According to its official brochure, “Silent Wings Museum is the only museum in the world dedicated to telling the story of the military glider program.” It does this exceedingly well.
Silent Wings opened in Terrell, Texas, in 1984 and moved into Lubbock’s old airport terminal north of town (Exit 9 from I-27) in 2002. This is appropriate since 5,000 WWII glider pilots trained here after the U.S. military established a training facility, South Plains Army Air Field (SPAAF), here. SWM is opened Tuesday through Saturday from 10 am until 5 pm.
I was taking this photo of Donald Duck when Frank, the 90-year-old WWII vet who was never a glider pilot but who volunteers at SWM, came over and told me that a Disney character was in this museum because a former glider pilot became a Disney animator after the war. Frank served from 1943 until 1946 in the Army Infantry. I learned a lot from him and the displays.
Being from St. Louis originally, I was fascinated by the fact that William Dee Becker, its mayor, was killed in a glider crash in 1943. Prophetically, he told a reporter about his upcoming flight, “…you can die only once, and we all must die sometime.” A wing separated from the glider carrying Becker and 9 other people with 10,000 witnesses below.
WWII glider pilots were singular spirits who shared one common bond–they wanted to fly. However, they could not pass the physical or educational standards needed to become a cadet. About 1/3 were too old. Since these men could get immediate transfers to the Glider Corps, many did just that. Some who had been dropped from enlisted pilot programs later proved beyond a doubt “that the Army Air Corps gave up too quickly on them.”
While I went from exhibit to exhibit, Ruth was listening to personal stories. She encouraged me to do this too but I didn’t. I regretted this later when I read a couple of editions of the Silent Wings Museum Newsletter, the source for the quote in the previous paragraph. In one WWII account, John Edmund Wright commented that the British boys he served with, regardless of circumstance, had to have their tea. This was OK because Yanks were invited. He told about acquiring a pair of unpainted wooden shoes in a small Dutch town that he apparently sent home. He was amazed at how well Americans like him were received by Dutch citizens. “Women with babies in their hands,” he reported, “would hold over the baby so they could touch the paratrooper.” John, a member of the 438th TCG 89th TCS, died in a C47A crash in England in 1944, age 32.