Military Exhibits At and Near the Deming Luna Mimbres Museum

December 11, 2021

The history museum in Deming has a large room devoted to military artifacts, reflecting the U.S. military’s impact in this part of southwestern New Mexico dating back to the U.S. Civil War period – and those from the Deming area who later served their country around the world.

Fort Cummings

There’s an extensive exhibit covering, and scale diorama depicting, Fort Cummings, which was established about 20 miles north of Deming in 1863. Its primary purpose as a U.S. Army outpost was to protect people moving to California on the Southern Emigrant Trail and travelers on the Butterfield Overland Stage line. The fort, established on Oct. 2, 1863, was near Cooke’s Spring, the only source of fresh water between this area and Mesilla, about 70 miles to the east. The spring, along with many other natural features in the area, was named for Philip St. George Cooke, a U.S. Army general who served in the Civil War and is referred to as the “father of the U.S. Cavalry.” His contributions to the war were overshadowed by those of his son-in-law, J.E.B. Stuart, an officer in the army of the Confederate States of America.

The fort north of present-day Deming was named for Major Joseph Cummings, who was killed by Native Americans. It was made of adobe bricks and was in service for 10 years until being abandoned in 1873.

Camp Cody

Camp Cody, active from 1916 to 1919, was established in northwest Deming to provide basic training to National Guard units from the Dakotas, Nebraska, Minnesota, and Iowa prior to their deployment to service in France. The camp was first established as Camp Brooks during the Mexican Border War (1910-1919), in which the United States sent troops into Mexico (more on that in a later posting), then the name was changed to Camp Deming at the outset of World War I. Upon the death of William F. “Buffalo Bill” Cody in 1917, the name was changed for the final time. At its highest level of activity, Camp Cody accommodated 30,000 troops.

The camp was also intended to minimize the threat of Mexico, 30 miles to the south, from becoming active in World War I.

Deming Army Air Corps Field

The clear skies and mild weather of southwest New Mexico allowed the U.S. Army Air Corps, which later became the U.S. Air Force, to develop a bomber training base two miles southeast of Deming in 1942. By the end of the war in 1945, about 12,000 cadets graduated from the training program. The airfield was deactivated in 1945 and today serves as the city’s municipal airport, averaging about 80 flight operations a day.

This is a Norden bombsight, used extensively in operations over Western Europe by Allied bombers in World War II, on display at the Deming museum. Deming Army Air Corps cadets trained with bombsights like this by dropping bags of flour.

There is also a significant amount of memorabilia from other wars and conflicts in which people from Deming served, ranging from the U.S. Civil War on through the 21st-century wars in the Middle East. There are uniforms, banners, military equipment, journals and diaries and letters to home – all of which tell a continuing story of individuals from southwest New Mexico who served their country.

Outside Exhibits in Veterans’ Park

Veterans’ Park in Deming is adjacent to the history museum (that’s a brick wall of the museum in the background). This is a 90mm M2 antiaircraft artillery (AAA) gun in the park (I didn’t notice that the barrel is pointing at the chimney of the museum when I took the photo). I’d never been up close to an AAA gun; they’re plenty big. These guns had a 3.5-inch bore, with a barrel length of 15 feet. It could fire a 3.5-inch shell 62,000 horizontal feet or 43,500 vertical feet. M2s like this complemented the much larger and heavier 120mm M1 gun, and, after seeing heavy usage in World War II and into the Cold War, both guns were eventually phased out with the development of surface-to-air missiles.
Here’s a closeup of the workings of the gun. In 1940, each of these weapons cost $50,000 to make. I was reminded here, as well as while viewing the aircraft and bombs at the National Museum of Nuclear Science & History in Albuquerque, that there’s an incredible amount of engineering, work, and money that goes into making war machines.

Fitting its name, Veterans Park has several memorials to soldiers who served in World War II and other conflicts. Following the surrender of U.S. forces after the three-month-long Battle of Bataan in April 1942, between 60,000 and 80,000 U.S. and Filipino prisoners of war were transferred over land to camps. Many of the prisoners marched until they died; estimates of the deaths range from 5,000 to 18,000 Filipinos and 500 to 800 Americans. An outsized number of the troops involved with the operations in Bataan were from the 200th/515th Coast Artillery Anti-Aircraft Regiments comprised mainly of New Mexican men. In fact, many of the soldiers initially signed up for service in World War II just a few steps away from the location of this monument, in the former National Guard armory that now serves as the Deming museum.

This striking monument to the Bataan Death March is in Veterans’ Park. A nearby block of stone lists the names of every soldier from New Mexico who was a soldier on Bataan. Eighty-three of the men were from Deming. The 200th and 515th Coast Artillery units included 1,816 men. Of that number, 829 – more than 45 percent – died in battle, while a POW, or immediately after liberation.
These memorials honor the men and women from Luna County (of which Deming is the county seat) who served in the U.S. Armed Forces during the Vietnam War.

Southwestern New Mexico, and Deming in particular, has a very rich history of U.S. military contributions, beginning with the U.S. Civil War era and continuing to today. Exhibits like these helps us remember their service.

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