By: Robert A. Kasprzak Major, USAF (Retired)

“Hot, Dusty, Rattlesnakes” Pvt Sowers

Did you know when the United States entered World War I on 6 April 1917, our military was under equipped, untrained, and undermanned. That situation quickly changed especially when it came to military aviation. During my research on the 28th Aero Squadron, I learned how important a role Texas played in preparing our military, particularly our U.S. Army Air Service (known as the USAAS). This article provides an overview on how Texas helped the 28th Aero (as well as other Aero Squadrons) become mission ready.

Shortly after War was declared, a massive and aggressive recruitment campaign began. It was so successful that enlisted men began to arrive at Kelly Airfield near San Antonio as early as May 1917. Their goal was to construct a military installation. As one of the men (Private Cliston Sowers) wrote, it was “hot, dusty, and full of rattlesnakes”. Nevertheless, the unit was designated as the 28th Aero Squadron on 22 June 1917 and the personnel began learning the “rudiments of soldering”.

Train with 28th Aero Squadron leaving for Toronto, Canada

About the same time, the USAAS proposed a joint training capability be established with the Canadian Royal Flying Corps (CRFC). The Canadians were well experienced having fought in Europe for the past three years. The proposal called for the Americans to be trained in Toronto and a training base be established in the Southern United States to be run by the CRFC. Ultimately, the Canadians decided the base was to be established near Fort Worth. The base, known as Taliaferro Field, was comprised of three auxiliary fields known as Field 1 (Hicks), Field 2 (Everman), and Field 3 (Carruthers).

The 28th Aero Squadron left Texas for training in Toronto on 22 August 1917 and returned to the U.S. on 7 November 1917. The 28th was ultimately assigned to Hicks Field outside Saginaw, Texas. While there, the CRFC provided flight training, gunnery practice, and ground crew operations. After six months of training, the 28th Aero Squadron left Texas a fully trained unit on 21 January 1918...only six months after the United States declared War.

During the course of it’s existence, the Canadians at the Taliaferro Complex trained 450 pilots, 2,500 ground support personnel, 1,600 ancillary personnel (such as safety and motor transport), and 1,500 Canadians.

Texans should be justifiably proud of the fact they were at the leading edge of training our early Airmen of the U.S. Army Air Service. That tradition continues today. For example, the 28th Aero Squadron, now known as the 28th Bomb Squadron, is stationed at Dyess Air Force Base near Abilene. The 28th is responsible for conducting advanced training for the B-1 bomber crews of the U.S. Air Force. In addition, numerous Air Force bases, both training and operational, can be found throughout the State. It all started over 100 years ago at a hot, dusty, rattlesnake infested location near Fort Worth!

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