He was athletic, but not tall – about 5-foot-9 – and known as “Stump.” Few photos
of him appear in the TCU yearbooks from 1936 to 1939, likely because he was too busy
working while going to school to join clubs or extracurricular activities. Though
he lettered, playing baseball as well as football under legendary coach Dutch Meyer,
the fullback was not part of the championship team.
Yet this seemingly nondescript alumnus – Horace S. Carswell Jr. ’39 – is synonymous
with Fort Worth. He is the name behind the former Carswell Air Force Base, the west
Fort Worth military installation that carried the Carswell name from 1948 to 1993
and cemented Fort Worth’s position as a defense industry stronghold.
It was a major Strategic Air Command base during the Cold War, was the site of a Jimmy
Stewart movie and landed Air Force One with President John F. Kennedy. Even after
realignment as Naval Air Station Joint Reserve Base-Fort Worth, “Carswell Field” is
retained in the base’s name.
Miguel Leatham was a founding member of the Veterans Services Task Force.
“It’s not uncommon that people don’t know who Maj. Carswell was,” said Miguel Leatham,
senior instructor in anthropology, who has done extensive research on the officer.
“But he is the highest-decorated man in the history of Tarrant County.”
Carswell was shot down at age 28 while serving in the U.S. Army Air Forces during
World War II. For his heroic last act – remaining at the controls of a B-24 bomber
after it was crippled by enemy fire in an attempt to save his bombardier – he was
posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor, the highest military decoration.
Each year at Veterans Day, Leatham – also a founding member of the former Veterans
Services Task Force and deeply invested in Air Force culture and history – introduces
Carswell to his students.
“I do that every year as I want to make him better known. I can only imagine that
he was here on campus, and I live with his memory,” said Leatham. “He is a forgotten
Carswell was a Fort Worth native who grew up on the city’s north side.
“He was proud of his years at TCU and met his future wife here,” he said.
When Carswell and his squad had to bail over Burma in July 1944, he wrote a friend
that, “Frogs never quit.”
After Carswell graduated from TCU with a degree in physical education, he soon enlisted
and entered pilot training. He became a flight instructor and operations officer for
several B-24 training units before going overseas to the China-Burma-India Theater.
The mission for which he was recognized occurred on an October night of 1944. Carswell
piloted the bomber in a mission over the South China Sea, where they came across a
convoy of Japanese ships. After attempting a low-level bombing run, the plane was
heavily damaged. Carswell ordered the crew to bail, but when one was unable to do
so, he stayed with the plane. As he tried to make it over the mountains to land, Carswell’s
plane crashed into the mountainside and he perished along with two other crewmen.
Carswell’s remains moved from China to Hawaii before arriving in Fort Worth at Rose Hill Cemetery. Carswell
was reburied in 1986 at Carswell Air Force Base – the only one to be buried at an
Air Force base. After the base was realigned in 1993, his remains were taken to the
city’s Oakwood Cemetery and buried in Carswell Memorial Park. His parents’ remains
were also moved and buried near their son.
Leatham would like to find more ways to memorialize Carswell, who was also posthumously
awarded the Distinguished Service Cross, the Distinguished Flying Cross, the Air Medal
and the Purple Heart.
Carswell was awarded TCU Alumni Association’s only posthumous Founder’s Award in 2016,
the first recognition bestowed by the university on this hero. Fort Worth has erected
a memorial to Carswell and two other local Medal of Honor heroes at Veterans Park
on Camp Bowie Boulevard, and his name is listed on TCU’s Veteran’s Plaza.