Don’t Let It Be Your Last Find

fifty caliber shell casing found in Laguna Madre

Fifty caliber shell casing found in Laguna Madre near Padre Island

Don’t Let It Be Your Last Find

By Steve Hathcock

Alvin Schoonover sent me a picture of an artifact he had found while fishing in the Laguna Madre.

“How did it get here”? he asked……….

 

A naval air station for Corpus Christi had been proposed since the mid-1930s but it remained a low priority as late as January 9, 1940.

That changed when Congressman  Lyndon Johnson  supported FDR’s bid for a 3rd term.  Considering Johnson a key ally the White House told the Navy Department to consult Johnson on Navy contracts in Texas.

Unsurprisingly, by February 1940, the project was on the Navy’s preferred list. Just over a year later, (March 12, 1941) Naval Air Station Corpus Christi was commissioned.

By the end of 1942 Corpus Christi Naval Air Station was processing 2500 pilots a month making it the largest naval pilot training program in the world.

Raising the flag at Naval Air Station Corpus Christi TX circa 1942

Raising the flag at Naval Air Station Corpus Christi TX circa 1942

Several notable names listed on the roster of graduates include a future president, George H. Bush, (June 1943) who was also the youngest pilot ever to graduate; a future astronaut/Senator John Glenn, actor Tyrone Power and TV Emcee Bob Barker.

Pilots flying out of Corpus Christi Naval Station train for missions overseas. circa1942

Pilots flying out of Corpus Christi Naval Station train for missions overseas. circa1942

The training program itself was fairly basic. Seven bombing targets consisting of large white bulls-eye were established south of the airbase along the Laguna Madre.

The principal practice bomb, the Mark IV, which was only nine inches long, contained a 40-gauge shotgun shell in the nose which provided just enough explosive for pilots to check their accuracy.

Larger 500 pound bombs were dropped on occasion, however typically only half of their weight would be explosive.

In addition eight strafing targets were located about 5 miles apart. Alvins’s find, which is the shell casing of a 50 caliber bullet, undoubtedly was ejected during a practice strafing run along those sites.

Areas along North Padre Island continued to be used through the Korean Conflict and into the 1960’s. The range itself was decommissioned in 1966 but before it could be opened to the public the Navy sent out ordinance experts to “sanitize the ranges of all unexploded ordinance.”

The sanitization process was a long and tedious affair, with sand at the targets being sifted down to a level of 18 inches which in theory, removed all the unspent ammo. But of course, it was impossible to clear the area completely and over the years fishermen and boaters have reported finding casings by the score. In my personal collection I have over a dozen 50 caliber cartridges and several dozen shells.

Fifty caliber bullets found near Padre Island. by Steve Hathcock

Fifty caliber bullets found near Padre Island. by Steve Hathcock

Like the sand on Padre Island the waters of the Laguna Madre are constantly moving, undoubtedly the recent heavy rains have scoured certain areas down to depths that have remained hidden for over 70 years and in the process freeing the shell casing from its sandy resting place.  One can only guess how far it floated before being found by Alvin.

So please be careful out there, we don’t want your estate to be the ones that notify us of your next and last find!

Steve Hathcock serves as; Chairman of the City of South Padre Island’s Historical Preservation Committee, Chairman of the Cameron County Historical Commission and Vice President of the board of the Historical Foundation of South Padre Island.

 

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