INDIANAPOLIS — It’s not often Hancock County plays prominently at Indianapolis International Airport, but plans were unveiled Wednesday to have one of the area’s favorite sons greet travelers there starting next spring.
The Weir Cook Memorial Project has commissioned a seven-foot bronze likeness of Wilkinson native, World War I flying ace and early aviation pioneer Col. Harvey Weir Cook for the airport’s main concourse to be installed next April.
“It’s a big day for Hancock County and a big day for Wilkinson,” said Wilkinson resident Christy Broady, memorial project president.
Wednesday’s announcement is the culmination of more than a dozen years of research and lobbying that Broady and others started in 2000 to return Cook’s name to a place of prominence at the airport.
“It was primarily about giving the colonel back his recognition and putting his name back on the airport,” she said, referring to the era when the airport bore his name.
After a distinguished career as a flier with the aviation section of the U.S. Army Signal Corps during World War I, where he served in Capt. Eddie Rickenbacker’s 94th Aero Squadron, Cook left the service to join Curtiss Flying Service of Indiana. He was vice president and general manager, working out of Stout Army Air Field in Indianapolis.
In the following years, he was instrumental in opening Indianapolis Municipal Airport, in 1931.
When World War II broke out, Cook lobbied for another fighter command in Europe, but was instead sent to the Pacific, where he served as a procurement officer and air base commander in New Caledonia.
Cook died on March 24, 1943, in an airplane crash while training young combat pilots..
Cook’s grandson, New Palestine resident Tom Cook, said being denied a fighter command in World War II because of his age never set well with his grandfather, but he continued to serve.
“Grandpa gave the ultimate sacrifice for his country, for God and for his family,” Cook said during the unveiling.
The airport was renamed Weir Cook Municipal Airport in his honor, but in 1976 the facility’s name was changed to Indianapolis International Airport.
Veterans groups and others, including Broady, lobbied for the new terminal building and express drive to be named after the aviator in 2008.
The sculpture project, with an anticipated price tag of $80,000, received $40,000 in seed money from the Rolls-Royce Corp., which has one of its major facilities in Indianapolis.
“People primarily associate us with automobiles,” said Joel Reuter, Rolls-Royce director of communications. “But we have a long history with Indiana and both the commercial and military aviation industry.”
The bronze statue will be sculpted by Bill Wolfe of Terre Haute, whose other works include a 15-foot statue of Larry Bird outside that city’s Hulman Center; the Carmel Veterans Memorial; and Korean War Memorial at the Vigo County Courthouse.
The statue will stand on an engraved pedestal of Indiana limestone and placed in the upper level of the airport entrance.
Cook’s 22-year-old great-granddaughter, Kelley Pinnick of Franklin, said despite the years and generations, she feels a strong connection to both Cook and his era.
“It’s awesome and a great honor,” Pinnick said. “I’m very fascinated by that period of time, and I’ve spent a lot of time going through the boxes of pictures and memorabilia that we have.
“Now, I can tell all my friends that guy in the airport is my great-grandpa,” Pinnick said.
For more information about the memorial project or to make a donation, contact Maj. Gen. Robert A. Nester of the Military/Veterans Coalition of Indiana at firstname.lastname@example.org.