Tylerite 2nd Lt. Jack Pounds of the U.S. Army Air Corps lost his life in California 71 years ago during a training exercise at Lemoore Field, now known as the Naval Air Station Lemoore.
He was the first aviator from Tyler who perished in World War II, and the Tyler Pounds Regional Airport, then known as the Tyler Municipal Airport, was named Pounds Field for him in January 1943.
Pounds, who was an aviation instructor, died when a plane he was riding in with a student pilot suddenly went into a spin about 200 feet above the ground in March 1942, according to a story in the January 1943 Tyler Morning Telegraph.
“Born and reared in Tyler, Lt. Pounds was a graduate of Tyler High School and the University of Texas. It was while he was in school in Austin that he first became interested in flying … returning to Tyler he completed a CAA aviation course at the municipal airport in the Tyler Aviation School,” the newspaper account stated.
Before he went into the service, Pounds worked at the Tyler State Bank and Trust Co., where his father, Abe Pounds, was president. The bank’s board of directors made the younger Pounds an honorary assistant cashier at the bank as he left for the Air Corps. Two photos of Pounds — one in his Army Air Corps dress uniform, and another in his flying jacket with his aviator goggles on top of his head — grace a wall at the Historic Aviation Memorial Museum at the Tyler airport.
Although the city’s airport was named for the young aviator who died an untimely death, the current modern and spacious Tyler Pounds Regional Airport on Texas Highway 64 West had some very humble beginnings — on a grassy hilltop just south of Tyler in the area now occupied by the the Bergfeld Center.
According to a July 1989 story in the Tyler Morning Telegraph, one of those early pilots who used the “Bergfeld” airstrip, O.C. Palmer, is credited with securing the land on which the airport now sits on Feb. 20, 1929, and also was named the first airport superintendent in August 1929.
City Council minutes from June 1929 show that the council approved the sale of some bonds to Citizens National Bank for $25,000 to cover $8,025 for the real estate for the remainder for a runway, terminal building and hangar.
“Palmer told the City Council that the site was ready to be leveled and a hangar constructed,” a Tyler Morning Telegraph article from July 1989 said.
For the construction, the city hired a mule team and driver for $5 a day, and authorized hangar construction for $11,495. Later, a monthly hangar fee of $15 was established, according to the article.
The airport was first called Rhodes Field in honor of Russell Rhodes, the manager of the Tyler Chamber of Commerce in 1934. City Council members approved the airport’s name to show their appreciation for Rhode’s role in getting a transcontinental airmail route to come through Tyler. That same year, a second gravel runway was constructed to handle increased passenger and freight traffic, according the newspaper archives.
In May 1940, City Council minutes showed Tyler established an aviation mechanics school in conjunction with the Army Air Corps. The airport was required to provide a north-south and east-west runway, each a mile long, and Tyler residents passed a $260,000 bond election on May 21, 1941, according to the newspaper archives.
During World War II, the military leased the airport from the city as a training field, and it was renamed Pounds Field at that time. When the military took control of the air field in 1942, the government built several barracks and shifted the airport just east of Dixie Drive. That area encompassed more than 800 acres and remains the current site, articles from the archives stated.
In November 2002, a bronze plaque was dedicated in honor of Pounds at the airport’s newer terminal.
For more information about the Historic Aviation Memorial Museum, visit www.tylerhamm.org .