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History of The Central Texas Wing, Of The Commemorative Air Force

by Col. Chester T. Kochan

The history of the Central Texas Wing is interspersed with periods of great leadership and major projects. A group of Commemorative Air Force members, living within 100 miles of San Marcos, Texas, met during the latter months of 1973 and requested from Headquarters CAF, to establish a CAF wing, with headquarters in San Marcos. On March 11, 1974, a charter was presented, establishing the Central Texas Wing, to Wing Leader John Stokes, Adjutant B.J. Mcsherry, Finance Officer Pat Murphy, PIO Robert Fowler, and OSS Officer Nat Henderson, with John Irvine, Dr. J.R. Koos, Jack Schmidt, Claude Vaughn, and others present. Wing dues were set at $15 per year.

One of the most interesting events established in 1977 was the Praha, Texas Mini “Tora” show, through the efforts of Nat Henderson and the Reverend Marcus Valenta, pastor of St. Mary’s Church in that community. Col. Valenta was an Army Chaplain, stationed at Schofield Barracks, Oahu, Hawaii on December 7, 1941, celebrating mass during the Pearl Harbor attack, and remained in the Pacific Theater of operations throughout the duration of World War II. He returned to the Zone of Interior after the hostilities ceased. He remained on active duty in the U.S. Army until his retirement and assignment to St. Mary’s Parish. Col. Valenta became the CENTEX Wing Chaplain. Praha is a community of several hundred people near Flatonia, that turns into the site of a memorial service for the fallen military of the community, attended by thousands from all over the State of Texas. This event takes place on the Sunday nearest Veteran’s Day (Armistice Day), November 11th at 11a.m. Even though Nat and Marcus have “gone west,” that tradition continues.

In 1978, a contest was held within the wing, to name the B-25 and a vote was taken on all the names submitted and “Yellow Rose” was chosen. The ultimate CAF family of father Fred and sons Jerry, John, Mike, and Gary Hinnenkamp of Lockhart, Texas, became members of the Wing, bringing our total membership to 290. Due to this large number, it was decided to establish three squadrons within the Wing–the Alamo Squadron, the Headquarters Squadron in San Marcos, and the Capitol Squadron. The wing participated in 12 airshows and displays during four months of summer. In August, the B-25 was transferred to D. Howard’s hangar at San Antonio Airport for complete restoration, painting, and installation of radios. A Norden bombsight was also installed at this time.

On January 27, 1979, the Alamo Squadron in San Antonio was upgraded to Wing status and received its charter from Cols. Walt Estridge, P.D. Straw, Wallace Athey, and Bob Griffin, with Col. Jack Skipper as Wing Leader. Members of the CENTEX Wing and several local distinguished military officers from Lackland AFB and Kelly AFB were in attendance at the ceremony. This action reduced the Wing membership to 165.

On April 6, 1939, the Bell P-39 Airacobra was test flown for the first time at Dayton, Ohio. On April 8, 1989, the CENTEX Wing participated in a special 50th Anniversary salute to this great and rare aircraft. Several Bell Aircraft Company representatives, including some who worked on the production of this aircraft, were in attendance as honored guests at the San Marcos Airport.

Four of our members were awarded sponsorship and assignment of a Nakajima “Kate” replica. This aircraft remains within the unit at this time. It was decided to hold a contest within the wing for a new unit patch and the winner, Col. Bill Burke (USAF) received a “back seat” ride in John Stokes’ P-38. The annual Open House/Fly-In was held on September 29th and an annual “Survivor’s Party” was attended by 75 people at Lil and Bob Ayars’ hilltop home in Blanco, Texas. Eleven aircraft participated in the mini “Tora” fly-over at Praha.

A Wing Headquarters move had to be made at San Marcos Airport due to the construction of a new terminal building on that spot. A World War II, tar-paper covered building was offered to the unit, and after a tremendous amount of repair work, it became our new operations center.

Col John Stokes offered to take on the multi-year project of rebuilding the CAF’s P-38 “Scatterbrain Kid”, at San Marcos. Flatbed trucks were dispatched to Harlingen and work on the aircraft was begun in a World War II hangar and continued in a newly-built, Stokes Aviation hangar. The Hill Country Squadron, organized at Borne, Texas, was attached to the CENTEX Wing. The Wing was also the CAF representative and organizer for the Desert Storm “Salute to the Troops” parade fly-over and static display in Austin. The Wing also held a special, Pearl Harbor Survivors airshow for members of that Association on December 7th, at the San Marcos Airport. Many busloads, including family members, were brought in for their annual reunion in San Antonio. For many of them, this was their first experience with the “Tora Tora” Act and a comment was heard form one of them, “That’s the way it was, Honey,” as tears rolled down many cheeks.

Negotiations with the City of San Marcos resulted in our acquiring the last World War II vintage hangar at the airport. This building was previously used as classrooms for the Gary Job Corps Center and in need of many repairs to its roof, doors, electrical and plumbing systems. A full-sized house, with fireplace and porch, six-foot tall brick and wrought-iron fence, and a cement and rock waterfall were located in the center of the hangar. Small classrooms were on either side and all these had to be removed to make it useable. Only two small rooms were kept for operations and maintenance offices. For the past five years, this has been a major project. The building now includes an Officer’s Club, the John Stokes Library/Museum, a maintenance storage room, carpenter shop, a PX/Artifacts room, and a kitchen/workroom. Near completion is an Artifacts Room addition.

A major event in the Wing’s history was the first flight of the Lockheed P-38 “Scatterbrain Kid II” on February 28, 1992, after ten years of “blood, sweat and tears,” with Col. Sandy Sansing at the controls. In April, the Highland Lakes Squadron was organized at Burnet, Texas and attached to the Wing. The P-38 was invited to participate at the P-38 Pilot’s Association reunion in Colorado Springs in August, with a fly-over at the Air Force Academy during the dedication of a P-38 monument. This was also the month for a new project, the annual “Gathering of Memories” airshow. So far, we have successfully held GOM II, III, IV and V.

In January 1993, the P-38 was flown to Midland to be one of the aircraft on display for three months. While there, a new canopy was installed.

A major social event took place in October 1993, when Col. Castner was married in the hangar to his Debra Marie. One of our wing members, Col. George Bass, secured and supervised the installation of a 30 foot flag pole near the hangar and flight line.

Disaster struck twice during 1994, when on May 28th, “Scatterbrain Kid II” crashed on take-off at the Breckenridge Airshow, with pilot, Col. Joe Orr at the controls. Although the aircraft was badly damaged, Col. Orr received minor cuts and bruises. The Wing is now in the process of securing funds to have the aircraft rebuilt as a night fighter. The P-39 suffered a nosegear collapse on take-off, damaging the propeller.

Later in the year, the unit purchased a computer, laser printer and copier for Wing use in the hangar offices. Our Cessna UC-78 fuselage and engines were returned to Midland after we were unable to locate facilities to repair the damaged main wing spar and the fuselage had been rebuilt.

In recent history, the hangar doors and roof have been repaired, with help from the City of San Marcos. The Wing has become a member of the San Marcos Chamber of Commerce and Co-sponsored a mixer in the hangar, to better acquaint local businessmen with our facility. Several movie companies have used the hangar and a Civil Air Patrol unit recently organized in San Marcos, has worked closely with our Wing, and assisted us during the airshows. Our P-39 Airacobra returned to the airshow circuit after extensive repairs and sporting a new paint scheme at AIRSHO ’96.

Southwest Texas State University in San Marcos, has invited the Wing to place a permanent display at Aquarena Springs. This should help bring more visitors to our facility. We have an ongoing program with them to bring senior citizens, participating in their Elderhostel program at the University, to our hangar for a briefing on the CAF and a tour of the hangar. Wing members also present programs on aviation and the history of the CAF to local civic groups and school children in the area.