By Ron Kaplan
On May 19, the Tri-State Warbird Museum held its 2nd annual Taking Flight Celebration event. The fundraising and awards dinner was held in its hangar and museum located across the runway from Sporty’s Pilot Shops at Clermont County Airport, Batavia, Ohio, just east of Cincinnati. The nonprofit museum is barely one year old, but already features restored and flyable warbirds, in a hangar next to museum displays specifically created to connect “the lessons of history, freedom, honor and sacrifice for our children and generations to come.”
Airworthy aircraft in the collection thus far include a TBM-3 Avenger, P-51D Mustang, AT-6 Texan, PT-17 Stearman and a TB-25J Mitchell. An FG-1D Corsair on display awaits restoration and will be joined in late 2007 by a P-40 Warhawk from New Zealand.
A sellout crowd of 450 attended the event, hosted by the museum’s founder, David O’Maley, and its president, Paul Redlich. As guests stood among the ramp display of the museum’s aircraft before the dinner program, Vlado Lenoch of LaGrange, Ill., provided a rousing sunset flight demonstration in his P-51 Moonbeam McSwine. John Hayden, president and CEO of the Midland Corporation, served as emcee and made certain to recognize the staff and team of volunteers that keep the museum glowing and growing, maintained in top form by people who truly care. It’s no surprise many are military veterans.
The keynote speaker was James Bradley, author of the best-selling Flags of Our Fathers in 2000 and Flyboys in 2003. Flags of Our Fathers is about six boys who raised the American flag on Iwo Jima. Bradley’s father, John, was one of those boys. Flyboys is the compelling story of eight U.S. naval aviators who were captured on the island next to Iwo Jima during WWII. There was a ninth flyboy that got away—his name is George Herbert Walker Bush. Steven Spielberg optioned the movie rights to both books. Flags of Our Fathers, directed by Clint Eastwood, is planned for a fall 2006 release, and Spielberg and Tom Hanks will produce Flyboys for HBO.
Among the large contingent of veterans in the audience were several aviators that Hayden acknowledged from the stage, including Tom Griffin, navigator of crew #9 on the Doolittle raid, and WASP Jean Springer. Tuskegee Airmen John Lehr and B-17 pilot Herb Heilbrun were together honored by O’Maley with the museum’s Contribution to Freedom Award. The pair went to the same Cincinnati grade school, became aviators and only learned decades later that Lehr, flying Mustangs for the 332nd Fighter Group, had flown cover for Heilbrun on at least two of his 32nd Bomb Group missions over Czechoslovakia in late 1944.
With a great Midwest location combined with airport access, the Tri-State Warbird Museum is an ideal destination for any enthusiast of WWII air combat and aviation history. For now, however, hours are limited to Wednesdays 4:00 p.m. to 7:00 p.m., and Saturdays 10:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. Some of the museum’s aircraft may be away performing in air shows, so calling in advance of a visit is advisable.
For hours of operation and additional information, call 513-735-4500 or visit [http://www.tri-statewarbirdmuseum.org].