WWII veteran visits bombing targets west of Las Cruces for first time in 70 years

By Steve Ramirez/sramirez@lcsun-news.com

LAS CRUCES — Bombing targets in the southern New Mexico desert, near the Las Cruces International Airport, were still much the same Wednesday as 89-year-old Bill Greenberg remembered.

Aboard a small single-engine plane that only sat three people, Greenberg, a World War II bombardier navigator, got to relive the six months he spent training at Deming Air Base, which operated from November 1942 until December 1945. Greenberg, then a young 19-year-old Army Air Corps officer flew training missions over six bombing targets in the Sierra de Las Uvas Mountain north and west of Las Cruces.

Sixty-nine years ago today, June 6, 1944, 160,000 Allied troops from 12 countries, including the U.S., invaded the beaches and airspace of Normandy in a major military offensive that factored into the outcome of World War II.

“Seventy years ago I saw the same thing I saw (Wednesday),” Greenberg said.

“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.”

In late 1943 and early 1944 Greenberg trained on secret navigational equipment called the Norden Bombsight. The equipment greatly improved the accuracy of high-altitude bombing for U.S. warplanes and was a major factor in ending World War II in Europe. The bombsight was so hush-hush that Greenberg and others using the equipment had to pledge they wouldn’t let it fall into enemy hands under any circumstances.

As a part of the training program, the Army Air Corps built 24 large bull’s-eye targets in the desert and mountains near Deming and Las Cruces. Six of the targets, known to some as the “Deming Bombing Targets,” are included in land that supporters are working to get officially designated as the Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monument.

Add Greenberg to the list of people who are pushing for the proposed national monument.

“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,” Greenberg said.

“I feel if we don’t do something about this country we’re not going to have a country. Our children are going to lose and their children are going to lose if this is a part of history that becomes lost.”

The six bombing targets are in a pristine area that is about 15 miles north and west of Las Cruces airport. From about 800 feet above the ground, the old bombing targets are large concentric circles of 100, 200, 300 and 500 feet, and are still clearly visible. The large circles were built by scraping the ground, sometimes leaving a ring of rocks around the perimeter.

“These circles are going to be there for infinity,” Greenberg said. “…You could still (also) see the outlines of ships in the sand.”

Although the Deming Air Base only operated a little more than three years, it sparked memories from Las Crucens and Doña Ana County residents.

Doña Ana County Commissioner Billy Garrett recalled his grandmother worked 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,” Garrett said. “These targets are still visible in the mountains west of Las Cruces. 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.”

Las Crucen Freda Flores remembers the Deming Air Base well, and also wants the bombing targets preserved as part of a national monument.

“This base was not only important to our country, but to our region and our families,” said Flores, president of the Las Esperanzas Neighborhood Association. “My mother got her start working at the Deming Air Base, and my father (Ruben Flores) 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.”

Las Crucen James Williams, a member of Tuskegee Airmen, who distinguished themselves during World War II, also remembers the Deming Air Base well.

“As Tuskegee Airmen, we protected many of the flight crews that trained over the Deming bombing targets with the Norden Bombsight,” Williams said. “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.”

Steve Ramirez can be reached at 575-541-5452. Follow him on Twitter @SteveRamirez6


• Sixty-nine years ago today, June 6, 1944, 160,000 Allied troops from 12 countries, including the U.S., invaded the beaches of Normandy in a major military offensive that factored into the outcome of World War II

• Deming Air Base operated from Nov. 15, 1942 until Dec. 18, 1945

• Bombardier training for the U.S. Army Air Corps was conducted there, as was training for the Second Air Force 16th Bombardment Training Wing

• Altogether, 24 bombing training targets were constructed in Luna and Doña Ana counties

• The bombing targets are included in what could become the Organ Mountains Desert Peaks National Monument.