Engines to be displayed; volunteers needed


Since 1995, the Freeman Army Airfield Museum has displayed artifacts and memorabilia showcasing the important role the airfield and the Seymour community played during World War II.

From vintage uniforms and photographs to a 1942 firetruck that was used at the field and recovered enemy aircraft parts, the museum houses items that can’t be found anywhere else.

And this summer, something big is coming, not just in size but in impact, museum officials report.

Preparations soon will be underway to allow the museum to receive and display two special pieces from the Smithsonian Institution’s National Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C.

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A Jumo 004 jet engine that was used in a German Me 262 jet fighter, the only operational jet fighter during World War II, and a large radial piston engine from either a German or Japanese bomber will become permanent additions to the Freeman Army Airfield Museum collection.

It won’t be the first time the engines have been in Seymour, said museum curator and certified pilot Larry Bothe. They were both at Freeman Field after the war when it was used as the Foreign Aircraft Evaluation Center, he said.

The museum already has on display the compressor section for the jet fighter engine, which was excavated from Freeman Field.

After flight training ceased in early 1945, the airfield was home to 160 captured enemy aircraft that were flight tested and evaluated for their engineering, Bothe said. Those planes eventually went to museums all across the country, including the Smithsonian.

Due to the sheer amount of items the National Air and Space Museum has in storage, it has decided to deacquisition the two engines, allowing the Freeman Army Airfield Museum to request ownership.

“The Smithsonian has duplicates of a lot of stuff,” Bothe said.

Many items owned by the National Air and Space Museum are kept at the Paul E. Garber Preservation, Restoration and Storage Facility, commonly known as Silver Hill, in Maryland.

“All of this stuff is in storage, and they work on things there, but they are overwhelmed,” Bothe said. “They hoarded stuff up, and they are choking on it, so they want to deacquisition, which is a fancy government word for get rid of stuff.”

By deacquisitioning them, the items then can go to other museums or groups that want them, Bothe said.

Luckily, David Gray, a big supporter and contributor to the Freeman Army Airfield Museum and a private aviation collector, is friends with Russell Lee, chairman of the aeronautics department at the National Air and Space Museum.

“Russell has promised David to get us these two engines,” Bothe said. “But first of all, they have to get to them because they are buried under all this (stuff).”

Museum President Joe Clegg is planning to drive to Silver Hill to retrieve the engines when they are available and transport them back on his flatbed trailer, Bothe said.

Once the transfer is complete and the engines are brought back to Seymour, they are to be displayed in the museum annex after some work is done inside and outside the building.

That work includes coating the 76-year old concrete floor with an epoxy floor covering and paving the driveway and turnaround area near the overhead door so museum volunteers can easily get a forklift into the building to move the engines.

Those repairs and upgrades, along with installing new carpet in the museum’s main building, are estimated to cost around $20,000. The project is being funded by the Seymour Redevelopment Commission.

Mike Jordan, a member of the Freeman Army Airfield Museum board and brother of deceased museum founding member Ted Jordan, said the engines will be a “tremendous asset.” Jordan also is president of the redevelopment commission.

“This is such a huge part of our heritage in Seymour,” Jordan said of the airfield. “The redevelopment commission feels like our community needs to keep this (history) alive and pass it on to the next generation.”

More than 5,000 personnel worked at Freeman Army Airfield, training more than 4,200 pilots.

“We want them to know that in 1941, Seymour’s population was 7,000 people, and in 1942, it was 14,000,” Jordan said. “It doubled because of this air base.”

The Freeman Army Airfield Museum board spent four years reorganizing and expanding its collection, adding identifying information to items to make it more user-friendly. With support from the redevelopment commission, the museum also upgraded its lighting from fluorescent to LED.

Some of the most popular exhibits are firearms and edged weapons; two link trainer flight simulators, one of which children can sit in; and the 1942 Ford/American LaFrance firetruck.

One of the museum’s goals is to increase the number of visitors, especially school-aged children.

In 2017, the museum was able to double the number of out-of-town visitors. Jordan credits that increase to having brochures advertising the museum at 45 different locations in Jackson, Bartholomew and Washington counties.

“We want people to come,” he said.

That, however, requires more volunteers to work at the museum, he said.

“The nine of us on our board just aren’t enough to be open more hours,” he said.

Currently, the museum is open from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturdays and at other times by request.

Bothe would like to see the museum be open 16 hours a week, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday. It takes two volunteers per shift because there are two buildings.

There are no special skills required to volunteer at the museum.

“Most of the people that we find that want to help us have a love of history, and they want to know about the community,” Jordan said.

The opportunity is great for retirees who are looking for something to do, Bothe said.

“We’ll train people,” Bothe said. “When I started working here, I didn’t know squat.”

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Freeman Army Airfield facts

Named for Capt. Richard Freeman, Freeman Field was started in May 1942. It replaced 27 farms and was constructed in nine months.

There were 413 buildings, 12 miles of roads, 24 miles of drainage ditches, 27 miles of storm sewers, 8 miles of sanitary sewers, 14 miles of water lines and almost a mile of rail siding. Only 11 of the original buildings remain today.

250 Beech AT-10s were used to train more than 4,200 pilots. 19 classes graduated from April 23, 1943, to Feb. 1, 1945.

23 cadet pilots were killed in training. There were more than 5,000 men and women stationed at Freeman Field at the peak of operations.

Important historical happenings

February 1944: Future astronaut Gus Grissom enlisted in the cadet program at Freeman Field.

September 1944: The first U.S. helicopter training base was established at Freeman Field.

March 1, 1945: The Tuskegee Airmen were transferred to Freeman Field. The Freeman Field Mutiny, an attempt to integrate the white officer’s club, ensued. There were no serious injuries and only one black officer was court-martialed, but the incident was a catalyst to the desegregation of the U.S. Armed Services.

June 1945: Freeman Field was designated as the evaluation center for captured enemy equipment, including aircraft.

November 1945: USAAF glider branch flight test and engineering operations were moved to Freeman Field from Clinton County Army Air Field in Wilmington, Ohio.

Because there were already so many collectible planes here, it was suggested by Gen. Hap Arnold that Freeman Field be designated as the Air Force Museum, but it ended up in Dayton, Ohio, because they had bigger and better hangars.

In 1947, Freeman Army Airfield was deeded to the city of Seymour and is now an industrial park, civilian airport and farm ground.

Information provided by Freeman Army Airfield Museum

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Freeman Army Airfield Museum

Address: 1035 A Ave., Seymour

Phone number: 812-271-1821

Website: freemanarmyairfieldmuseum.org

Admission: Free

Hours: 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturdays or other times by request

The museum is a federally recognized 501(c)(3) charity and donations are tax-deductible. Mail financial donations to P.O. Box 714, Seymour, IN 47274 or call the museum if you have an item you would like to donate to the collection.


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