A local Boy Scout has created a memorial plaza at the Seymour airport in the hopes more people will take the time to learn about and pay tribute to the Tuskegee Airmen.
The idea for the project began two years ago when Tim Molinari of Seymour started to think about what he could do to earn his Eagle Scout rank, the highest level of Scouting.
His interest in aviation and history played a big part in his decision to focus his efforts on bringing more attention to the Tuskegee Airmen, a group of African-American pilots who flew during World War II.
By visiting the Freeman Army Airfield Museum and talking with museum curator Larry Bothe, Molinari learned that some of the Tuskegee Airmen were stationed at Freeman Field in the spring of 1945.
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During their brief time here, they were discriminated against when they tried to enter an officers club that served only white personnel. At the time, the U.S. Army was officially segregated, a policy that was revoked in 1948.
The black officers entered the club at Freeman Field and were refused service. They then were arrested. The incident became known as the Freeman Field Mutiny, leading to the disbanding and reassignment of the units.
While spending time at the airport, Molinari said, he looked out toward the runway and saw the American flag flapping in the wind next to the terminal building. He envisioned an area with benches, landscaping and some kind of plaque telling the story of the Tuskegee Airmen.
“It was just this grassy area that I knew could be so much more,” he said. “They had a small memorial near the museum for the Tuskegee Airmen already, but it wasn’t something that was very visible. In my mind, they deserved more recognition, especially at Freeman Field.”
The museum has a Tuskegee Airmen exhibit that includes photos, posters and other items.
Working through channels
Molinari’s project took about two years to complete from planning and design to fundraising and construction.He first had to get approval from the airport authority.
“I thought it was a good idea and really didn’t think it was going to be a problem,” airport manager Don Furlow said. “But it had to go through the proper channels.”
He added, “It’s important to recognize the history of the airport and the role it played during World War II. It’s something that represents the whole country seeing the need for everyone to pull together and to do everything possible to support our troops that were fighting all over the world to preserve our freedom.”
Work on the plaza was delayed by winter weather. The result, however, was “exactly what I wanted it to be,” Molinari said.
The plaza itself is in a trapezoid shape and features stamped or textured concrete with a reddish tint to mimic red sands found in Alabama, from where the Tuskegee Airmen came, Molinari said.
There are two metal benches angled so people can sit and look out at the airport’s runway and watch planes take off and land.
A brick pillar, about 3 feet high, stands on the north side of the plaza and holds a plaque with a photo that reads: “In recognition to the Tuskegee Airmen who were stationed at Freeman Army Airfield during World War II. They served with the highest honor, bravery, respect and distinction while contributing greatly to our nation’s defense.”
The cost of the project was around $3,200.
‘They loved the idea’
He made presentations to local civic organizations, which donated money to pay for the materials and labor to build the plaza. Those clubs included Seymour Kiwanis, Knights of Columbus, the Elks, American Legion Post 89, the Seymour Evening and Noon Lions clubs and Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 1925.“I wanted to give them the opportunity to be a part of this,” he said. “And they loved the idea.”
The airport’s engineering company, Butler, Fairman & Seufert Civil Engineers of Plainfield, also contributed to the project, by helping design the plaza.
Molinari said he was never discouraged and never felt the project wouldn’t get completed.
“Where there’s a will there’s a way,” he said.
Molinari, a senior at Seymour High School, joined Cub Scouts in first grade and is a member of Troop 526 in Seymour.
He said being a Boy Scout is about more than wearing the uniform, earning merit badges and going on camping trips. The Scouting program helps boys become men, giving them the skills they need to become better citizens, he said.
“It teaches you a lot of life lessons and gives you the confidence in what you do,” he said. “It’s given me a lot of leadership opportunities.”
Molinari has traveled the country and visited Canada doing service work and on other trips related to Scouting.
He plans to attend Ball State University or Indiana State University after graduation and would like to remain involved in Scouting.
Dedication ceremony set
Since the memorial plaza was completed this spring, Molinari has been working with airport officials and others to plan a public dedication ceremony.That dedication will take place at 1 p.m. Sept. 6 and will feature guest speakers, including a special presentation by Leslie Edwards, one of the original Tuskegee Airmen, and retired Brig. Gen. Leon Johnson, national president of the Tuskegee Airmen Inc.
The event will serve as not only a dedication for the plaza but to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the Freeman Field Mutiny, Molinari said.
All of those involved in the so-called mutiny were exonerated.
Also scheduled to attend is the 113th Army Band from Fort Knox, Kentucky; U.S. Rep. Todd Young, R-Ind.; the Indiana National Guard special ceremonial unit; and the Indiana Patriot Guard Riders.
At 7 p.m. Sept. 5, the documentary “Double Victory: Tuskegee Airmen at War” will be shown in the Seymour High School auditorium. The movie is being sponsored by Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 1925 in Seymour.
Furlow said he hopes there is a good turnout for the dedication of the plaza.
“He did a good job with it,” Furlow said of Molinari.
The teenager said, “It feels awesome now that it’s done. I’m quite happy with it. One person can make a big difference.”
For information about the Tuskegee Airmen Memorial Plaza or the dedication ceremony, contact Tim Molinari at email@example.com or at 812-530-6789.
What: Tuskegee Airmen Memorial Plaza Dedication
Where: Freeman Municipal Airport, near the terminal building
When: 1 p.m. Sept. 6
Featured speakers: U.S. Rep. Todd Young; Leslie Edwards, an original Tuskegee Airmen; and retired Brig. Gen. Leon Johnson, national president of the Tuskegee Airmen Inc.
Other event: There will be a free showing of the documentary “Double Victory: Tuskegee Airmen at War” at 7 p.m. Sept. 5 at the Seymour High School auditorium.
Information: Email Tim Molinari at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 812-530-6789.
“They had a small memorial near the museum for the Tuskegee Airmen already, but it wasn’t something that was very visible. In my mind, they deserved more recognition, especially at Freeman Field.”
Tim Molinari of Seymour, on the inspiration for his Eagle Scout project