Monument honoring Jackson pilots who trained in the civilian pilots training program and served in WWII dedicated at Jackson County Airport

 The new monument "The Aviator" during its dedication at the Jackson County Airport on Friday, May 17. (Shelby Mack | MLive.com)

The new monument "The Aviator" during its dedication at the Jackson County Airport on Friday, May 17. (Shelby Mack | MLive.com)

By Will Forgrave | wforgrav@mlive.com

JACKSON, MI -

"Isn't this statue beautiful?"

Five minutes after fighting back tears during a flyover at Jackson County Airport's Reynolds Field, Peggy Maher asked a crowd of Jackson veterans, officials and residents what they thought of a new statue at the airport, dubbed "The Aviator."

The bust of a fighter pilot was dedicated in front of more than 100 people noon Friday at the airport. The monument includes the bust and two stone pillars, one engraved with the John Magee poem "High Flight" and the other explaining who the monument was created for.

The $60,000 memorial honors the men and women who trained through the Jackson Junior College/Reynolds Municipal Field's Civilian Pilots Training Program, which began in 1939.

The program trained 78 Jackson area pilots, 48 of whom flew in World War II, including Maher's father, the late William "Bill" Maher.

"This statue was important to my father to remind us all of the great cost of freedom and the heroes who lived among us here in Jackson," Maher, 67, said. "I hope this park is only the beginning of what we do to remember the heroes who lived here among us in Jackson."

According to airport manager Kent Maurer, the monument was 10 years in the making.

"We've been working to build this monument for some time," he said. "A lot of dedicated people turned out to make it a reality."

Some contributors included the Jackson Community Foundation, the Weatherwax Foundation, The Hurst Foundation, and a number of private donors and volunteers, including Bill Maher.

"Bill spearheaded this thing from the beginning," Jackson County Airport Board Chairman Steve Wellman said. "We owe it to Bill, and I know if he were here today he'd be extremely excited."

Maher died in 2012.

The dedication ceremony included music by the Jackson French Quarter Dixieland Band; a flag-raising ceremony by the Vietnam Veterans of America, Chapter 109; and a flyover by the Scream'n Rebels.

The flyover had six fighter planes from World War II. Five were T-6 fighters and the other was a B-13 fighter plane.

Local artist Brandon Irish was commissioned to sculpt the bust. Irish has worked to create the Abraham Lincoln statue at Hillsdale College and the Rosa Parks statue in Flint.

This was the first sculpture that was created solely by Irish.

"I'm very grateful to be a part of this project," Irish said. "I was inspired and intrigued by the challenge of creating a war memorial."

Of the 48 pilots from the program who flew in World War II, nine were killed in action.

"All of them distinguished themselves as skilled pilots and all of them by wars end had received the Air Medal and the Distinguished Flying Cross," Peggy Maher said. "How many communities like Jackson can say that?"

Brandon IrishComment