By Estella R. Fullmer
For Hometown News
NEW SMYRNA BEACH -- The New Smyrna Beach Municipal Airport is the home of a local traveling oral history project known as the Timeless Wings & Wheels Museum.
"Our dream is to someday have a museum to showcase the veteran's history, our library, the uniforms and artifacts and the video histories," said Claudia Putney, administrator.
"We also want to educate the public and connect with the veterans of any war, not just World War II," said Carole Norville, museum director. "We also help the veterans, offering aid where we can. We are a family here."
Ms. Norville conceived Timeless Wings & Wheels several years ago when she was teaching school. She felt the children in her classrooms could benefit from talking to war veterans and learning their history. As the group grew from a social club into a close-knit community, she discovered the veterans were also benefiting from sharing their stories.
"Many of them have told me that it helps to talk about their experiences, especially to peers that have shared similar situations," Ms. Norville said. "It's a healing process for them as much as it is a learning process for the public."
She takes the veterans and some artifacts from WWII around to various schools to give the kids a chance to talk to the vets to gain a better understanding of what the men and women went through during the war.
Another volunteer, Alexa DeCristofaro is recording the stories of the veterans on video to add to the group's library of books, photos, uniforms and other historical artifacts. A student intern, Ms. DeCristofaro is the group's archivist and secretary. They hope to capture each local veteran's story on video so their experiences can be passed down to future generations.
Ms. Norville and Ms. Putney are working with the city to create a museum, but they are taking it slowly. "We have to do the right steps in the right order," Ms. Norville said. "We want to do this right and work with the city."
Until the details are worked out, the bulk of the items donated to the group has been cataloged and is in storage.
In the meantime, the group meets every Wednesday morning at BiPlane FunFlights hangar at 2096 Aero Circle for coffee and socializing. "We have been so lucky to have Mr. Smyser of BiPlane FunFlights sponsor us," Ms. Norville said.
The display cases they purchased from the local Kmart when it went out of business stand mostly empty in the corner of the hangar until they have a place to call home. The rest of the hangar houses WWII era stick and rudder trainers Mr. Smyser owns. "The guys love coming here on Wednesdays to see Mr. Smyser's World War II era planes."
They also have a fundraising breakfast once a month at Air Gate hangar of 2022 Aero Circle at the New Smyrna airport. "Frank Norman at Air Gate has been great and very generous to us as is their staff," Ms. Norville said. "They offer up their hangar every month and the staff even helps us cook the food. They are all volunteers and do it because we have become like a family."
Air Gate sponsors Timeless Wings & Wheels by donating hangar space for the meals and providing some of the food.
"We have a sit-down dinner fundraiser coming up on May 4 and it is open to the public as are the monthly breakfasts," Ms. Putney said.
People who attend will be able to sit down with WWII veterans and get to know them, hear their stories and get a good meal for a nominal donation to the traveling history project. Anyone interested in attending the dinner can call (386) 314-9196 and leave a message to make a reservation. The next breakfast will be from 8 to 11 a.m. Saturday, April 13, but starting in May the breakfasts will be on third Saturdays. "We moved it because there will be more people flying into the airport on the third Saturdays," Ms. Norville said.
In May, the breakfasts will be offered for a $6 donation and normally include pancakes, eggs, bacon, sausage and coffee. Doughnuts or cinnamon rolls also are often on the menu. Ms. Norville encourages people to attend and sit down with the vets and get to know them.
One of those veterans is Jack Northrup, 90, who has donated several items to the group, including a leather bomber jacket on which he painted three WWII bombers and all the vets in the group signed. "This is going to become our logo," Ms. Norville said smiling.
Another 90-year-old vet, Ed Safford, donated the leather jacket he was wearing when he jumped out of a burning B-17 bomber that bears some of the scorch marks. He also donated a piece of B-17 nose art from a plane he and his buddies dubbed "The General Sherman," because it flew like a tank.
During the school visits, Ms. Norville "tries to get kids to understand that the old person who lives next to you is not just an old person -- they have great experiences to share." Her goal is to engage younger people and connect them with the veterans so the history and knowledge can be passed on to the next generation and is not lost. "It is amazing to see the kid's faces when they truly get what the vets are talking about."
She is working on a master's degree in counseling so she is better able to assist the veterans and help them work through the traumatic experiences in their past. "It's all about the vets," Ms. Norville said.
"We would like to engage all the war veterans from all the wars including the Korean War, Vietnam and more recent wars like Afghanistan," Ms. Putney said. "They are all welcome here."
Ms. Putney also stressed that Timeless Wheels & Wings people have gotten so close they depend on each other, just like a family and care about one another. She said they help them get to doctor's appointments and check on them to make sure they are doing OK and help them work through difficult times, such as a death in the family. When she had a tragedy in her own family, she said, the guys pitched in and performed her duties with Timeless Wings so she could go home to New Hampshire.
"We are here to assist them as much as we can," Ms. Norville said. We would really like to connect with more veterans. We are here for them."
For more information or to make a donation to Timeless Wings & Wheels, call (386) 314-4499 or visit http://timelesswingsandwheels.com.