Midland has long history of patriotism through kindness, service to others
Just a few years ago, it seemed improbable to be able to visit the Midland International Airport without having the opportunity to join with the Patriot Guard in giving a hero’s welcome to a service man or woman in uniform returning from a tour in the Middle East or other international location.
Almost three years ago, after Midland High School graduate and U.S. Marine 2nd Lt. Patrick Wayland died suddenly in a training accident in Florida, on Aug. 5, 2011, an estimated 75 Marines descended on Midland in support of their fallen brother. In return, and probably quite unexpectedly to those visitors, the same 75 Marines witnessed firsthand how much Midland loves the military.
Col. Joseph P. Richards, Wayland’s commanding officer, who attended Wayland’s funeral, said, “It was something you just don’t have words for, to feel the honor and patriotism of Midland. Your tremendous respect for Patrick and the Wayland family was a beautiful sight to see.”
Then, three years ago this November, the community came together as it often does, in support of veterans felled by a horrific train collision just as those soldiers and their families were being honored.
Terry Johnson, organizer of Show of Support’s Hunt for Heroes, pours his life into the annual event. A year after the tragedy, he still clearly remembered the instantaneous response of Midlanders.
“The businesses across the street from where this had all happened began taking people in instantly,” Johnson said. “When we found out everyone had been accounted for, we headed to the Hilton. Buses were sent to take us all to the hotel. Over the next four days the folks at the Hilton let us move into the ballroom. They brought water, blankets, they just let us get our heads together for four days. We had people manning phone banks, calling moms and dads, sisters, brothers. We had offers to send private jets all over the country to bring family in.”
One of the most remarkable aspects of the generosity that poured forth for the veterans and the families involved in the accident came with the news that in the span of a few days, donations totaling $500,000 poured in to Hunt for Heroes. Of that total, Johnson estimated 80 percent — $400,000 — was raised just by the people of Midland.
What is even more remarkable, are the words the veterans and their families leave with Johnson and others at the conclusion of a Hunt for Heroes event.
“People always ask me if the veterans are from Midland,” Johnson said. “But we pick them from all over the United States on purpose. We want the guy from Ohio to go back and say, ‘You’re not going to believe what they’re doing in Midland.’ They come to Midland and tell us, ‘Man, I want to move here. Y’all are the best people, the friendliest people I’ve ever met. Where I’m from, when I came home from the war, it’s like I never left. But I come here and y’all don’t know me, and yet you love me.”
An excerpt from “A History of Character: The Story of Midland, Texas”
In his 2001 book “The Stars Were Big and Bright: The United States Armed Forces and Texas During World War II (Vol. 2),” author George E. Alexander quoted Thomas Bellingham, a cadet at the Midland Army Airfield: “There was just absolutely nothing to look at out there. One old timer I knew called that whole Midland-Odessa part of Texas the ‘Flat Brown,’ and I think he was being overly generous.”
First impressions can be important and long lasting. Yet for the thousands of men who came to train at the bombardier school at the Midland Army Airfield in 1942 and throughout a good portion of World War II, first impressions were often followed by impressions that ran much deeper and longer. When those displaced cadets met the people of West Texas, many, perhaps hundreds, made the decision to stay here after they returned from the war.
In a Reporter-Telegram article headlined “Science of War taught,” written for the publication’s centennial edition, the bombardier school was called “Uncle Sam’s most potent weapon. Not only was the school one of just 14 across the country that taught bombardiering, it was also the largest. The government believed that at the type of bombardier schools found in Midland and elsewhere, the men learning and working with bombsights would actually shorten the length of the war.”
“The value their training had in the overall war effort defies calculation,” Judge Hyde told the Reporter-Telegram in 2011. “Within a few months of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor and America’s entry into the war, the old Midland Sloan Field became Midland Army Airfield. In a span of just three years, the school graduated more bombardiers than any other training base in the United States, and in the first 17 months of its operation, more than 800,000 practice bombs were dropped.”
“A History of Character: The Story of Midland, Texas” will be published in September by The Abell-Hanger Foundation and the Permian Basin Petroleum Museum. For information about a presentation on the book for your civic organization or church group, email firstname.lastname@example.org.