A place to honor an Ace. And his compatriots.

Jenny Hay and Gentry Hanks

Louisiana State University graduate students Jenny Hay (left) and Gentry Hanks smile in front of the overflow crowd they helped draw for the grand opening and dedication of the Captain Fletcher E. Adams 357th Fighter Group Museum in Ida, Louisiana. The 357th Fighter Group had the most Aces and one of the best aerial combat victory records of World War II, one of which still stands.

“They say,” that the population of Ida, Louisiana a northwest Louisiana village, teeters at around 256 souls. On July 23, 2010, more than 220 folks crowded into the Ida Community Center to devour catfish, hushpuppies and the other gastronomical delights which typically accompany this traditional southern meal. Simple math will tell you that the attendance at the fish fry exceeded adult population of the town. Not too shabby. They came as part of the grand opening and dedication of the Fletcher E. Adams 357th Fighter Group Museum. The impressive attendance was a harbinger of things to come.

The next day, Saturday, July 24, some guestimated that a crowd pushing 1,000 crowded into the city’s park for the museum dedication. See how the whole thing started with pictures and story on the Photo of the Week page at Corndancer dot com, including a picture of Chuck Yeager, a pilot in the 357th. Click here to go there.

catfish dinner in ida louisiana

Fry it and they will come. The catfish supper for the museum dedication set a new record in attendance. Not just for Ida. For the world. How many towns can attract more than the adult population to a public meeting? Not many. Once again, a small town shows the bigguns how its done. The dessert end of serving line was all home-made. Return trips were common.

The museum is named after a fallen local hero, Captain Fletcher E. Adams who was raised in Ida. His story and the story of the 357th Fighter Group have been chronicled in a book, Bleeding Sky,  by Joey Maddox, author and son of Ida mayor Smokie Maddox. Joey had books available and I scarfed up my autographed copy.

The 357th flew out of Leiston Airfield in Suffolk, merry olde England. In recent years, a friends of Leiston group has formed to preserve the history and what parts of the old aerodrome that have not been returned to agrarian pursuits. Pete Sanders, one of the organizers and spiritual leader of the group was in attendance for the dedication.

Pete Sanders pins Aline Adams

Pete Saunders of London, England adorns Aline Adams, widow of Captain Fletcher E. Adams with a "Friends of Leiston" pin with the emblem of the organization. The Friends of Leiston preserve the airfield from which the 357th sallied forth. Pasqaule Buzzeo, a 357th crew chief watches the pinning. He was at Leiston keeping the planes in the air.

The crowd was about as close to Norman Rockwell America as you will see in the 21st century, at least so far. One group, not so Norman Rockwellish, but none-the-less subscribing to principles of that era, the Patriot Guard motorcycle group, was there in force. They roared into town and planted and manned a ring of flags around the town gazebo where the dedication ceremony was held. They stood rock-steady a long time the hot July sun.

When my son, Doug and the USAR unit of which he is a member were bused from Little Rock to Fort Hood prior to their 2009 deployment to Iraq, these good people provided a motorcycle escort the entire way. On their nickel.

Patriot guard stands by flag

A Patriot Guard motorcyclist stands by his flag during the ceremonies.

The townspeople of Ida took to this project like a duck to water. Volunteers came out of the woodwork and nothing was too much to be asked. Some even coughed up good yankee green to support the effort. One of the results of this impressive volunteer undertaking is the amount of artifacts now available for the museum. Double, maybe triple what you see in the museum is in storage. The mayor and his far-sighted fellow residents of Ida are already envisioning a bigger museum.

Larry Maquire

Larry Maquire,a local custom jewelry maker, formerly operated a wood-working shop in the old post office building which now houses the museum. As the museum progressed, Larry was a willing and able volunteer. In the last hours before the opening he fined tuned the bathroom door which was not swinging like it should. A few trips to a saw horse on the porch and a little planing here and there, and the pesky door worked to perfection. A new museum should definitely not have a cranky bathroom door.

Jenny and Gentry curated the museum collection and display. I have learned that curating, in this case, meant cataloging, hanging, tagging, placing, moving stuff when you didn’t like where it was, sweeping, carrying out the trash and … repeat if necessary. Their stellar efforts were voluntary with  the blessing of the LSU faculty to which the two students were beholden.

inside the Captain Fletcher E. Adams museum

The museum displays artifacts from the WW II era. The large framed objects are maps of Europe printed on silk which were issued to pilots and aircrews for escape and evasion land navigation in case they were shot down. The map on the left was actually successfully used to help a P-51 pilot get to a safe haven after crashing.

A lot of people remember Ida for its now unfortunately closed Carroway’s General Store. The store fell victim to the times, a not unusual set of circumstances in rural America. Fortuitously, across the street from Carroway’s is the Cross-Roads Cafe, a prime example of a good ol’ southern eatery. It knows no strangers and the food is good. The menu reflects the culture and meals are cooked on the spot. I ingested a Cross-Roads catfish plate and a fine cheeseburger with just the perfect amount of tasty grill grease. I can say I was not disappointed. My arteries are still complaining.

cross roads cafe ida louisiana

The dining room of the Cross Roads Cafe in Ida LA. This is the quintessential culinary house of worship for southern cookery. Food served. Coffee drunk. Lies told. Nuff sed.

But wait, there’s more.

Each week we publish a high-resolution gallery of the week’s shootings. There are always pictures we thought were cool enough to include, but did not quite make it to Photo of the Week or Weekly Grist. See ’em here.

July 26, 2010 — I found a few more pix, so now there even more, mainly of Chuck Yeager. Click here.

Thanks for dropping by,

Joe Dempsey

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