He flew 25 missions in World War II

November 17, 2021

By James Stewart

Next month, Brady resident Herb Cavness will celebrate his 97th birthday. Well known to most folks who have lived here more than a month or two, he is part of a very special group of folks who earned their stripes as members of the military during World War II.

Herb grew up in Streeter, which is located in neighboring Mason County, and served in World War ll as a waist-gunner on a B-17 Flying Fortress. He flew 25 missions in Europe and was honorably discharged in 1945 before he even turned 21 years of age.

He moved to Brady in 1950, and went to work at the old peanut mill. He later worked for a Santa Fe Railroad crew and drove a gasoline transport truck before he went to work at Curtis Field. At the airport, what was then known as Brady Aviation Corporation, the project going on at that time was manufacturing the wings for a Glen L. Martin P5M2. Cavness served as the final inspector for this job. (Old Brady Standard file clippings note that the completed project was then shipped via surface transportation, with the trip taking 10 days to Baltimore, Md.).

He was married to Leona McMillan and together they had two children. She died in 1961 from leukemia at the age of 35. In later years, he married Theresa and they were married for 37 years until she died approximately 10 years ago.

In the late 1960s, Herb opened a new Conoco service station at 1407 S. Bridge St., the building that is now occupied by Brady Chiropractic, and would stay at that location for the next 16 years. In 1968, in only his first or second year in the business, his station earned the ‘Conoco Station of the Year’ award for all the stations between Fort Worth and Del Rio. Herb’s Conoco, as the station was called, was a full-service station and offered minor tune-ups. Cavness went on to install the first automatic car wash in Brady and in the general area. At the time, only San Angelo seemed to have one.

“I admit, the car wash was a major headache most of the time,” said Cavness, “but there were spots of humor in the operation. One day, a young city slicker drove his car into the wash got out and came into the station to get some quarters. ‘Does that thing do a pretty good job’ the young man wanted to know. ‘It does a pretty good job, and if you leave the windows open, it does the inside real good.’ Herb smiled when he remembered that in a split second, he realized what he had said and imagined the worst. Sure enough, he went to check, and the water had started and the young man had the windows open. He threw the switch off, but not before some of the water was into the car and he could see arms and elbows raising the windows. After the machine had stopped, the car pulled out and went on down the road, as if everything was normal.

While at the station, Cavness took on the state inspection sticker job. He also added a U-Haul trailer rental office and began buying and selling pecans. In 1983 he sold the station and moved his pecan, trailer and inspection sticker businesses to 1005 South Bridge Street. That same year he bought a pecan cracker, which was still in use in late 2004. He gave up the inspection sticker business for several reasons, one of which was all the red tape associated with dealing with a state agency. He said that once the state had his inspection station under surveillance from a block away.

Over the years, he developed a love for restoring old Ford automobiles. He had some Model Ts and some other early models, which he built from the bottom up. According to his late wife, many times he would work a 12 hour day and then come home and tinker with his cars until midnight or beyond.

"In all my years of working, the thing I enjoyed most was dealing with the public,” Herb said. “It was a wonderful feeling to be able to greet people with a handshake, a smile or a pleasant ‘good morning’.’

He admits he once knew most of his customers and many local people by name. ‘Today,” he said, ‘I can’t remember names very well and I don't hear very well, so I just stick my hand out and say—how are you?’

Herb is now a resident of Royal Oaks, Brady's newly-opened assisted living facility. He still gets up and around fairly well, but has had some recent health issues that are throwing him a curve ball or two. He enjoys regular visits from close friends Joe Jesse and Juanita Huro and Mike and Phyllis Barbour who stop in to play dominoes on a regular basis. Herb's mind is still sharp and playing 42 is one of his weekly highlights.

He was honored last week on Veterans Day with one of four special awards presented by the student body—a handmade quilt donated by Serenity Quilts.