“Lubbock bounced back from World War II with the opening of two military bases, so the city has strong military connections.”
As a Navy brat, I have a soft spot for military-related attractions. I attribute this to my dad, who introduced my sisters and me to historic sites throughout the Southeast, Mid-Atlantic and Midwest every summer while we were growing up. Our military-precise daily timetables make me laugh now: we pulled out every morning at 7 a.m. sharp, stopped for lunch right at noon and found a Howard Johnson by 5 p.m., no matter how much daylight was left.
Somewhere along the way, I really began to enjoy these trips. Maybe it’s nostalgia, but as an adult I started seeking them out myself. From the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall in Washington, D.C. to the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, each reminds me of my dad and his pride in serving our country and inspires fresh gratitude for service members.
Given this interest of mine, when business took me to West Texas, I reached out to my friend Brad in Lubbock to get his input on what the area offers in military-related activities.
Brad is a booster of the entire region, so he was the perfect person to ask. I told him one of the reasons I like traveling throughout Texas is because the people are a charismatic blend of southern hospitality and western independence. I imagined him beaming with pride over the phone. He was traveling during my visit, so I didn’t see him that time, but he was still happy to give me advice and trivia.
“Did you know that singers Buddy Holly and Mac Davis are from Lubbock?” he asked.
I didn’t, but I did know it was the hometown of the lead singer for The Dixie Chicks, Natalie Maines.
Loyal Texan and world-class barbecue connoisseur that he is, Brad urged me to sample barbecue from both Eddie’s Barbeque and The Shack Bar-B-Q. And whatever I decided to do, I couldn’t miss the Silent Wings Museum for a slice of World War II military history.
“I think you’re gonna love it,” he said. “And have a slab of ribs for me, would you?”
Earning my wings
Lubbock is located on the South Plains of West Texas in a region historically known as the Llano Estacado. Geographically, it’s part of the southern end of the Western High Plains. Lubbock bounced back from World War II with the opening of two military bases, so the city has strong military connections.
From 1942 to 1944, Lubbock was home to the majority of American Glider Pilots and their flight training for World War II. To preserve their history and bravery, the Silent Wings Museum tells the story of the U.S. Glider Program. TripAdvisor reviewers almost unanimously give the attraction five stars and it’s easy to see why. A restored WACO CG-4A glider serves as the centerpiece of the exhibits, which explore the role young glider pilots played during pivotal conflicts.
Housed in the former Lubbock Airport, the museum is an eye-opener for all ages. For some it’s a place to learn; for others, it’s a place to remember. During my visit, I saw excited 4-year-olds and misty-eyed, silver-haired seniors, as well as active duty service men and women in their 30s, all enthralled by the full-size dioramas and weapons, equipment and uniforms. Admission is free for active military personnel and D-Day Anniversary and Veterans Day celebrations are held annually.
Next, I headed to the Science Spectrum and OMNI Theater. The fantastic Dudley and Doris Faver Gallery of Flight covers the history of modern military aviation in 5,000 square feet of exhibit space. The main focus is how things can fly, and it also houses many objects that were used at the former Reese Air Force Base. My visit was a fascinating look at flights and its connection to the military.
Remembering those who served
Texas Tech University is home to the Moody Planetarium, and the Lubbock Lake National Historic Landmark. It’s also home to the Vietnam Center and Archive, which collects and preserves documents of the war. In addition to encouraging research and education into the Vietnam experience, the center aims to promote a greater understanding of not only American military involvement in the country, but of the people and culture of Southeast Asia.
One special part of the Vietnam Center and Archive is its Oral History Project. By encouraging the voices of all those associated with the war, whether an American veteran, an ally or former enemy of the U.S., an anti-war protester, a government employee, or a veteran’s family member, it fosters a more nuanced understanding of this complicated conflict. I found it incredibly moving to listen to the tapes and read the transcripts, hearing the voices of those telling their own stories. The Vietnam Center and Archive also sponsors a guest speaker series each fall.
The final stop of my visit was The Lubbock Area Veterans War Memorial. One of the largest memorials in the U.S., the curved brick and marble monument was dedicated in 2003. Inscribed bricks honor those who died in service, a poignant reminder of the sacrifices our military personnel make. Walking slowly and reverentially as I read each name, I couldn’t help but be moved by the enormity of loss.
I made a mental note that bricks are still available for purchase, thinking Brad’s Army father may want to be memorialized.
Back at the hotel, I sent a text to my youngest sister to share my day. We agreed: our dad, now deceased, would be proud of the way I’ve carried on the family tradition in Lubbock.
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