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BEACON Senior News - Western Colorado

The flying leatherneck of Norwood

Apr 28, 2024 09:03AM ● By Denis Godfrey

Lt. Glen Galloway Herndon, U.S. Naval Academy, 1930

Norwood, Colorado, May 29, 1937 - On a bright and blustery spring day in southwestern Colorado, 31-year-old Marine Corps aviator and Naval Academy graduate Lieutenant Glen Herndon was flying from San Diego, California, back to his hometown of Norwood. He was visiting his family for the weekend and had also packed his dress blues to represent the Corps at the town’s Decoration Day observation, now known as Memorial Day.

As he neared Dove Creek in his Grumman F2F-1 biplane fighter, the landscape became familiar, with Lone Cone peak standing out in the distance as a guidepost marking his final approach. Below, the pastures were green with spring grass, dotted with cattle, deer and elk. The aspens covering the surrounding foothills were bright with new growth after the long winter. 

Lt. Herndon felt a surge of excitement as he thought about returning to the ranch, reuniting with family and friends, riding his old stock horse and enjoying a big steak dinner with all the fixins that his mother was undoubtedly preparing.

As he navigated the San Juan Mountains, he imagined the locals’ reaction at the sight of his silver fighter roaring overhead and landing at the sleepy Norwood airstrip. A mischievous grin crossed his face as he thought about buzzing the neighboring ranches, but he was already low on fuel, with just enough to make a pass at the Herndon Ranch near the base of Big Baldy Mountain.

As he crosses a ridgeline, a valley opens to the north, and he turns to descend toward Goshorn Flats. The familiar sight of the old homestead comes into view, with the ranch house at its center. He dives the aircraft down to treetop level, gathering speed and aligning the house in his gunsight. Now at full speed, the biplane screams over the house, then pulls up into a chandelle to circle back for a slower pass.

On his second approach, now at landing speed, he spots his mother stepping out the back door, wearing her familiar blue apron that signals dinner is almost ready. As she steps off the back stoop and waves, Lt. Herndon pushes up his goggles, waves back and wags his wings in a friendly salute. He then departs north toward Norwood Airport, located northeast of town near the rim of the San Miguel River Canyon.

Waiting at the airstrip that day was Glen’s father, Al Herndon, a pioneer of the Herndon Ranch where the family’s business was cattle ranching. As the growl of the Twin Wasp Junior radial engine grew closer, Al stepped out of the cab of his pickup truck, joining a few other locals who had gathered to watch. 

The stubby, barrel-shaped fighter lined up with the airstrip and executed a smart midfield break for the landing, prompting applause from the excited onlookers.

As the airplane slowed and descended, Al could see the tucked landing gear start to emerge from the sides of the fuselage, only to stop momentarily and then retract back in. The plane continued past the field, turning east and then north along the canyon rim, parallel to the airstrip. The aircraft began to bob up and down as it flew slowly along the canyon, eventually dipping out of view below the rim. Al’s heart sank momentarily, but the plane soon popped back into view. He couldn’t help but wonder what his son was up to. 

Some folks say the engine sputtered and quit, but nobody could say for certain exactly what happened before the airplane nosed over and hit the ground in the scrub brush near the airfield. Tragically, Lt. Herndon never made it home for dinner that night; he was killed upon impact as his father watched helplessly.

Wreckage of Lt. Herndon’s F2F-1 near the Norwood Airport.

The cause of the crash remained inconclusive. The Grumman F2F-1 was known to be a superb airplane, but its manual landing gear was a fiddly affair, requiring the pilot to perform no less than 32 hand cranks to extend it, all while trying to fly the airplane. The aircraft was known to sometimes exhibit a porpoising motion, bobbing up and down in rhythm with the pilot’s turning of the landing gear crank. This might explain the up-and-down movement reported by witnesses.

One could add the possible problem with the landing gear on Lt. Herndon’s airplane, the wind, high elevation and low fuel; perhaps all conspiring to create an accident chain. Some superstitious folks might even say that this particular airplane, with the serial number 9997, was jinxed. It was special ordered by the Navy to replace another new airplane from the original production order of F2Fs that had crashed while being delivered from the factory.

Thankfully, Mrs. Herndon did not accompany Al to the airfield. The last time she saw Glen was in a moment of awe as the country boy she raised, now a man and an aviator, flew by in his silver airplane with bright yellow wings aglow in the late afternoon sun. So close was he that his familiar smile was visible from the open cockpit, and she instinctively, maternally, reached skyward to touch his face. In that moment of pride, her boy flew among the ranks of Lucky Lindy, Roscoe Turner and Major Doolittle.

When a grief-stricken Al returned home with the news, it was a harbinger of the sorrow that would soon touch other mothers in the region as World War II loomed on the horizon. For many military aviators, circumstances similar to Lt. Herndon’s fate were not uncommon, as a significant number of military fatalities were due to training or non-combat accidents. However, this fact did not diminish their sacrifice in service to our country and their ranks are honored in memoriam.

The war came, and Glen’s brother Steve would enlist in the Navy and then return home to  bucolic Norwood after the war with a new bride. Her name was Grace, but many in the region would come to know her as the late Gracie Herndon, a local firebrand newspaper columnist.

The townsfolk and the Herndon family gathered for a belated Memorial Day remembrance. Red poppies were placed, hymns were sung and Lt. Herndon was present in his dress blues, which were retrieved from the airplane wreckage. On that bright, blustery Colorado spring day, the small town’s favorite son was laid to rest at the Norwood Cemetery... Lest we forget. 

Grumman F2F-1 - Specifications

General Characteristics

Crew: One

Length: 21 ft 5 in (6.53 m)

Wingspan: 28 ft 6 in (8.69 m)

Height: 9 ft 1 in (2.77 m)

Wing Area: 230 sq ft (21 m2)

Empty Weight: 2,691 lb (1,221 kg)

Max takeoff Weight: 3,847 lb (1,745 kg)

Powerplant: 1 × Pratt & Whitney
R-1535-72 Twin Wasp Junior radial engine, 700 hp (522 kW)


Maximum Speed: 231 mph
(372 km/h, 201 kn)

Range: 985 mi (1,585 km, 856 nmi)

Service Ceiling: 27,100 ft (8,260 m)

Rate of Climb: 2,050 ft/min (10.4 m/s)


Guns: 2 × 0.30 in (7.62 mm)
machine guns