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Sunday, May 1, 2016

Buzz Bomb will endure as Durham legacy

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

The Buzz Bomb is shown on the courthouse lawn in the late 1940s. The photo looks west on the monument. Note that the marquee for the Granada Opera House on the west side of the square is partially visible to the right of the "V" base.
Some people go through life without leaving behind so much as footprints in the sands of time. Others create magnificent edifices in their own image in a vain attempt to last for time immemorial.

For J. Frank Durham, who died last Friday, May 20, his enduring legacy will be the Buzz Bomb on Greencastle's courthouse square.

I won't pretend to pontificate on Mr. Durham's life and career. I probably met him in passing five or six times over the years. But I know what I know about the Buzz Bomb, and have recently acquired a copy of his explanation of how the Buzz Bomb came to be a Greencastle fixture.

While some among you may love the Buzz Bomb and still others may loathe its very existence (particularly those with any British ties), it is certainly something that sets us apart from all other communities.

So much so that Durham acknowledged being asked often about how it all happened. He even had the foresight to write it all down for posterity.

Durham writes that it all began after the war in the spring of 1947. He was in Stumpneck, Md., for two weeks of reserve training, and one of his duties was disposing of obsolete, captured enemy ordnance that was just taking up space.

"It seemed a shame to 'deep six' all of that stuff when a lot people in the country had never seen such items," he noted.

Durham had recalled seeing Japanese and German anti-aircraft guns, range finders, a miniature Japanese submarine, a 75-mm Japanese spin rocket, torpedoes and a V-1 German Buzz Bomb.

The Navy veteran, a Greencastle attorney by trade, first thought about creating a war museum back home. He made a list of 40 items and set about obtaining permission to have them donated them to the Gen. Jesse M. Lee VFW Post in Greencastle. Topping his list was the V-1 Buzz Bomb.

The response of his commanding officer was that it would "take an Act of Congress" to get anything from the Navy. So Durham filed a request under Public Law No. 649, 79th Congress.

On Feb. 12, 1948 Durham received a telegram that the Navy had released the V-1 for Greencastle VFW Post 1550, setting up local approval as the next hurdle.

Initially, the post contacted the City Park Board, proposing a gift of the Buzz Bomb to be displayed at Robe-Ann Park. The Park Board did not accept the proposal, so the post decided to erect the memorial where it stands today on the southwest corner of the courthouse lawn with the approval of Commissioners Clarence E. Goff, Fred Hunter and Ross Torr.

Here's how Durham described the Buzz Bomb in the local request: "The German V-1 Buzz Bomb is the bomb that received so much publicity during World War II. It is self-propelled with a range of some 250 miles and carries an explosive warhead of 1060 kg (over a ton). The Navy possesses only a couple unlaunched V-1 bombs, and it is our information that this piece of explosive ordnance is not to be found on permanent display any place in the United States."

Art Perry at DePauw University designed a limestone base as the letter "V" for victory. Limestone for the base was donated by State Sen. William B. Hoadley, who owned a quarry in southern Indiana and whose only son was killed in World War II. The "V" was the largest single piece of limestone ever quarried from Hoadley Quarries.

"If the Buzz Bomb ever deteriorated so it was no longer showable, or ever needed to be removed for repairs," Durham noted, "that could be done and the limestone 'V' would always be permanent."

Shipment via rail from Maryland occurred April 29, 1948 at a cost of $61.83 to the VFW post. The flatcar arrived May 7 or 8 in Greencastle, Durham noted.

"Then came the surprise," he reminisced. "When they uncrated the V-1, it was in sad shape having been exposed to the elements for quite a while. There was a pilot's seat inside the fuselage complete with controls for flying it. Evidently it was intended for a 'kamikaze' type of operation."

So Durham and the group requested another shipment, asking the Navy to send a second fuselage assembly and motor. The Navy complied, shipping it on May 13, 1948. Some reassembly required, no doubt.

Durham's recollections of the 1948 Armistice Day (Veterans Day) dedication ceremony included that the media reported "the largest crowd ever to assemble in Greencastle" was present for the unveiling of the memorial.

"The Buzz Bomb now belongs to the citizens of Putnam County," Durham's document concluded. "It is hoped, by those responsible for it being here, that it will remain where it is. Several attempts have been made to influence the county commissioners to release it to the Air Force for one of its museums, but such requests have been denied.

"It is truly the only monument of its kind in the world," he added.

And it is on the square in Greencastle because of J. Frank Durham and his dedicated group of volunteers. We will always have Frank to thank.

Just a 22,000-pound legacy.