Mineral Wells City Manager Lance Howerton and Mayor Pro-Tem Tammy Underwood, along with members of the American Legion Riders Post 75, family, friends and community members, attended the ribbon cutting event hosted by representatives from the Mineral Wells Area Chamber of Commerce.
Tom Nissen, of Southern Airways Association, opened the ceremony.
“Donors for the Southern Airways marker and this site were Gulf Coast Helicopters, Ed and Margaret Acuna, David Kessler for the Carl E. Kessler Family Foundation, Ventamatic, Terry Siegel and family, Pat Pockrus, Mineral Wells Helicopters, B.J. Ashley Sr., Clyde (Red) Thomas, Fort Wolters Gate Committee and Murphy & Murphy,” said Nissen. “But, there were many others involved in making this event possible.”
“A boulder on the site came from David Kessler, the stone design work was done by Gale Binder of Garner and other work was done by Richard’s Signs of Mineral Wells and the concrete work was done by Murphy & Murphy,” noted Mary Creighton, organizer of the event and secretary of the Fort Wolters Gate Committee.
She said she has always been interested in the history of Fort Wolters and she knew about it because her father worked at Southern Airways from 1959 to 1973.
Creighton explained that the site is set up much like it was for the graduation of new helicopter pilots with a YA set of rotor blades donated by BJ Ashley Sr. and Pat Pockrus extending across the sidewalk for them to walk under once their training was complete. Afterward, they were thrown into either the swimming pool at Fort Wolters or Holiday Inn.
President of the Fort Wolters Gate Committee, Dr. Ronny Collins, said the flight instructors made sure the U.S. Army helicopter pilots they trained at Fort Wolters would be “Above the Finest,” the motto of army aviators. They trained men from all over the United States and the nation’s allies. Collins paid special homage to the late Col. Willie Casper, who he said was “a big part of everything they did.”