Friday, March 1, 2013

Memories by June -I REMEMBER PYOTE

 Yes, I remember… Pyote!

When I received this article on the cockpit of the Enola Gay,
suddenly time turned backward and I was there again…
memories flooding my mind  like
the waters from a broken dam. . . .
For I was there again…

But let’s start at the beginning…
Let me introduce you to the most famous bomber
Of  World War II…
The Enola Gay

Cool photography..   Lots of history in this clip!
Check this out. This gives you an HD 360 Degree view from the cockpit
of The Enola gay; the plane that dropped the 1st Atomic bomb on
Hiroshima.      This plane was built at the Martin Bomber
manufacturing plant in Omaha in Building D. (now Offutt AFB)
This is pretty amazing, you can look around, but look down too and up
in the cockpit of the Enola Gay B-29 the Japanese will never forget!
It ended the war and that was its mission and intention.
You can manipulate the camera up, down and around, pretty cool.  gotta
love The "horn" button.
Be sure and drag the pointer (cursor) in all directions.

       (Editor's Note: the link above worked in Internet Explorer but not in Firefox for me.)
From My Box of Memories
 By June Harper Hogue
 And now my story begins . . .

It was the Spring of 1942.  I had just turned 8 and was in the second grade, but I remember it well.  We had just moved to Monahans, Texas from Crane, Texas, a small oilfield and ranching town situated in the middle of a wind-blown mesquite laden prairie in a rather remote area of West Texas. To the south one could see the distant hills that beckoned one to explore Castle Gap, a pass between the hills on the Goodnight Trail of which many legends have been built…and much of West Texas history has been written.   We could see Castle Gap in the distance from our yard in Crane.  To the north were the seemingly endless mesquite pastures of the Pegasus Oil Field which bordered Midland and Odessa and  to the west were more of the same endless mesquite pastures dotted with greasewood.  To a child…Crane was not an especially interesting place to be.  Though I did not understand it at the time, WWII had just been declared and our move to Monahans meant that I was about to step into a whole new world of exciting and interesting new adventures.

Monahans was considerably larger than Crane and not isolated from the mainstream of life.  It was on Highway 80, the major connecting highway across the southern United States from California to Florida. It seemed there was always traffic on that highway and the railroad ran parallel to it.  Monahans was a main watering station for trains passing through…a new interest for me and my 3 brothers, for we had never before lived where there were busy railroad tracks with passenger trains that passed through!    From the beginning Monahans (which was 22 miles east of the state line of New Mexico) provided a whole new range of experiences for me.
Bordering the town on the east were great sand dunes (now known as Sand Hills State Park) and they were only about a quarter of a mile from our house!  Not only that, one of the world’s largest oak forests covered a large portion of those nearby sand hills.  They were Harvard oaks which grow only about 18 inches high and produce acorns just like other oak trees.  The desert flora fascinated me from the beginning.  Dotted throughout the dunes were occasional ponds of water (known as THE SEEPS) which ranged in depth from 12 to 20 feet deep in places.  Here the cold crystal clear water seeped out of the sand between the dunes, , and low willows grew on the banks around them.  For reasons unknown, many of the seeps had gold fish in them.  As I grew older I learned that these dunes extended all the way through New Mexico as far as the White Sands proving grounds.  This was a band of sand hills that few people really knew much about, even to this day,  but they proved to be very important to the war effort during WW II. 

The town of Monahans seemed to bustle with activity. There was a small airport and we enjoyed watching the small planes that flew over us and tipped their wings as the pilot waved to the folks on the ground below.  Gradually  we began to notice an increase in the airplanes flying overhead …there were not only small private planes but we began to notice large military planes as well.  Mother and Daddy reminded us that we were in a war and we would soon see many more planes in the sky.   We began to hear the word “Pyote” mentioned often and then…gliders and blimps began to be seen overhead…. and over and over we heard the words: PYOTE….PYOTE….what was it all about? 

We began to hear rumors about a large airbase that was being constructed at a place called PYOTE, a small town 18 miles to the west of us.  Everything seemed to be so secretive at first, but then we began to see soldiers in uniform about town and new words began to creep into our vocabularies as we began to became familiar with the idea of…war…WAR…Pearl Harbor…the Japanese…the Germans…rationing….and PYOTE!   Our parents explained what happened at Pearl Harbor and the meaning of war…and the draft!  Would our Daddy have to go to war?  How long would it last?  And what was the meaning of PYOTE?  Eventually we learned that the small town of Pyote, which was 18 miles to the west of Monahans, had been chosen by the government as the site to construct a huge  and highly secretive airbase where bombers would train.  

Because of the millions of rattlesnake dens and rattlesnakes that were found during the construction of the base it was named RATTLESNAKE AIR BASE.  

It was to be THE base for training all bombers during the war.   It also meant that we could expect the influx of thousands of people who either worked on the base or were families of soldiers who were to be stationed there.  

What would this mean  for Monahans?  It would take a lengthy volume to tell all about the changes that took place, but ...

 There is no way you could know the Monahans I knew.  It has passed into obscurity…a quaint little town in far West Texas that grew to be a bustling hub of Pyote Air Base during World War II.  We moved to Monahans when I was in the 2nd grade and I loved it at once.  I loved the pastures, the mesquites, the smell of grease wood (creosote bush) after a rain, the beautiful sunsets, the wild flowers that grew  in the pastures (Mother and I often made special trips to the sand hills to pick a bunch of wild verbenas), the sand hills where we spend long days just exploring,  looking for arrowheads and other treasures,  the Million Barrel (a large but abandoned experimental concrete tank that once held a million barrels of oil) where we played by the hour climbing its steep sides and sliding down them on a piece of cardboard....listening to the legends we heard from the old timers who sat in front of the corner drugstore telling their tales....there is so much I could tell you about it.  I learned to love history and to try to imagine what the country was like when the Apaches and the Comanches rode wildly through that country terrorizing settlers and confounding the  army’s troops... and how the Comanches would raid the settlements as a Comanche moon rose in the sky. 
We lived through the war years there watching troop trains coming through and stopping for water----we kids ran errands for the soldiers who could not get off the train but wanted newspapers, magazines, candy bars, etc which we fetched for them.  We learned all about the war equipment as hundreds of long convoys  rolled through.  At night we could hear the hum of the many squadrons of  blimps that trained over the sand hills and we watched the gliders that also trained over those sand hills.  On Sundays we heeded the patriotic admonition to “Take a soldier home for dinner!” and nearly always brought one or two soldiers home from church for a home cooked Sunday dinner--we considered it our patriotic duty.  We lived across the street from our small county hospital which soon became a haven for the overflow of wounded veterans from the airbase hospital.  We were involved in    many activities from rolling Red Cross bandages to helping with wounded soldiers at the hospital across the street--the overflow of soldiers from the Pyote Air Base Hospital when the base hospital there could not handle all the wounded arriving from the battlefields.  I had had the run of the floor at the hospital by age 8 and got to help with many tasks at the hospital….there was no age limit on volunteers during the war and I was a welcome volunteer at the hospital.  I played the piano at the USO and helped lead the singing at song time.  Many of the soldiers wrote to us for years after the war.  From the opening of Pyote Air Base we watched the transition of our small town of Monahans from a sleepy little oil field town to a bustling small city as it suddenly had to open its arms to the thousands of soldiers and their families who were based at Pyote during the war.  Families in transition could not find housing.  Nearly every  day we had at least one person knock on our door seeking a room or a bed for rent.  You could have rented a pup tent in your yard if you had had one to rent!  Our small grade school could not accommodate the great influx of children whose fathers were stationed at Pyote so one year it became necessary to hold school in 3 different sessions each day.  That year my younger brother, Jimmy,  had to be at school at 5 a.m., my shift began at 10 a.m. and Charles did not have to be there until 3 p.m.  He got out after dark at 8 p.m.  Also, there was a shortage of teachers because when a soldier shipped out, his family left too and the turnover in teachers was high.  My fifth grade year I had 6 different teachers!  How Mother lived through this as room mother, chauffeur, Red Cross volunteer, etc., etc.,  I will never know but our chant was "V stands for Victory and we will win!  We all felt deeply patriotic.  Daddy worked all over the western part of Texas and New Mexico during that time.  Often he did not get to come home more than twice a month---gas was rationed, tires were rationed and he had a job to do--America needed him to drill for oil!  Mother was the Keeper of the Family.  And all the while, we listened for every tidbit of news that rumors brought us from those who worked at the base at Pyote. 
We heard that they were preparing a special bomber for a secret mission…but it was only rumor and rumors were cheap during the war.  Rumors of spies worried us and we were warned to “keep a zipper on our lips” so that no rumor became fodder for spies who might be listening!  We were somewhat suspicious of all strangers who showed up in town.  But still, we felt safe because we were so close to Pyote and I could not remember a time when some kind of military craft was not flying overhead in those days.  Germany and Japan seemed a long way off!
I will never forget the day that victory in  Europe was declared!  Blimps flew low over the playground of our elementary school and the crew dropped candy and bubble gum everywhere…candy that I had not seen since the beginning of the war (things like Jo-Boy…a favorite of mine… and Bubble Gum…rarely seen during the war).  That day school was dismissed early and I went home with a 6-month supply of candy and bubble gum for me and my brothers!  In my heart I blessed those boys from Pyote…they left me with memories that would last a lifetime!
When the atomic bomb was dropped on Japan to end the war, we did not realize that the Enola Gay had been stationed at Pyote and, after the war, would be stored there until transported to the Smithsonian Museum.  We had probably watched an American Icon flying the skies over Monahans and never knew what it was all about…but we were privileged to watch history in the making, unaware that we were witnessing the very core of America’s defense system in World War II.  Thank you, PYOTE and Rattlesnake Bomber Base and the brave men who flew the ENOLA GAY on the mission that ended World War II!  We will never forget you.

YES, I REMEMBER PYOTE and the name awakens all those memories of World War II and of home…Monahans! To me, the two were an inseparable part of my grade school years, indelibly written on my heart with love and thanksgiving to our Creator for a victory that could not have been won without…PYOTE’S RATTLESNAKE BOMBER BASE and THE ENOLA GAY!
Memories of the war years from June Harper Hogue

Click on June Hogue  for bio and list of other works published by Pencil Stubs Online.

1 comment:

  1. I was 6 or 7, maybe 8 years old when this lady walked out of my life, as she married, and had no connection of her untill a few years past. I knew her brother Freddy well. He helped me with my trombone abilities. She being several years my senior, I only vaguely remembered her when I received an email from her. My mind was triggered with a memory that I could not quite open. She began to relate to things I know of from our young lives and the pictures she sent me of her younger years began to bring my memory alive as to who she was. We have corresponded since. I am blessed to know her as I do.