History

Brady’s War Stories

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Brady War Stories - Curtis Field World War II

Photos by danielsww2.com
By John Hallowell

Brady’s memories of World War II are more vivid than those of other Texas towns; a lot of history happened here.

Everyone who lived through World War II was affected by it, and all of that “greatest generation” has indelible memories from the war years. Perhaps that is even more true for residents of Brady, Texas.

Not only were several of Brady’s fighting men recognized as genuine heroes of that war, but in support of the war, the town of Brady played host to two major military installations.

Brady War Stories - Curtis Field World War II

Even before the war, Mayor Harry L. Curtis had introduced a project to employ men on relief to expand Brady’s airport and equip it with lights for night flying. When the War Department started looking for a place to train pilots, Mayor Curtis proposed the site as an auxiliary field for the army. Curtis Field, at the time the only army airfield which was named for a living person, was built in 1940, and the first eighty students moved in on March 23, 1941. Eventually, 10,000 pilots were trained here in Brady, at a facility which included the headquarters, a ground school, an infirmary, three barracks and four hangars. As many as five hundred were enrolled at any given time.

When General Erwin Rommel’s Afrika Korps surrendered to American forces in April 1943, the U.S. was suddenly faced with the question of where to hold 150,000 German prisoners. Brady became part of the answer as construction began in June, 1943, on a prisoner-of-war camp just three miles east of town. The camp eventually covered 360 acres, and had a capacity of 3,000 prisoners in 200 buildings. Many of the prisoners here were “troublemakers” from the S.S. and Gestapo, but most had a very good impression of Brady, and some remained here to live after the war.

Brady War Stories - Curtis Field World War II
Both facilities have suffered neglect in the sixty years since the war ended, and only a few traces remain of the sprawling P.O.W. camp. (Curtis Field became the Brady Municipal Airport after the war, and some of the old buildings are still in use there.) But a few Brady old-timers (led by Bert Striegler, former president of the Heart of Texas Historical Museum) are determined not to let the memories disappear. They have arranged for the reconstruction of buildings from both facilities in a city lot behind the museum in Brady, and plan to display World War II photos and artifacts there. Part of the old headquarters building was moved from Curtis Field, along with the guard shack that stood at the gate. Also, the original stones that formed the guard shack at the P.O.W. camp have been brought to the museum for reconstruction. The museum has many photos and mementos from that time, but the last we heard, Mr. Striegler was still looking for a Vultee Valiant training airplane (the condition doesn’t matter) to display next to the rebuilt control tower on the grounds.

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