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Memoirs and historical records from Brewster County, Texas, a large, remote, picturesque, rough country near Big Bend National Park

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Martin & Marfa, Texas


Army Air Base, Giant, Gliders, Lady Bird, Movies & the Marfa Lights




Marfa Texas postcard

Cathedral Mountain from Fort D.A. Russell

Marfa, Texas



Martin was born in Marfa, Texas (the facade, right, from the filming of Giant was visible from the highway to El Paso for many years).

Marfa Texas medical clinic where martin was born in 1946

He was born in the Marfa, Texas Searls Hospital clinic (pictured above).  The clinic is on Austin Street in Marfa.

Marfa, Texas clinic in 2009

Martin's parents chose to live in Alpine while Martin's Dad was stationed at the Marfa Army airbase and they returned to live in Alpine permanently after a brief return to Ohio after World War II.  Due to a dispute between 2 Alpine doctors (one not allowing the other to use his facility), Martin's Mom and Dad went to Marfa where martin was delivered by Dr. W.E. Lockhart.


picture of James Dean in front of Marfa's Gaint movie facade

James Dean in front of Giant facade just West of Marfa, Texas.  It was pretty exciting when the movie business came to the area. The house Reata, gradually fell a part and even the frame has not been visible for years.

Reata the house for the movie Giant West of Marfa Texas    Frame of old Reata house used in the movie Giant West of Marfa, Texas

pictures of Giant movie stars in display at the Paisano Hotel

The Giant pictures are on display at the Paisano hotel in Marfa

Martin lived in Alpine, however he was involved in many events and for awhile worked out of the Presidio County courthouse in Marfa.



Marfa Texas postcard

Martin's Mom and Dad were the post card, newspaper and magazine distributors for the Alpine, Marathon, Marfa, Ft. Davis, Ft. Stockton area.

Marfa, Presidio County Court house where Martin worked for the Texas Department of Public Welfare in 1969 and 1970.

Paisano Hotel Marfa, Texas

Paisano Hotel, Marfa, Texas   Paisano Hotel, Marfa, Texas


Paisano Hotel, Marfa, Texas   Paisano Hotel, Marfa, Texas


Paisano Hotel, Marfa, Texas  

Marfa Army Air Base

Martin's Dad, Denver 1942

Ollie Theophilus, Denver 1942

After completing Basic Training in Denver, CO, Martin's Dad was sent to Santa Ana Army Air Fieldin California and eventually stationed at the Marfa Army Air Base where he was a Link Trainer instructor (below).





Dad's uniform jacket end WW II    

WWII US Army Honorable Discharge Patch (left)

Army  Air Forces Training Command Patch (right above)

Ollie (rt) with Air Corps friend McCulleys at Mitre Peak in 1944

Marfa Army Airbase class year books are available in pdfs at this link.  classes available are:  1943-K, 1944-A, 1944-C & 1944-E.

Marfa Link Trainer newsletter addresses


Marfa Army Air Base Marfacts - more


Aerial view of Marfa Army Air base in 1943

Oblique airphoto of Marfa Army Airfield, looking north about 1943, with several hundred aircraft on its parking ramp

Aerial view of Marfa Army Air base in 1945

Another oblique airphoto, looking east, probably in 1945 just before the airfield's closure. Note the lack of aircraft on the ramp, but many, many exhaust spots from where they were parked.

© The above 2 images are a work of a U.S. Air Force Airman or employee, taken or made during the course of the person's official duties. As a work of the U.S. federal government, the images are in the public domain. Below July 2011


Poster for Trans Texas AirlinesThe Marfa Army Airbase became a destination for the Trans Texas Airways.  Martin's Grandmother flew out of the airport on her way to and back from Scotland in the early 1950's.   In September 1966 President Lyndon Johnson's wife Lady Bird Johnson, flew into the old airport to dedicate Fort Davis as a National Historic site.


click above to view full brochure



In the mid 1960's 2 Mitchell B-25 or B-26 Marauders showed up at the decommissioned Marfa Army Air base.  Lee McCollum and Martin looked around them and at one point were able to look through one of them that remained open for a long time.  We were told they were bound to Mexico.  These were in the old large main hanger before it was destroyed.

B-25 Mitchell like the ones that were stationed at the Marfa Army Airfield during World War II.  B-26 Maurader like the one at the Marfa Army Air base after it was decommissioned

Martin spent a lot of time at the old air base where his Dad had been stationed.  It was fun going through all the boxes of all military equipment that laid around.  There were stories about a large underground cache of retired military items, however we never made any serious attempt to find them. 


Lee and Martin did chase rabbits up and down the runaways on many occasions.

picture from Marfa Army Air Field  1944View more pages from MAAB booklet 

Link Trainer UK 

view UK video

Aerial view Marfa Army Air Base  1943 Plans

More about Marfa, Texas air base



Martin's Dad started the "Link Letter" to help keep folks who served at the Marfa Army Air Field in communication with each other.  I am listing some of the names I found, hoping that may help others still connect.

Peg & Oliver Theophilus, Doug McCulley, Walter T. Wilson, Al Raines, Jim Vizzini, Ed Stolzenburg, Ray Taylor, John Hofbauer, Bob Sterling, Bud Powers, Fritz Kahl, Joe Gugino, Gayhart Leland, Jesse newman, Bernal Slight, Valle Johnson, Al Renshaw, John D. Morgan, John G. Rueter, Ben Arndt, John Allen, Frank C. Bourne, Richard M. Knight, Al McGray, Wes Jungmeyer,  Ollin Crichton, Max Hohlbaugh, George Larsen, Frank Reay, Pascoe Grant, Ray Taylor, Sam Kassel, Bob Joslin, Chester "Chet Bell", Francis Angelo, Ernie Dunaway, Lloyd Dias, Ben Freshman, Phil Schoppe and Stanley Linsted .

Here is Oliver Theophilus 19880 MAAF Link Letter (click to enlarge)

1980 Marfa Army Air Base Link Letter produced by Oliver Theophilus

1980 Marfa Army Air Base Link Letter produced by Oliver Theophilus

1980 Marfa Army Air Base Link Letter produced by Oliver Theophilus

Martin's Grandparents visited Alpine during 1944/45 before moving there from Cleveland in 1947

Martin's Aunt Isabel waiting for a TransTexas flight out of the old Marfa Army airbase



Aerial view of Marfa Army Air base in 1943Marfa Army Airfield (AKA: Presidio County Airport) is an abandoned airfield located in the high desert of West Texas, about 200 miles (320 km) southeast of El Paso. It is located approximately 4,840-foot (1,480 m) above mean sea level.

During World War II, Marfa Army Airfield, was an installation of the Army Air Force Training Command West Coast Training Center


Marfa’ s affair with the United States military actually began long before Marfa Army Airfield (AAF). In 1911, the United States Army stationed cavalry units at what they eventually named Camp Marfa in order to patrol the Rio Grande because of the turbulent Mexican Revolution. The camp remained on a permanent basis and was renamed Fort D. A. Russell in 1930 but closed, presumably permanently, in 1933. Only two years later, however, the fort reopened as an army officer training school. Fort D. A. Russell remained active until 23 October 1945.

Planning for the construction of Marfa AAF began in March 1942, when the War Department selected the Marfa, Texas area as a site for training United States Army Air Corps advanced Aerial view of Marfa Army Air base in 1945twin-engine pilots. The Southern Pacific Railroad tracks ran parallel to Route 90 at this area, and the highway and railroad provided excellent logistics support for the new airfield. McGough Brothers of Houston was the general contractor for the facility. Marfa and nearby Alpine each voted $10,000 in bonds to buy the land for the airfield, 2,750 acres (11.1 km2), from T. G. Hendrick of Abilene at $6.50 an acre. The towns, in turn, leased the property to the War Department for twenty-five years at one dollar a year. A federal court directed C. T. Mitchell, Mrs. Bertha Holmes, the John A. Lawrence estate, and the Gage estate to deliver 1,809 acres (7.32 km2) for four auxiliary landing fields.

Construction began in June 1942, and enough construction was finished for the first cadets to arrive on 5 December 1942. As built during the war, the airfield at Marfa consisted of a total of six asphalt runways (up to 7,500' long),with an extensive network of taxiways and ramps. Adjacent to the airfield to the north was an extensive street grid, with a large number of buildings (eventually totaling nearly 250 buildings), including a hospital, barracks, chapel, theater, mess halls, control tower, and hangars.

Auxiliary airfields

Auxiliary landing fields for the use of Marfa AAF eventually included:

  • Marfa AAF Aux #1. 30°08′58.10″N 103°50′28.52″WLocated 15 miles SSE of Marfa AAF, apparently reused for at least some period of time as an airport known as "South Airport", closed in the 1950s. Now abandoned.
  • Marfa AAF Aux #2. 30°21′25.68″N 104°12′46.71″WLocated 10.5 miles WNW of Marfa AAF, closed during World War II. Abandoned ever since.
  • Marfa AAF Aux #3. 30°24′55.46″N 104°17′50.96″WLocated 16.5 miles WNW of Marfa AAF, apparently reused for at least some period of time as a airport known as "Ryan Airport", closed in the 1950s. Now abandoned.
  • Marfa AAF Aux #4. 30°22′10.77″N 104°00′53.88″WLocated 4 miles NW of Marfa AAF, developed into Marfa Municipal Airport
  • Marfa AAF Aux #5. 30°21′31.15″N 104°10′16.75″WLocated 8.5 miles WNW of Marfa, apparently reused for at least some period of time as a airport known as "Aragon Airport", closed in the 1950s. Now abandoned.
  • Marfa AAF Aux #7. 30°19′40.47″N 103°59′32.26″WLocated 2 miles NW of Marfa AAF. Originally built by the United States Army in 1919 for purpose of patrolling the Mexican border by airplane. This installation was attached to Camp Russell when it was made a permanent military establishment in 1927. The Army's air patrols of the area were discontinued in 1923, and the airfield was turned over to the town of Marfa which made it their Municipal Airport. The Marfa Municipal Airport continued to be used by the military on an as-needed basis until World War II. With the construction of large Marfa Army Airfield, it was taken over by the AAF and became Marfa Auxiliary Airfield #7. After the war, it was never reused as a civil airfield and it was abandoned. It has since been redeveloped into a golf course.


The base at first was designated Marfa Army Air Field, Advanced Flying School and was assigned to the Army Air Forces Flying Training Command. In June 1943, the name was changed to Marfa Army Air Field, Army Air Forces Advanced Flying School.

On 25 November 1942 the first shipment of Cessna AT-17B twin-engine trainers arrived from Cessna in Wichita, Kansas. A flow of aircraft continued to be delivered as training ramped up. The first class started training on 11 December 1942, several weeks ahead of planned schedule. Members of this class (43-B) completed their courses by 6 February 1943, and received their silver wings. A class completed training each month until the final graduation in May 1945. By 30 April 1944, the base had a total complement of 3,293 personnel: 575 officers, 2,114 enlisted men, and 604 civilians. At its peak, Marfa AAF would operate a staggering total of 500 aircraft.

Newspaper articles from this period reflect a vast number of social interactions between the personnel of Marfa AAF and their families and people within the local community. The base had a basketball team that competed with local high school teams, and some of the games were even held at the base gymnasium. Young men considering service in the Army Air Corps were invited to tour the base, and the base’s public relations officer wrote a series of editorials in favor of the Army Air Corps in the Big Bend Sentinel.

As one might expect, the men of Marfa AAF also married local girls, and the local paper’s society pages were constantly announcing such marriages. Local churches often featured base officers as guest speakers, presentations from the wives of base personnel, and even choir soloists from amongst the men of Marfa AAF. The sons of Marfa personnel competed in regional Boy Scouts competitions. Parades were held at the base for Army Day and Victory in Europe Day, an open house was held for the local residents to come tour the base, and the base color guard performed in the county rodeo. The base even held a beauty contest one year for local girls, with the winner representing Marfa AAF at the El Paso Sun Bowl. On a more serious note, the base personnel helped serve the community. On one occasion, a Marfa airman saved two women from drowning in nearby Alpine. On another occasion, the base personnel contributed to Marfa s donation to the Red Cross War Fund Drive, with 430 civilian workers and more than 1,500 airmen giving at least $1 each and making up about half of the town’s entire contribution.

The community of Marfa and Presidio County in turn gave back to the base on a social level. Marfa residents donated recreation equipment and furniture to the base for use in their clubs and recreation areas. They also gave the young airmen without cars rides to local sporting events. For those airmen who were far from home, local residents invited them to Christmas dinners, and local women played substitute mothers for Mother’s Day. The Rotary clubs of Marfa and Alpine paid for the construction of an adobe block entrance to Marfa AAF, and the community held a big celebration in honor of the base’s two-year anniversary.

In June 1944 Air Training command transferred Marfa Army Air Field to Second Air Force. Training continued and classes included regular trainees, Chinese nationals, and Air Transport Command personnel. On-the-line pre-pilot training and mechanics courses were added, and some AT-6 Texan advanced single engine trainers were also used at Marfa AAF. The B-25 Mitchell bomber was also used for multi-engine training at Marfa during the later portions of the war to retrain pilot returnees.

On 4 May 1945, the local newspaper announced that the May graduating class would be the last. In June Marfa Army Air Field became a redeployment center for the I Troop Carrier Command, with some 2,400 men to be sent there to train with C-46 and C-47 aircraft. The host unit at the airfield was renamed the 818th Air Base Unit. The end of World War II halted these plans. More than 500 veterans from various squadrons arrived at the base for redeployment or discharge.


Marfa AAF was placed on standby status from 25 May to 15 June 1945. Much of the equipment and aircraft were reassigned. A few administrative aircraft remained and base operations became inactive. The field remained open for transient aircraft on official business or for emergency landings. By V-J day on 14 August 1945, the field was no longer required for a redeployment center for the TCC, although the 437th Troop Carrier Group was assigned to Marfa from 14 September to 15 November. By the end of 1945, flying operations at Marfa rapidly wound down, with the base having only one C-64, twenty C-47s and one B-25 by 30 November. The base manpower was reduced to a total of 1,133.

From December 1945 to 31 January 1946, the base was listed as "inactive". During this time, many of the assets were advertised for sale as surplus property. This included such things as a bowling alley, office equipment, trucks, shelving, etc. All operations at Marfa AAF were suspended by February 1946. The base was retained by the 818th AAF BU and later the 344th AAF BU, and the military finally declared the base surplus on 22 October 1946. When the base finally closed, the townspeople held a number of going-away parties, dances, and barbecues for the departing airmen and their families.

Postwar use

On January 31, 1947, the base was transferred by the Ninth Air Force to the Army District Engineering Corps at Albuquerque, NM for disposition. The closure of Marfa AAF was an emotional blow for the community of Marfa and Presidio County. As reflected in the local newspaper, the local community suffered an emotional depression and in the words of the mayor, the town "fell on its face." Sinking spirits and a sense of loss would not be the only blow dealt to the community by the base closure. The impact on the community of Marfa and Presidio County in terms of population and economic prosperity was obviously a devastating one, however the community was able to eventually recover to some degree within 5 years of the airfield's closure.

Marfa was used as a civil general aviation airport after the war known as "Marfa Alpine Airport" until the 1960s. In the early 1960s, the area became popular for long-distance soaring flights. The national championships were held there in the late 1960s. In September 1966 President Lyndon Johnson's wife Lady Bird Johnson, flew into the airport to dedicate Fort Davis as a National Historic Site. It was listed as "Presidio County Airport" in the 1970 TX Airport Directory, however the airport was evidently closed at some point between 1970-1985 as the runways were labeled as “Abandoned” on the 1985 USGS topo map.

Today, all of the runways, taxiways & ramps of this huge airfield still exist. Many of the wartime buildings were sold at auction and moved to Marfa or nearby Alpine, Texas. Slowly the West Texas desert is reclaiming the large airbase, with tall grass being found on the parking apron, and deteriorating concrete evident on the taxiways and runways. The original main entrance road still exists, but is gated and locked. A small brass memorial plaque can be found on the remains of the World War II adobe block entrance to the post.


Marfa Gliders

In 1969 Fritz Kahl brought the International Glider Championships to the old Marfa Army Airbase

Martin's 1969 Marfa Glider meet video

Glider post vard from Marfa Texas 



 Glider with chute deployed at 1967 Marfa, Texas glider meet

stills from Martin's movie of the 1969 Glider meet in Marfa

36th Annual U. S. National Soaring Championships pdf



Martin's shots of gliders near the old Marfa Army Air Base hanger during the 1969 International Glider Meet

1970 Marfa Glider poster 
More Marfa


Sul Ross Band preparing to play for Lady Bird Johnson's arrival at the Marfa Army Airbase to attend the Fort Davis National Historic Site dedication.  Tony Brons, Carol & Martin in center of photo.

Mom at Fort Davis dedication talking to Lady Bird Johnson

Mom at Fort Davis dedication talking to Lady Bird Johnson.  Mom gave Lady Bird some agate from the area.

Lady Bird Johnson dedicating the Fort Davis national Historic site.



The Thunderbird Motel Marfa, Texas

One of Martin's interesting on-location jobs occurred August 4, 1969 at the Thunderbird Motel in Marfa, Texas. 

Two brothers Hector and Jesus Flores from Ojinaga, Mexico were hired by Pepper Brown to provide some tracks for the background of a movie Pepper was producing. 

Martin set up a Concertone 800 in one of the motel rooms and miked the voices and guitars. The recording took place while the two players sat on the edge of the beds.  As midnight neared, the players realized they needed to be back across the border by midnight. 

One of Presidio County Commissioners was attending the session offered his car for Martin to drive them the 60 miles to the border crossing.  It was a fast trip, however they didn't make it.  The player s said " no problem, my uncle is the guard."

Additional tracks were recorded at Highland Sound's studio in Alpine on October 27, 1969.

Play Malagueña from these sessions

Listen to more clips




Working out of the Presidio County Courthouse (only a couple of blocks from where he was born) Martin's office was just off the JP's courtroom.

Marfa, Presidio County Courthousepicture of Lupe Hernandez, Marfa, Texas  His coworkers were Lupe Hernandez (pic right) whose family lived along the Big Bend River Road.  Her family would alternately host folks passing by that include the US Cavalry, Poncho Villa and the Mexican army.  View movie from that area taken in 1969.

Martin's other co-worker was Georgia Kahl whose husband was Fritz Kahl, a pilot (first stationed at the Marfa Army Air Base during WW II), who was instrumental in bringing the glider events to the area.


Martin, Fran & Bruce riding motorcycles through Candelaria, Presidio County- Big Bend

picture of Mazda Pickup & motorcycle trailer

Martin going through canyon South of Marfa toward Candelaria Mazda & trailer


Jack O'Donnel and his wife and child in Marfa, Texas

Jack O'Donnell with his family in Marfa after taking position with US Border Patrol  

View video from 1967 while Jack was a Highway Patrolman in Alpine.  Jack and Martin worked together while Martin was a Brewster County Deputy assigned to Sul Ross State College.  Jack was great about riding with Martin on the night shift and having Martin accompany him on patrol in the Tx DPS patrol car (pictured below).

Jack O'Donnell's Texas DPS patrol car


Old red fire truck

Old fire truck in Marfa, Texas

Cathedral Mountain from Marfa, Texas  Cathedral Mountain from Marfa, Texas

Cathedral Mountain from Fort D. A. Russell in Marfa, Texas

marfa's Stardust Motel sign West of town

Stardust Motel sign

Marfa Lights

Marfa Lights phenomenon UFOs?

Martin's Mom was fascinated by the Marfa Lights from the time she and his father arrived in three Big Bend area.  Judith M. Brueske, Ph.D. dedicated her book The Marfa Lights to Martin's Mom, Peg Theophilus.

Judith M. Brueske, Ph.D.'s book The Marfa Lights available from Ocotillo Enterprises 205 N. 5th (POB 195, Alpine, Texas 79831

Excerpt from Judith M. Brueske's book "The Marfa Lights" Excerpt from Judith M. Brueske's book "The Marfa Lights" - In 1985 the Junior Historians of Marfa Junior High School published a COLORING BOOK OF THE MARFA LIGHTS and circulated it for sale in area stores.  I, who had arrived in Alpine only a couple of years before, was working at that time for the late Margaret (Peg) Theophilus, in her store, The Shopper's Guide Bookstore.  Peg, who frequently rode out with her husband Ollie, to view the lights, had the coloring book prominently displayed on the checkout counter where it elicited a great deal of story-swapping about the Marfa Lights.

In 1982 Martin, his Mom, Peg Theophilus and Sherry Thorne drove down the old ranch road that was open and ran down the West side of the old Marfa Army Air Base.  As we drove South on the dirt road, a digital car clock Martin had given his Dad, flipped back an hour.  We turn around and went back to the highway, re-set the clock, and drove down the rode again.  Again the clock flipped an hour.  Pretty neat!




Ken, Chris & Martin at old Marfa Army Air Base having just finished walking the old runways at Midnight.  The actual Marfa Lights are in the background of the picture.   Picture was taken directly South from the old Main Gate.

In 1986, Ken, Chris & Martin at old Marfa Army Air Base having just finished walking the old runways at Midnight.  The actual Marfa Lights are in the background of the picture.   Picture was taken directly South from the old Main Gate at about 1:00 am using a long time exposure.

Jim Bunnell has published a book "Hunting Marfa Lights" and a video "Marfa Lights." He was a neighbor here in River Crossing until he moved to Marfa a few years ago. We met at a Neighborhood Night Out party and when we discovered we were both born in Marfa, the conversation evolved to the Lights. My Mom was a passionate Marfa Lighter and I shared her info with him. The Alpine Yahoo group also sent him info. Small world. Jim's web site is http://www.marfatxlights.com/index.html  National Geographic presented his information in their special on mystery lights.

pictures from the 2005 Alpine Texas High School reunion of the '60's  pictures from the 2005 Alpine Texas High School reunion of the '60's

Dee and Donna's presidio County Texas home and land South of Marfa is near where the Marfa Lights are spotted.  These photos were taken July 2005

Donna and Dee with Chris & Martin at the Paisano Hotel in Marfa, Texas - April 2009.


Not far from Dee and Donna's property, the Santa Fe railroad winds its way from near the Marfa Army Airbase to presidio, Texas.  While attending Sul Ross University, one of Martin's best friends was Louis "Corky" Thornton from McCamey, Texas.  Corky's Dad managed the miles and miles of Santa Fe tracks through this area.  He had warned Santa Fe that rocks slides were going to cause an accident if they didn't complete some serious work on the cliffs near the tracks.  Sure enough in the late 1960's a train derailed and we joined Corky and his Dad to view the damage. 



Cathedral Mt area Big Bend West Texas

Cathedral Mountain, Alpine TX 2002

Marfa Movies

poster for movie "The Andromeda StrainIn 1970 Universal Studios shot the opening of their new movie "The Andromeda Strain" in Shafter,Presidio County, Texas.  At that time Martin was working for the State of Texas and responsible for services in Presidio, Brewster and Jeff Davis Counties. Martin took the movies and some of the pictures in this section. He also had to stay behind a house where he'd just completed an interview when the helicopters began coming in for one of the shots.

Martin's picture of the church that was fixed up for the shooting of the Andromeda Strain in Shafter, Texas

Picture of church (left) and picture of church from movie (right)

View Martin's movie while driving around Shafter

Martin's picture of the church that was fixed up for the shooting of the Andromeda Strain in Shafter, Texas

picture of Shafter, Texas church in backgrounp as seen in the movie. 

Scene above from 1971 movie "The Andromeda Strain"

Helicopter for the filmUSAF helicopters in Shafter, Texas for shooting of the movie The Andromeda Strain

Universal Studios bus in Shafter, Texas during shoot of the movie Andromeda Strain

Universal Studios bus in Shafter, Texas

NBC lift truck at the filming of the movie The Andromeda Strain in Shafter, Texas  NBC lift truck at the filming of the movie The Andromeda Strain in Shafter, Texas

NBC Lift truck in Shafter, Texas for shooting the 1971 release of The Andromeda Strain.  Picture right is from the 1890's of the Shafter mines

  Shafter, Texas in the 1890's

Shafter mines in the 1890's

Other movies shot near Marfa, Texas

No Country for Old Men

There Will Be Blood




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