two faux leather-bound publications look like high school annuals, but the story
they tell has to do with war, not homecoming kings and queens, football scores,
club activities, prom night or who became valedictorian and salutatorian.
earning their wings, the students whose mostly baby-faced photographs appear in
“The Cadet,” a yearbook published during World
War II at Bruce Field in Ballinger,
went on to pilot the fighter planes and bombers that helped in defeating Nazi
Germany, fascist-controlled Italy and the Japanese empire.
In addition to the dozens of cadets in their fleece-collared flight jackets and
leather headgear and goggles, the yearbooks feature photos of dark-jacketed Army
officers and dozens of khaki-clad civilian flight instructors.
are R.C. and L.C. Maker, brothers who helped win the war without ever firing a
turret gun, dropping a bomb or evading anti-aircraft fire.
who spent the rest of their lives in Texas once they
got here, the Maker boys grew up on a farm near Clinton, OK. While neither made
it past high school, that didn’t impede their business success.
flying defined them.
When a barnstormer named Herman Spansky buzzed Clinton
one day in 1938, the Makers hurried to see his plane when it landed.
took off and dived down across the field and pulled up and landed [with a] real
sharp turn to the left,” Red recalled. “Boy, that was something.”
off again, Spansky made another dive, pulled out of that and started another hard
turn when the plane stalled and crashed.
Maker and a bystander managed
to unbuckle the pilot’s safety belt and pull him out of the airplane. He looked
dead, but soon got up to assess the damage.
Not long after the crash,
a man hoping to sell a Piper Cub flew into Clinton. When the Makers showed up
to admire his airplane, he asked if they wanted flying lessons. Two years later,
both young pilots were licensed flight instructors running the Clinton airport.
happened to be flying over southern Oklahoma on Sunday, Dec. 7, 1941 when the
Japanese attacked Pearl
Harbor. While the death toll and damage to the U.S. Pacific fleet was staggering,
the Makers soon experienced a smaller-scale disaster when a tornado destroyed
their hangar and seven airplanes.
The brothers ruled out rebuilding, mainly
because they had been getting letters from all over offering jobs as Army civilian
flight instructors. The proposition that seemed most interesting would take them
to West Texas.
Even before Pearl
Harbor, readying for possible conflict, the Army signed contracts with nine
civilian flying schools to train its fledgling aviators. By the end of 1941, 45
privately-owned military flying schools were in operation.
owned one of those schools, and he hired the Makers. Son of a pioneer Dallas
aviator and airport founder, Harman also had spent some time barnstorming and
later as an airline station manager.
for Ballinger civic leader R.E.
Bruce, who helped convince the Army to build on a 640-acre cotton field at the
edge of town, the airfield became operational in October 1941. The field had three
paved runways extending 2,100 feet, four large wooden hangars, a flight control
center, classroom buildings, barracks and other structures.
traveled to Bruce Field, easily passed a flight test, and soon taught primary
flying. Though civilians, the Makers wore uniforms and carried a second lieutenant’s
With an instructor-student ratio of one to five, cadets learned
to fly in a Fairchild PT-19s, an open cockpit, two-seater, single-engine aircraft.
Initially, cadets received nine months of training – three months of primary
training (what the Makers taught), three months of basic instruction and three
months of advanced schooling. When a pilot left Ballinger
for further training, he had 65 flying hours. As demand for pilots grew, the Air
Corps cut each training segment to 10 weeks and eventually nine weeks.
have a hundred airplanes with students in the traffic pattern or out in the practice
area without a tower and without any radios – and without even a light gun,” Red
recalled. “We never ran into anyone.”
By October 1944, with an Allied
victory in sight, the Army began reducing the extent of its flight training and
deactivated Bruce Field. The city repurposed it as Ballinger’s
After the war, the Makers applied for flying jobs with
Braniff Airlines. With both about to be hired, Roscoe changed his mind. As Red
put it, “My brother just didn’t want to be [an airline] pilot. I don’t know why…”
Where Roscoe went, Red went, so they bought 84 acres just west of Abilene.
Bulldozing a 1,900-foot unpaved runway, they built a cinderblock hangar and opened
Maker Brothers Flying Service. They taught flying, flew charters and took people
up for joy rides.
“We had a gull-wing Stinson, a Culver Cadet and a Stearman
that we used for instructing,” Red remembered. “You got an hour of dual for $6
or you could go solo for $4.”
To attract customers, one of the brothers
would do acrobatic stunts over town. As soon as a crowd gathered, they’d sell
Makers cashed out of their airport in 1950 and turned to other business ventures,
including building two motels. Roscoe opened a hobby shop in Abilene and built
some apartments. Red and his wife had a farm, invested in a travel agency and
Heart trouble finally grounded Redin 1988. By then, he
had more than 8,000 hours of flying time. He died on Jan. 2, 2006; Roscoe followed
him in death on May 18, 2012, two members of the Greatest Generation who never
saw enemy fire but did their part to help win World
Cox - September 12, 2013 column
War II Chronicles | Texas
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