October brings cooler weather, Halloween and a number of historical anniversaries and remembrances to Laughlin Air Force Base, Texas. First, this year is the 25th anniversary of the U.S. Air Force’s decision to retire the F-111 Aardvark.
The decision to retire this aircraft at Davis-Monthan AFB was made on Oct. 11, 1995, with the last few F-111s making their way to Davis-Montham’s “aircraft graveyard” in 1996. Although we never flew the F-111 Aardvark at Laughlin AFB, one of our Laughlin-trained pilots, Maj Fernando Luis Ribas-Dominicci, was an F-111 pilot. If the name is familiar to you, it is because the plaza and traffic circle by the front gate is called the “Ribas-Dominicci Plaza” in his honor—and you can find his memorial there! Maj Ribas-Dominicci gave his life in the 1986 air raid on Libya, where we struck numerous terrorist training camps after a bombing in Germany that had occurred earlier that year. In addition to being one of our pilots, Maj Ribas-Dominicci was also Puerto Rican, and Sept. 15- Oct. 15 is “National Hispanic Heritage Month:” A time to remember and reflect on the contributions of Hispanic Americans to our country’s development.
This October we also mark the 60th anniversary of Del Rio-Acuna’s first “Abrazo Ceremony.” On Oct. 24, 1960, the President of the United States, Dwight D. Eisenhower, and U.S. Secretary of State, Christian Herter, visited Laughlin AFB and Del Rio where the President met with Mexican President Lopez Mateos. The two Chiefs of State met to sign a treaty—a treaty which culminated in the construction of the gigantic Amistad Dam on the Rio Grande and the creation of Lake Amistad. The occasion also saw the two men spontaneously embrace one another at the conclusion of the treaty deal, which is said to have started the local “abrazo” ceremonies that continue on to today—where representatives of the Mexican city of Acuna and the city of Del Rio celebrate our shared border, culture, and heritage.
In addition to these big anniversaries, a number of other important events happened here at Laughlin this month as well:
- Laughlin Hospital Converted to a Clinic
When: Oct. 1, 1996
What: Laughlin’s hospital converted to a clinic after a study determined that inpatient services could be purchased at a lower cost than to deliver those services on base.
When: Oct. 12, 1963
What: The Laughlin golf course first opened for limited play. All nine holes would be opened for play on Oct. 16, 1963.
- Birds Invade Laughlin AFB
When: Oct. 14-22, 1998
What: Following the August 1998 flood of Del Rio and Laughlin, migrating barn swallows halted flying operations at the base for nine days. Excessive moisture in south Texas forced the swallows to change their migratory route from the Texas coast to the Rio Grande. The birds found the airfield here lush with insects and tall seed heads, and decided that they didn’t want to leave right away. Ultimately, their feasting cost us nine flying days and nearly a million dollars in bird strikes damage immediately before and after the shutdown of flight!
When: Oct. 14, 1962 and Oct. 27, 1962
What: Laughlin AFB’s 4080th Strategic Wing played a major role in the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis, where the Soviet Union was accused of (and was) building missile sites in Cuba. Two anniversaries worth remembering from this period include Oct. 14, 1962, when Major Richard S. Heyser, flying a Laughlin U-2, obtained the first conclusive evidence of the Soviet missile build-up in Cuba; and Oct. 27, 1962, when Major Rudolf Anderson, Jr., was declared missing in action over Cuba by the Defense Department. Major Anderson was the only casualty to enemy action during the Cuban Missile Crisis when his U-2 was shot down near Banes, Cuba, by an SA-2 surface-to-air missile.
- The General Beverley Learning Center Dedicated
When: Oct. 15, 1998
What: The 47 FTW dedicated the Computer Assisted Instruction lab in the 47th Operations Group building (Room 127, Building 328) in honor of deceased Brig Gen George H. Beverley. General Beverley became one of the Signal Corps’s first First Assignment Instructor Pilots (FAIPs) in 1918. He was a founding member of the Order of Daedalians, spent several of his retirement years as an active Del Rio/Laughlin community member, and was instrumental in creating the Daedalian Flight at Laughlin (which bears his name). He had more than 8,000 air hours and had piloted some 112 aircraft, from the tiny Sperry Messenger to the B-29 Super Fortress. His plaque was hung anew outside the CAI Lab last month, in September 2020, after it was accidentally removed during changes to the room several years ago.
- Anderson Hall is Dedicated
When: Oct. 26, 2001
What: Wing leaders dedicated the Operations Training Complex (OTC) in honor of Maj Rudolf Anderson, Jr., the former Laughlin U-2 pilot shot down and killed during the Cuban Missile Crisis. His daughter and one of his two sons attended the ceremony.
- Belgian Plaque Received (Found at the Main Flag Pole outside Wing HQ)
When: Oct. 28, 1956
What: A plaque given by the Belgian government honoring the training of dozens of Belgian Air Force pilots since 1952 was attached to Laughlin’s main flagpole. It can still be found there today! It carries the coat-of-arms of the Belgian Royal Family and is inscribed in the two official languages of Belgium: French and Flemish. It reads: "In recognition of services rendered to Belgian military students."
As always, check back next month for more: We’ll highlight new Laughlin history, new Laughlin stories, and new Laughlin anniversaries in November!