Tuskegee Airmen, Freeman Field Mutiny will be focal points of dedication week

His 2015 Eagle Scout project is still fresh in the mind of Tim Molinari.

During and after the dedication ceremony for the Tuskegee Airmen Memorial Plaza at Freeman Municipal Airport in Seymour, he said he saw how moved people were by his project.

His father, also named Tim, was moved, too. Scouts placing a wreath, veterans organizations doing a 21-gun salute, a bugler playing “Taps,” a band playing “God Bless America” and tears in people’s eyes were all memorable moments.

At that point, they realized this wasn’t the end of the project.

“The idea came up of ‘You know what? There needs to be more here to honor the airmen,’ and so it came to ‘You know what? That would be awesome if we could have two life-sized statues, not just a picture,’” the younger Molinari said. “I was like, ‘Wow! This is something that could be even bigger.’”

His father agreed.

“In our culture, what do you do for big moments in history and for things, people? We do statues,” he said.

After they researched statue sculptors, they came across Big Statues in Utah and learned the cost to make two statues would cost $70,000. One of the statues would depict a Tuskegee Airman in his flight gear to represent the defense of the nation, and the other would be a Tuskegee Airman in an officer’s uniform to represent the discrimination they faced.

The Molinaris spent five years fundraising, and on Monday morning, the statues were installed at the plaza, flanking the pedestal that was dedicated seven years ago.

Each statue is about 6 feet tall and weighs around 325 pounds.

“Amazing. Even better than I could possibly imagine,” the younger Molinari said of his reaction to seeing them in person for the first time.

Next week, the Molinari family has helped organize Tuskegee Airmen Freeman Field Mutiny Dedication Week, where the statues will be the focal point of a dedication ceremony at 1 p.m. Oct. 8.

The ceremony will include speakers and a performance by members of the U.S. Air Force Band of Flight from Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Ohio.

“Some of it is still coming together,” the elder Molinari said. “This will be an important dedication.”

Activities kick off Oct. 3 when students from Jackson County schools will visit Freeman Field to tour the Rise Above traveling exhibit and the Freeman Army Airfield Museum. They will continue to visit the remainder of the week.

The traveling exhibit is a 53-foot semitrailer with hydraulic slideouts and movie screens to play two short films about the Tuskegee Airmen. The exhibit and the museum both will be open to the public each evening next week and also the morning and afternoon of Oct. 8.

The 2022 Leadership Jackson County community awareness project team of Maci Baurle, Sehrish Sangamkar, Skylar Earley, Steve Cissna and Candace Foist are helping organize next week’s festivities.

“There’s a video in the exhibit for (people) to watch. Then there are graphics, and there’s someone there explaining Tuskegee Airmen, the history around it and why it’s significant for Seymour,” Baurle said.

Cissna and Foist have been working with the schools to schedule a day and time to visit.

“They are still waiting to hear back from a couple schools, but we’re going to hit close to 1,000 students,” Baurle said.

Baurle is handling the marketing and social media for the group’s project, while Earley is securing volunteers for next week, and Sangamkar is working on transportation for guests and other logistics.

The guests include three people who will be part of an evening speaker series, which will take place on three different days at 7 p.m. at Emmanuel Church, 1849 First Ave. The series is funded in part by a $3,000 grant Indiana Humanities recently awarded to Seymour Municipal Airport Authority. The grant, announced Monday, is one of 16 grants to nonprofits in the state totaling $68,000.

On Oct. 4, Reginald DuValle, president of the Indianapolis Chapter of Tuskegee Airmen Inc., will talk about the Freeman Field Mutiny. The Tuskegee Airmen’s actions in 1945 at Freeman Army Airfield later led to the desegregation of the country’s military.

On Oct. 5, sculptor Matt Glenn will talk about his work on the two statues.

“I think there’s going to be a real interest in how he came up with this, how they are made,” the elder Molinari said. “You’re going to have people from the art community that will want to get in on this and see it. Then he’ll talk about how he puts them together and how it’s done and those types of aspects.”

Then on Oct. 6, Bryan Patrick Avery will talk about the photograph his grandfather took of a pivotal moment in the Freeman Field Mutiny and how he turned that into a children’s book.

“We wanted to have him speak a little bit because it was his grandfather that really got it out there what happened here,” the elder Molinari said.

Emmanuel Church was chosen as the location for the speaker series because the building now sits on a parcel of land where the white officers’ club was in 1945 when a group of Black officers entered and was refused service and arrested.

The special event Oct. 7 will be a concert by the U.S. Air Force Band of Flight at 6:30 p.m. at Crossroads Community Park, 101 E. Tipton St.

The Air Force didn’t exist during World War II, so during the 2015 memorial plaza dedication, the Molinaris had an Army band from Fort Knox, Kentucky, perform.

Now that the Air Force is celebrating its 75th anniversary, they thought it would be good to have that military branch featured this time around.

“They are excited to be here,” the elder Molinari said. “They wanted to get out and be a part of this.”

The big week ends Oct. 8 with the dedication ceremony for the statues, a new pedestal for two recognition plaques and an Indiana Historical Marker for the Freeman Field Mutiny.

While the fundraising for the statues and organizing the dedication week have been a lot of work, the Molinaris did it all for a reason.

“I think we’re here on Earth to do good things — all of us are,” the elder Molinari said. “We all have talents and different types of things, and we can’t take anything with us when we go, and so I just believe that if you have the ability to do some good things, do it.”

He said it’s pretty remarkable that at least half of the cost of the statues came from donations from local residents.

“Having these statues here is going to bring more attention and focus to the history of this place,” he said. “What happened here has changed the lives of millions of Americans for the better. … There are going to be people that are going to be showing up here that are from several states away just to be in this space.”

His son agreed the community support was huge, and he looks forward to the dedication ceremony to recognize everyone involved in turning his dream into a reality.

“It’s about preserving the legacy,” the younger Molinari said. “I wish we could get in a time machine and go back how many ever years to World War II and everything around here would be so much different, and so it’s about preserving these front buildings, it’s about just preserving history in any way that we can, especially with the Tuskegee Airmen.”