From James Connally AFB
to Texas State Technical College

Harry Provence

The closing of James Connally Air Force Bace came on the heels of LBJ's landslide election in November, 1964. We had had a whiff it was coming. I made a trip to the LBJ Ranch where Johnson and Defense Secretary Robert McNamara gave me the word of what was to come. I managed to delay the removal of 12th Air Force Headuarters for a couple of years. But the inevitable had arrived.

After the announcement of the closure, I arranged a visit in Austin with John Connally, and took a bale of paper relating to the specs of the base. I suggested that he might want to take the base for the use of the Air National Guard, which was scattered around. He said, "I'll have my staff look at all that paper," and I left.

Sometime in December, Connally called to get a date to visit the base and meet with local business leaders.

It was a cold, cold afternoon. He made no promises except to see what might be done. The holidays passed, and January. On Feb. 4 I attended the Headliners Club lunch in Austin at the Driskill. John walked out with me at the end and said, "Come up to my office."

We strolled up Congress to the Capitol. Once in his office, he said, "I have asked Earl Rudder to take over your air base for Texas A&M. And turn it into a technical institute."

Then he said, "You cannot tell anybody until I get the legislation introduced." So I was handcuffed, puzzled — "what is a technical institute?" — and talking to myself.

Of course I told (Tribune-Herald publisher) Harlon (Fentress) that afternoon by phone. Soon we got in touch with Gen. Rudder. While we were waiting for clearance for an announcement, we spent a lot of time in Washington and Austin clearing out unending snafus.

Finally in April we got the go-ahead. That's when we had the public meeting at the First National Bank civic room to unveil the James Connally Technical Institute — now known as Texas State Technical College, flagship of a multi-campus system.

My role was sort of an expediter and door-opener. And I must say, LBJ and McNamara went all out to do whatever Rudder said he wanted.

Those were the days when my keys fit some of the locks. It is restful that the locks have been changed.

Harry Provence was the long-time editor of the Waco News-Tribune and Times Herald.

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