, aircraft mechanics, mess hall personnel, and all the other administrative staff needed to accomplish their mission. In 1944, the facility’s busiest time, more than 50 times the current population of Pyote was stationed at the base.
It didn’t take long for the people working and training at Pyote to nickname the place Rattlesnake Bomber Base because of the proliferation of rattlesnakes in the area. They were everywhere, and new arrivals quickly learned to watch their step and where they put their hands anywhere on the base to avoid being bitten.
At its peak, the base was pretty much self-contained, with its own newspaper, the Rattler, a movie theater, athletic fields, a hospital, and other facilities. After the war ended, it was used for a while for storing aircraft, many brand new off the assembly line that never saw action, as well as historic bombers like the Enola Gay, which dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima, Japan, and helped force the Japanese to surrender. The dry climate was perfect for not only training airmen, but also preserving aircraft. Eventually many of them were cut up and sold for scrap when the government no longer needed them.
There’s not much left of Pyote Army Air Base these days, just a few walls and foundations. The land has reverted back to the University of Texas and is surrounded by tall chain-link fencing and is not open to the public. A historical marker at the entrance tells the story of the role the base played in the war effort.
Interstate 20 cuts through the northern portion of the old base, and a display at the rest area tells visitors about the days when the skies here were full of airplanes.
The Rattlesnake Bomber Base Museum, located in nearby Monahans, Texas, has exhibits on the old base and artifacts that have been preserved. At different times during the year, lectures and special events are held that draw history buffs from far and wide to learn more about when American dominance of the skies brought us victory over those who would destroy the world in their quest for power and control. The museum is open Tuesday through Saturday, from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., and admission is free.
And finally, here’s a chuckle to start your day from the collection of funny signs we see in our travels and that our readers share with us.
Thought For The Day – The first step in building a life you want is getting rid of the things you don’t want.