Heart of Texas Historical Museum
Striegler Memorial Military Annex
Dedicated November 11, 2007
In a wonderful example of the power of the internet to bring people together, I received an email in the spring of 2007 from Angelina Deans, secretary of the Heart of Texas Historical Museum in Brady. She found the Journal by looking for "Curtis Field" on the internet, and told me about the "grand venture" being undertaken by the Museum. They rescued the control tower and adjacent building (as well as a couple of other structures) of Curtis Field, just outside the town, from imminent destruction, and rebuilt them on the grounds of the Museum. (By following the link above, you can see a picture of the tower as it looked during the war.) At her request, I sent her a high-resolution copy of a photo of Billy from that general period of his life, since she wanted to include it with mementos of others who passed through Curtis during the War. They ended up using not only the picture, but also a copy of Billy's letter to June, dated March 29, in which he communicates his enthusiasm about his first solo flight, which happened at Curtis Field.
This picture of the display case was taken when my husband and I attended the dedication of the Annex. Here is the invitation we received:
The dedication was a lovely Veterans' Day ceremony and I so wished Billy and June could have been there to participate in it. Here is a PDF of the program, including an insert which lists the names of 21 trainees and instructors who were killed during training at Curtis Field. None of these tragic deaths occurred while Billy was stationed there, but I couldn't help thinking about his friend Waley Garrett, who was killed in training at another base, before ever seeing combat.
Here is a photo of the entire Annex grounds, which formed the cover of the dedication program:
To give a better idea of how the reconstruction is situated, here is a picture taken from across the street, showing the white Annex buildings and the handsome red brick building of the main Museum, which used to be a jail! The second picture is of the front of the Museum, which we unfortunately were not able to tour on this visit.
Now some photographs taken during the dedication ceremony. Clockwise, from upper left: entrance of the color guard, from nearby Goodfellow AFB in San Angelo; gun salute, also performed by airmen from Goodfellow; "Taps" played by a local bugler; and recognition of folks who had worked at Curtis Field during the War, both civilian and military employees.
Toward the end of the ceremony, the Board of the Museum gathered to make a special presentation to Mr. Bert Striegler, who was the primary force behind the reconstruction of the tower. He is the smiling gentleman in the gray jacket and dark slacks in the center of the photo. He is about to be presented with a plaque naming the Annex in his honor. Ms. Deans, who was so helpful to us in displaying Billy's items and in aiding our visit to Brady, is the lady in the peach-colored blouse near the left end of the line. Near the right end is a young lady in black with red flowers. She is an aide to Congressman Mike Conaway, representing Brady, who sent a flag which had flown over the Capitol in Washington, to present to Mr. Striegler and the Museum.
Here is a photo showing the whole control tower. Since much was made during the ceremony of the airmen walking through the doors on either side of it, Henry insisted on getting a picture of me doing this. [Please excuse the bad hair; it was a very windy day!]
Some more interesting points on the grounds: an old car and a handsome mural of the BT-13 training planes that were used at Curtis Field to train the pilots.
In addition to hosting a training base for young airmen, Brady was also the site of a German POW camp, and the guardhouse from that camp was also reconstructed as part of the annex grounds. We met a gentleman at dinner later that night who had worked as an MP at the POW camp. He told us of having to separate the Nazis from the regular soldiers, since the latter were inclined to kill the former if given the chance. But otherwise he said the prisoners were pretty happy with their life in Texas, although they made a tunnel and would occasionally slip out for some entertainment in the town, only to come back before morning roll call. They were eventually caught, however, when one of the ladies they visited got angry about something and turned them in! Here is a photo of the POW guardhouse:
One of the neatest things about the Annex is that you can actually climb up into the control tower. Here, clockwise from upper left, are photos from the landing just outside the structure; a view of the Museum from inside the tower; an old radio console on display in the tower, and Henry "bringing the boys in."
We took a few photos inside the Museum of some of their very interesting displays. Here is a closer look at the photo of Billy, which identifies his class at Brady as "45-G." (This order sending him to the next phase of pilot training notes the class number, and confirms that he has completed "primary pilot training" at Curtis Field.) I was pleased to find his class mentioned in a headline of one of the issues of the "Prop Wash" (what a great title!) newsletter on display.
There was also a travelling display of World War II memorabilia at the Museum, and one of their artifacts was this yearbook from Moore Field in Mission, which just happened to be Billy's next stop in pilot training after Brady.
The next day, before leaving Brady, we drove out to the still-functional Curtis Field. There we found this historical marker, which displays the curious information that the field closed as a training base in August, 1944!
I had also hoped to find the church where June and Billy were married, but the First Methodist Church in Brady is clearly a more modern structure. However, there is a parking lot across the street from the current church building, which might be where the church was located in 1945.
The Heart of Texas Historical Museum, and the Military Annex in particular, has an impressive collection of papers and artifacts and I hope we can visit it again soon, with more time to look over all it has to offer.