WWII bombardier revisits NM bomb targets

The Deming Headlight

LAS CRUCES, N.M. >> William Greenberg, a former World War II bombardier navigator returned to Doña Ana County the week of the anniversary of D-Day to visit a land he last saw seventy years ago.

In 1943 & 1944 Greenberg was stationed at the Deming Air Base, where he trained on secret navigational equipment called the Norden Bombsight. The bombsight greatly improved the accuracy of high altitude bombing and has been cited as a major factor in ending the war in Europe. As a part of their training program, the Army Air Corps built 24 large bull’s-eye targets in the desert and mountains around Deming. These targets became essential training aids for pilots who were instrumental in World War II and are still visible today.

Six of these targets, known to some as the “Deming Bombing Targets,” are part of the proposed Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monument. Local elected officials, business owners, sportsmen, veterans, conservationists, Native American leaders, and others are working to get the President and Congress to protect this region as a national landmark.

Mr. Greenberg will be taking an aerial tour of the bombing targets in the Sierra de las Uvas Mountains this morning, and later today will be joined by over twenty veterans and others to take a ground tour of a bombing target that is located near the historic Butterfield Stagecoach Trail.

“I am enthused to have the opportunity to view again, after 70 years, these remarkable targets that prepared me for service to my country in World War II. I think it’s very important to preserve these unique targets so that future generations of Americans can better understand the history of their country,” said Greenberg.

Dr. James Williams, a Native New Mexican, Las Cruces resident and member of the famed Tuskegee Airmen, also voiced support for protecting the targets.

“As Tuskegee Airmen, we protected many of the flight crews that trained over the Deming bombing targets with the Norden Bombsight. New Mexico played a key role in winning World War II, and I think we should protect this rich history in a new national monument,” said Williams.

Many area residents have personal stories and histories that connect to the Deming Air Base and the bombing targets.

Doña Ana County Commissioner Billy Garrett recounted how his grandmother served as a file clerk for the group that designed the Norden Bombsight.

“Growing up, I remember stories about the importance of the Norden Bombsight and how my grandmother had no problem getting a job at White Sands because she had a ‘top-secret’ clearance due her involvement with Norden. These targets are still visible in the mountains west of Las Cruces,” said Commissioner Garrett . “We have an incredible opportunity to protect them along with nearby Native American archeological sites, evidence of the Butterfield Stagecoach Trail, and our beautiful Chihuahuan Desert.”

Freda Flores, President of the Mesquite Historic District’s Las Esperanzas Neighborhood Association, has deep ties to the Deming Air Base, as do many long-term Doña Ana County residents. “This base was not only important to our country, but to our region and our families. My mother got her start working at the Deming Air Base and my father was a Bataan Death March survivor. Coming from a proud family who served our country, I hope these national treasures can be protected in a National Monument.”

History of the Deming Bombing Targets

Deming was a sleepy farm and ranch town with a population of 3500 in 1942, when contracts were let for the construction of the 338th Army Base/Airfield. A contract was also let for construction of the 24 targets, which were located on a rectangular grid across a span of roughly 40 by 50 miles of diverse and remote terrain. Each target consisted of four concentric rings of 100, 200, 300 and 500 foot diameters, with a white wooden “shack” resembling a pyramid at the center. Nighttime targets included generators to power a string of lights forming a “crosshair” on the ground. Some of the targets had outlines to simulate the appearance of ships or buildings from the air. The concentric circles were constructed primarily by blading the dirt, sometimes leaving a ring of rocks around the perimeter. Remnants of both are visible from the ground and air to this day.