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Saturday, March 26, 2016

Aviation History at the Commemorative Air Force in Brownsville TX

Life as a writer offers many advantages. Invitations to experience new things seem to fall in my lap and I love it.

Last winter I spent a couple of months going through file cabinets that contain the history of the CAF (Commemorative Air Force). Tom Santos, the Rio Grande Valley (RGV) wing commander, asked me to help. What a project - lots of work, lots of stuff to throw away, but loads of fascinating material to sift through.

I felt like I was living history one document at a time. Shirley Metzger, a former member, kept meticulous records and donated them to the RGV wing. Many documents are tattered, worn and torn but the information is timeless.

Where do I start to share with you? Maybe a sampling of members from the 1960s when the CAF was a new organization then known as the Confederate Air Force. Their mission is "education, such that generations of Americans will value and support the contributions of military aviation in assuring our nation's freedom."

The early rosters included many well known names. Following are a few examples:

Leroy Gordon Cooper, USAF, Astronaut
James H. Doolittle, Lt. General USAF (Ret.)
Joe Engle, USAF, Astronaut
Signed by President Franklin Roosevelt
Joe Foss, Brigadier General, USAF, Former Cmdr, SD Air National Guard, Former Governor, SD
Don Pdro Santa Cruz, Commandante Spanish Air Force, Chief Test Pilot Hispano Aviacon, Sevilla, Spain
Alan B. Shepard, USN, Astronaut
John G. Tower, US Senator
Charles E Yeager, Colonel USAF, Commander 405th Fighter Interceptor Wing - Clark AFB, Philippine Islands
Christopher Doll, RAF, Battle of Britain Ace

In the correspondence we found a letter signed by President Roosevelt. Written to a Brownsville TX supporter in 1932, he addresses the issue of Prohibition:

"...With regard to the prohibition question, you may rest assured that the Democratic Party stands very firm in opposing the return of the saloon."

Tennessee Ernie Ford
Col Jimmy Doolittle
Tennessee Ernie Ford, a famous recording artist and TV personality, frequently attended the Rio Grande Valley's annual airshow.

Famed WWII fighter pilot Jimmy Doolittle became one of the CAF's early members. During the war, he rose from Lt Colonel to Brigadier General, skipping the rank of Colonel. The accompanying article in the Valley Morning Star (Harlingen, TX) shows Doolittle accepting the rank of Colonel from the CAF.

We also discovered a number of cartoons featured in their various publications. Although it was lots of work, it was a fun project. I feel honored to have touched some of the history of the Commemorative Air Force!


  1. Enjoy the article...thanks Pat Avery.

  2. “Unique and Fascinating...Great way to while away an hour or so. Unique historical world war 2 artifacts for sale crammed into a small building. I greatly enjoyed browsing around. Highly recommended for history buffs.