EL PASO, Texas (KTSM) – A pioneering Army aviator and El Paso soldier who lost his life in World War I was remembered this weekend during a ceremony at Concordia Cemetery in Central El Paso.
Members of the Concordia Heritage Association spearheaded a ceremony and replaced the headstone at the historic cemetery for 1st Lt. James “Buster” Biggs.
Biggs Army Airfield at Fort Bliss is named after Biggs, a graduate of El Paso High in 1914 who was killed in France when the plane he was flying stalled and crashed.
Biggs’ headstone is one of more than 60 military graves in need of replacement or issuance of a headstone, according to the Concordia Heritage Association.
The new headstone honoring Biggs is part of the association’s Military Headstone Replacement program which was established two years ago.
Last year, the Concordia Heritage Association was able to install 17 new headstones throughout the cemetery, with more to come this year.
The program was established to replace veteran and military headstones at the 52-acre cemetery, in the shadow of the Spaghetti Bowl, that have “become deteriorated, damaged or weathered to the point were they are no longer suitable for service or those graves that were never furnished with any permanent headstone previously,” according to the heritage association.
After graduating from El Paso High, Biggs was among the first students at the Texas School of Mines and Metallurgy, now UTEP.
In 1916, Biggs took a job at the Rio Grande Valley Bank and Trust where he worked until he left to join the Army in 1917 after the United States had entered the fight in World War I.
After enlisting, Biggs was sent to Cloudcroft, New Mexico, to receive his initial officer training. Upon completion, he was commissioned as a lieutenant in the U.S. Army Aviation Service.
He was sent to Italy for additional pilot training. In September 1918, Biggs was transferred to the 22nd Aero Squadron “Shooting Stars” in France. One month later on Oct. 28, 1918, shortly after takeoff, Biggs’ single engine plane stalled and crashed to the ground, killing Biggs.
To put this in perspective, the Wright brothers flew what is generally accepted as the first successful motor-operated airplane in 1903, just 15 years earlier.
In 1925, the Army honored Biggs for his service in World War I by officially naming the airfield at Fort Bliss after him.
Biggs Army Airfield is the 10th longest runway in the country at 2.5 miles long and continues to play a key role for the nation’s military.
According to the Concordia Heritage Association, there are more than 286 identified military graves at Concordia, with more being discovered every year.
Biggs’ grave is in the Masonic section at Concordia.