The F-4 Phantom jet sits proudly in the recently named Freedom Park on Grove’s east side. An official dedication ceremony was held on Tuesday, Sept. 15, about 2 years and 7 months after the jet arrived in Grove in February 2018.
The dedication began with a flyover by Boston Butters in a T-34 and Swiffer Rawson flying a YAK52. The project is sponsored by the Grove American Legion Post 178.
The plane has a special place in history as the F-4 fighter jets were credited with saving the lives of many American soldiers in the Vietnam war. During the height of the war in Southeast Asia, 72 Phantom jets were produced every month.
The F-4s were officially taken out of active service in 1996. The plane which now gleams in the morning sun was in the graveyard at Davis Monthan AFB in Arizona from March 1990 until July 1995. The Crash Damaged or Disabled Aircraft Recovery team at Holloman Air Force Base in New Mexico decided to take on the restoration of the disassembled plane as a project. Two Grove Rotarians Dave Helms and Pete Norwood saw the plane at the base in New Mexico and they decided to see what it would take to get the jet to Grove.
Norwood is a former Air Force F-4 pilot and David Helms is a former Air Force airframe structural specialist. They began the tedious process of learning was required to take possession of the jet and move it to Grove. Just discovering what needed to be done took them almost a year of work. The two former Air Force members along with Dave’s wife Beverly formed a non-profit group to try and accomplish the move.
The project is funded completely with private funds. Others soon joined in the project including Otto Maynard another F-4 pilot and aviation engineer along with a former Huey Helicopter pilot, Bob Brogdon. The City of Grove wrote letter supporting the project as did groups such as the Civil Air Patrol, American Legion, Veterans of Foreign Wards and interested individuals.
The plane in Grove was first flown 48 years ago in October 1972. On Tuesday, with the landscaping and blast shield complete along with a parking area, the F-4 was dedicated to veterans and their families. The hope is that it will not only honor the past but inspire the future.
Grove Mayor Ed Trumbull and State Representative Josh West welcomed the gathering. Col. Chuck DeBellevue made the trip to Grove. The Colonel was one of only five Americans to achieve flying ace status during the Vietnam War. He was a weapon systems officer and credited with six MiG kills, the most earned by any U.S. aviator during the Vietnam War.
Claremore resident Jim Finley who actually flew this F-4 also spoke at the dedication. The Gold Star wife of Lt. George Clay, Cheryl Clay was also in attendance.
The plane was retired in 1990 and was at Davis Monthan in Arizona until 1995 when she was transferred to Holloman Air Force Base.
The American Legion Commander Lee Cathey said the site has had visitors from around the country and even some international visitor. Cathey says the Post hopes to expand the displays at the park during the next few years.