RGV wing officials say pool is stretched thin

BROWNSVILLE — There’s more volunteer work to be done at the Brownsville-based Rio Grande Valley Wing of the Commemorative Air Force than there are volunteers to do it.

Officials with the organization, based at the Brownsville South Padre Island International Airport, say the pool of existing volunteers is stretched thin running the wing’s museum, conducting tours and performing hangar chores.

Wing leader Tom Santos said he could do with at least 10 more volunteers — ideally local retirees and/or Winter Texans. Some of the wing’s current volunteers come from places like Laguna Vista, South Padre Island and Port Isabel, he noted.

“We’ve got a guy that comes all the way down from Edinburg on weekends to help us out,” he said. “We get them from all over the Valley. If they’re local and it isn’t too much of a hardship for them to come on a daily basis, we’d be glad to have them.”

A few hours a week is fine too, said Chris Hughston, the wing’s operations officer.

“Many hands make light work,” he said. “If we had a bunch of people that came out a couple of hours a week every week, we’d be in great shape.

“Wings our size in other places, and other aviation museums with as much as we have in the way of aircraft, rolling stock, restoration projects and all those things going on, they have 30, 40, 50 people that are active. We have far fewer.”

David Hughston, the wing’s finance officer, said it presents an opportunity for people who like to work with their hands.

“We have rolling stock that constantly needs attention,” he said. “We’ve got airplanes that need attention. Like the guys that are out there in the hangar right now building our new portable PX: We always have projects that we could sure use some volunteer help with.”

The museum is open Wednesday through Saturday, 9:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. For volunteers who lead tours, it’s not necessary to be an aviation historian but it helps if you can tell a story, Santos said.

And there are stories — the 200-year-old tapestry on display, for instance. On Sept. 1, 1939, the day Hitler invaded Poland and started World War II, it was hanging in a house across the street from a Polish aircraft factory.

The tapestry was donated to the museum about three years ago by a recently deceased Canadian resident and Winter Texan who as a boy had lived in the house with his mother, who was married to an aircraft designer who worked in the factory.

“On the first day of World War II, Germany bombed the factory,” Santos said. “Their house was across the street and this was hanging on a wall opposite a picture window, opposite the factory. You can see the damage that was done to it by the bombing. She bought it with I think two wagonloads of wheat, is what she paid for that thing.”

Another display features a telegraph key donated by the family of the first person in Brownsville to hear news of the bombing of Pearl Harbor.

“He was a ham radio operator,” David Hughston said. “He was what we would call today ‘online’ on Dec. 7, 1941. He has the log and all that.”

The message is noted in the yellowed logbook and followed by another: An urgent order for national radio silence from the Federal Communications Commission.

“ There’s all kinds of stuff in here,” Santos said. “People just don’t realize what we’ve got here.”

Added Hughston: “We have found that people that come through the museum enjoy the experience so much more if somebody tells them the story behind the stuff.”

For more information about volunteering call Tom Santos at 956-579-2611 or David Hughston at 956-542-4387.