Two books with Jackson County ties reviewed


Freeman Army Airfield is a prominent part of Jackson County history.

The air base’s role in breaking down color barriers in the military is one of the chapters in a recent book profiling Hoosiers and their stories.

“Nobody Wanted Us” is one of the chapters in “To Be Hoosiers: Historic Stories of Character and Fortitude” by Ray E. Boomhower.

The book includes chapters on a variety of Hoosiers. Some are widely known, like Benjamin Harrison, Amelia Earhart and Gus Grissom. Others are heretofore known only to local history buffs, people such as diplomat John Hay and poet William Herschell. But all were accomplished people of character.

Boomhower tells the story of black airmen training at Freeman Field in Seymour.

He writes: “Although the U.S. War Department had placed Freeman Field on an inactive basis on Jan. 27, 1945, the air base soon became a proving ground in a different struggle — not against fascism on the battlefront but against racism on the homefront.”

The author opens with a brief history of the military installation. In January 1943, the first members of the black 320th Aviation Squadron arrived. They faced discrimination both in the military and in the community.

The next black unit, the 477th Bombardment Group, also faced discrimination, but black officers challenged this environment by trying to enter the all-white officers club. Boomhower chronicles this case, showing both the racial climate of the military at the time and the historic accomplishments of those who challenged it.

Included are several photographs, which complement the text nicely.

Another chapter of interest regionally focuses on one of the earliest Johnson County casualties during World War II. Norman H. Vandivier, a Franklin resident, was a Navy pilot flying off the aircraft carrier USS Enterprise.

Vandivier’s plane went down in the Pacific during the Battle of Midway in June 1942.

His story is among those featured in The Vandivier profile is typical of the portraits. Boomhower starts with Vandivier’s fateful mission during the war and then goes on to talk about his family, life and background. The author shows how an early interest in flight blossomed into his career as a Navy aviator, piloting a Douglas SBD Dauntless dive bomber.

The author includes excerpts from personal letters, which give readers special insight into the thoughts and emotions of those involved.

Boomhower opens the book with a short essay about the origin of the term Hoosier. He catalogs the primary theories, but like all historians before him, he can offer no definitive answer. But it’s still fun and informative to hear a rehashing of the old tales.

Another book from the same publisher, “Abandoned Indiana,” also has a regional connection. Photographer Jay Farrell traveled around the state, capturing images of long-abandoned houses, shops and factories. The artful images offer a sad eulogy for what once were thriving enterprises and homes. Among his stops were sites in Brown and Jackson counties.

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Title: "To Be Hoosiers: Historic Stories of Character and Fortitude"

Author: Ray E. Boomhower

Pages: 192

Publisher: The History Press

Price: $23.99


Title: "Abandoned Indiana"

Author: Jay Farrell

Pages: 96

Publisher: America Through Time

Price: $23.99


Rich Gotshall is a retired journalist and south central Indiana resident. Send comments to [email protected].

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