News From Terre Haute, Indiana

Local & Bistate

July 2, 2014

Vigo County artist Bill Wolfe selected to create new statue at Indianapolis International Airport

INDIANAPOLIS — Vigo County artist Bill Wolfe has been commissioned to craft a 7-foot bronze statue of Col. H. Weir Cook, which will greet visitors inside the Indianapolis International Airport terminal that bears his name.

The statue, which will be placed upon an Indiana limestone base that is 12 to 18 inches tall, is expected to be completed by April 2015, Robert Nester, chairman of the Weir Cook Memorial project of the Military/Veterans Coalition of Indiana and a retired U.S. Air Force major general, said Wednesday morning at an announcement at the Indianapolis airport.

“Our intent is to preserve the historical legacy of Col. Cook and share that with everyone who enters the Weir Cook Terminal,” Nester said, adding the statute will be at the terminal’s main floor, by an escalator that takes travelers up from the ground floor.

The statue will depict Cook in his World War I uniform in a relaxed pose “ready to render a welcoming salute to the traveling public that comes through this airport,” Nester said.

Wolfe said he hopes to depict Cook “as a real person and not just a stiff statue. I hope to be able to give some character in his face and his expression and even in the figure,” he said. “Initially I wanted him even more relaxed, with his right hand in his pocket. This will be a great project and I am excited to get it completed,” Wolfe said, adding it will take three months to craft and three months to cast the statue into bronze.

Nester said a photograph of Cook shows his hand in his pocket, but Nester said that is not a military pose, something the Military/Veterans Coalition of Indiana sought.

Cook, a native Hoosier, was a fighter pilot in World War I, where with the rank of captain, he was twice awarded the Distinguished Service Cross with Oak Leaf Cluster. After the war, he helped form the U.S. Army’s U.S. Air Mail Service and was one of its first transcontinental airmail pilots.

Cook also served in the Indiana Air Guard, where he attained the rank of colonel. Early in 1941, after lobbying for an assignment to the front lines, Cook went back into the Army Air Corps and became commander of air bases in New Caledonia. Cook died on March 24, 1943, in an airplane crash while training young pilots for combat.

Cook was “instrumental in selecting the site and the development of the original Indianapolis metropolitan airport,” Nester said.

The airport, built in 1931, was first named the Indianapolis Municipal Airport, then renamed the Weir Cook Municipal Airport after Cook’s death. In 1976, the airport was renamed the Indianapolis International Airport.

Tom Cook, 60, is a grandson of Col. Cook. His father, H. (Harvey) Weir Cook Jr., was the oldest son of Col. Cook.

“Grandpa gave the ultimate sacrifice for his country, for God and his family,” Cook said during the announcement.

After the announcement, Cook said his father told him several stories of his grandfather’s experience during World War I and World War II. “I wish my father was here today to see this, because I think he would really happy and proud of his dad, as we are,” Cook said.

“We used to come out here all the time when it was Weir Cook Airport and sit on the old terminal roof and watch the planes come in and out on Saturday mornings, while my dad worked downstairs in his office for an aircraft manufacturer,” Cook said. “Flying, the Air Force and aircraft have always been in our family.”

Robert Duncan, outgoing executive director of the Indianapolis International Airport, said airport officials “couldn’t be more proud of our ability to assist in honoring Col. Cook in this endeavor and certainly appreciate the corporate sponsorships that will make this presentation possible.”

Rolls Royce is the leading sponsor of the project, funding half of the $80,000 project. The memorial project has raised $60,000 of the project’s cost.

Phil Burkholder, executive vice president of Rolls-Royce’s engineering and technology/

defense sector in Indianapolis, said “pioneers like Col. Cook made it possible for Indiana to be relevant in an ever-changing and growing industry. Today, the aerospace and defense industry is vital to Indiana and to our economy.

“According to the Aerospace Industry Association, there are over 28,000 Hoosiers who work in the defense and aerospace industry, creating over $6.5 billion in revenue and over $35 million in state income taxes,” Burkholder said.

“It is our hope that Col. Cook’s memorial will be one that will inspire and educate the young travelers who come through the doors. We want them to be enthused about the possibilities of an aviation career and to join our growing industry here in Indiana,” Burkholder said.

Those wishing to contribute to the memorial can contact Nester via email at robert_nester@att.net.

Reporter Howard Greninger can be reached at 812-231-4204 or howard.greninger@tribstar.com.

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