Saturday, April 21, 2018

Caprock Chronicles - Dagley, Durham die in plane crash in 1958

EDITOR’S NOTE: Caprock Chronicles is edited by Paul Carlson, emeritus professor of history at Texas Tech. This week’s essay is written by John McCullough, author and aviation historian of Lubbock. The essay reviews life of Maenard F. Dagley, an early Lubbock aviator, and the crash that killed him and his young student pilot, Bennie Joe Durham in 1958.



Maenard F. “Dag” Dagley operated a flying service at the Lubbock Municipal Airport with his partner, Emmett Morris, from 1937 until the spring of 1942.

In May of 1942, he moved his business to his own private airport, Dagley Field, southwest of town because the U.S. Army Air Forces was opening an advanced glider base at the city airport. Dagley Field was at 34th Street and Dagley Road (now Quaker Avenue). The 160-acre airfield had one large hangar, 140 feet long, 60 feet wide and 30 feet tall.

The airfield had four dirt runways, a T-wind cone, a small café and storage shack. Hangar doors were on the east side and first- and second-floor offices were on the west.

During WWII, around 3,000 student pilots trained at Dagley Field as part of the Civilian Pilot Training Program and later the 309th College Training Detachment.

In March 1943, the U.S. Navy called Lt. M. F. Dagley into active service and posted him and his good friend and fellow naval officer, Lowell Sailsbury, to the Corpus Christi Naval Air Station to train student pilots.

When he came home from the war, Dagley resumed operation of his flying service and continued training student pilots. He expanded the business to include crop dusting. However, Dagley Field no longer existed.

In June 1944, Dagley Field was purchased by four men and renamed Lubbock Aero Field. Tragedy struck on April 29, 1945, when a welder took his welding job inside the hangar due to high winds. The sparks from the welding tool set fire the highly flammable fumes from material nearby and the hangar and all five aircraft inside it went up in flames.

One of Dagley’s post-war students was Bennie Joe Durham. Originally from New Deal, Durham later moved with his family to a cotton farm near Wolfforth. Durham joined the U.S. Army in 1955 at the age of 21 and served at Fort Bliss in El Paso until 1958.

In a recent interview, Bennie Joe Durham’s younger sister, Anniece Durham Willis, talked about a visit that the Durham family made to Fort Bliss to visit Bennie Joe and the later airplane crash that took Dagley’s and Bennie Joe’s lives in June 1958.

Willis recalled that Bennie Joe was a wonderful brother and protective of her. When Willis met her future husband, Bill Willis, Bennie Joe chaperoned their dates.

“Bill was the first guy that I started dating that Ben approved of. He would even go on dates with us. Bill liked Ben. He [Ben] just took me under his wing. We would go to movies in Lubbock and the Hi-D-Ho.”

On Saturday, June 28, 1958, Durham and Dagley flew Dagley’s crop duster to Amarillo to renew Bennie Joe’s pilot’s license. Durham was flying.

Upon returning to Lubbock the same day, they came in for a landing at the dirt airstrip on the Durham family farm when the accident occurred. Anniece Willis still vividly remembers that afternoon when she heard the tragic news of the crash.

“I was at the beauty shop. My sister worked at the beauty shop here [in Ropesville]. We got a hold of Bill and I waited for him to come go with me.”

Anniece’s brother Don and a cousin David Durham watched the airplane crash. They saw it circle around the family farm to make its approach for a landing while Bennie Joe’s parents were waiting at their home on the farm. The airplane crashed on the nearby Raymond Hitt farm two miles south of Wolfforth at 2:30 p.m.

Anniece said, “Ben was still alive when they got to the crash; so, they loaded him up and headed him to the hospital [Methodist in Lubbock]. Mother said that he was breathing. ... I don’t know if she said that he was dead before they got there; but, if they had waited for the ambulance he sure would have been dead.”

Dagley died at the scene, she recalled.

Anniece’s very close relationship with her brother Bennie Joe was revealed in her memory of the dream that she had about him almost every night for many years after he died:

“When he was still at Fort Bliss, we went by — mother and dad and Don and Bill and I — went by to get him and we were going to Arizona. From that, I had this dream for years that we would drive up to that compound with that wire fence where Ben was, and there was a jeep coming with dirt just rolling; and, it kept coming ... it never did get to the gate.

“This is after Ben was killed. Oh, I had that dream forever! He was coming! He was coming! But he just never got to the gate.”

Read more ➤ http://www.lubbockonline.com

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