Father and son raising money to add Tuskegee Airmen statues at memorial plaza


After completing his Eagle Scout project in 2015, former Seymour resident Tim Molinari never lost interest in its subject matter — the Tuskegee Airmen.

In fact, he didn’t think his work to create a memorial plaza at Freeman Municipal Airport in Seymour was enough to honor the group of African-American military pilots and airmen who trained at the former Freeman Army Airfield near the end of World War II. The war ended before their training was complete.

He also didn’t think enough people knew about or understood the discrimination the Black officers faced in April 1945 when a group of them entered a club at Freeman Field for white officers, were refused service and arrested. An event that came to be known as the Freeman Field mutiny or incident led to the eventual desegregation of the U.S. military.

“When we came up with the plaza project, it was because there really wasn’t anything out there at the airport to signify the Tuskegee Airmen were there,” he said.

But the plaza also was about giving the Tuskegee Airmen the respect they deserved, he added.

“History cannot be erased,” he said. “But it’s important when you look back and see a group of people who have been wronged and the injustices that took place, not only to notice that but try to make things right.”

Once Molinari saw the impact the plaza made, he knew it had been worth it.

Now, he and his father, also named Tim Molinari, are working together to add another visual piece to the Tuskegee Airmen monument and flagpole already in place.

The Molinaris have quietly been raising money to fund the construction and installation of two life-sized faux bronze statues at the plaza, one depicting a Tuskegee airman in his flight gear to represent the defense of our nation and the other in an officer’s uniform to represent the discrimination they faced.

“Altogether, what we envision is an $86,000 project,” Tim Molinari Sr. said. “We’ve raised a little more than half of that.”

The amount includes $66,000 for the statues themselves. The rest is to pay for shipping and installation and recognition plaques and to fund a week of events and activities to dedicate the statues.

“We’re going to bring in what’s called the Rise Above Traveling Tuskegee Airmen Exhibit,” Molinari Sr. said. “It’s a 53-foot semitrailer out of Minnesota that you walk through and learn about the Tuskegee Airmen.”

There also will be speakers and films shown during the week, he added.

Another expense is for an Indiana state historical roadside marker that will highlight the Freeman Field incident.

“We’ve still got a ways to go, but the statues are currently under construction,” Molinari Sr. said.

To beat a significant price increase in the cost of the statues, they had to be ordered and under construction by Jan. 1, he said.

The statues are being sculpted by a company out of Utah, which also provided eight statues for the Auburn Cord Duesenberg Automobile Museum just north of Fort Wayne.

“The attention to detail is incredible on these statues,” Molinari Sr. said. “You can see zippers, buttons, creases in pants. We actually went out to Utah last summer to see the process, and we understand why it’s so expensive.”

After about a 10-month process, the statues will be finished this year, but with the ongoing impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, the dedication has been pushed back to 2022.

Although they’ve been successful in raising funds, the Molinaris would like to see more come from Seymour.

“The majority of the money so far has come from outside our community,” Molinari Sr. said. “Only 17% of the money that we need for this project has come from Seymour. This is an opportunity for the community to make a statement.”

He said local service organizations really stepped up to support the memorial plaza financially, and he hopes they will do the same for the statues.

Between the time Molinari announced the plaza project in 2013 to its dedication in September 2015, word spread about his efforts to bring attention to the significance of the Tuskegee Airmen’s story and the role Seymour played.

“A lot of people came to check it out,” he said. “Tuskegee chapters were coming in and checking it out. The project took a life of its own.”

Right after the dedication in September 2015, Molinari said someone mentioned the idea of putting two life-sized statues of the Tuskegee Airmen at the plaza flanking the monument.

“We looked into the feasibility of that, and it made a lot of sense,” he said. “There was a lot of support behind it. The only hard part was trying to raise enough money.”

After seeing the thankfulness and gratitude expressed by those members of the Tuskegee chapters who came to see the plaza, the Molinaris realized it could be so much more.

“We’re here on Earth to make life better for everybody and to do good things,” Molinari Sr. said.

Together, they began pitching the idea for the statues and received financial support from Tuskegee chapters across the country and a donation from a foundation in Washington, D.C.

“We’ve been put in this position to advance the cause, to recognize history,” Molinari Sr. said. “We felt impelled to work on creating something that was a little bit more to the size and immensity of what took place here 75-plus years ago.”

Realistically, Molinari thought it could take 10 years to fund the statues, get them built and have them installed.

But once he realized how much support there was, he knew it could be done sooner.

“Not only would this really add to the plaza, but it’s another visual for the person who visits to see what the Tuskegee Airmen looked like when they were here,” he said.

Molinari, a 2016 graduate of Seymour High School and 2020 aviation management graduate of Indiana State University, is currently pursuing his Master of Business Administration degree at ISU.

Although he’s busy with school, teaching aviation classes and continuing to pursue his passion for being a pilot, Molinari has made the Tuskegee Airmen project a priority.

Over the years, he has met and befriended many people associated with the Tuskegee Airmen, including some of the men who were actually stationed at Freeman Field and their family members.

He was invited to speak at the Tuskegee Airmen National Convention in 2016, where he received the President’s Award.

“It’s so incredibly important to share the Tuskegee Airmen’s story because you can learn lessons from that story that can be applied to today’s world,” he said.

At a glance

To learn more and make a donation to the Tuskegee Airmen Heroes Memorial project, visit gofund.me/05695fdd.

Donations also can be mailed to the Freeman Army Airfield Museum, P.O. Box 714, Seymour, IN 47274-0714 or the Freeman Municipal Airport, 1025 A Ave.-Freeman Field, Seymour, IN 47274.

Donations are tax-deductible and should be designated in the memo line to the Tuskegee Airmen Memorial Statues Project.

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