Listen to Hoosier History Live! at 11:30 a.m. each Saturday on WICR 88.7 FM. You also can listen online at the WICR website during the broadcast or you can join our new listening group at Bookmama's in Irvington to listen to, and discuss, the Saturday show.
April 10 show
WWII fighter pilot from Indiana
For four months in 1944, a Hoosier was the lead flying ace in the entire U.S. Navy. His biographer, Ray Boomhower of the Indiana Historical Society, will join Nelson in studio to share insights about the daring exploits of Alex Vraciu, a Hellcat fighter pilot who shot down 19 enemy airplanes in the air and destroyed an additional 21 on the ground.
Ray is the author of Fighter Pilot (Indiana Historical Society Press), a new biography of Vraciu (rhymes with "cashew") that's written for young readers to enhance their understanding of World War II. A native of the Calumet Region of far-northwestern Indiana and the son of Romanian immigrants, Vraciu graduated from high school in East Chicago, then attended DePauw University and learned to fly during his college years.
Fighting in the skies over the Pacific Ocean, he shot down six dive-bombing Japanese airplanes in just eight minutes on June 19, 1944. According to Ray, the Hoosier flying ace was "possessed with keen eyesight, quick reflexes, excellent shooting instincts and a knack for finding his opponent's weak spot."
Born in 1918, Alex Vraciu grew up in East Chicago enthralled by the exploits of aviator Charles Lindbergh and World War I flying ace Eddie Rickenbacker, according to Fighter Pilot. At DePauw, fearless Vraciu received national attention for a prank that he pulled during his psychology class. (Tune in to the show to hear Ray describe the details.)
When Pearl Harbor was attacked in December 1941, Vraciu was undergoing training to be a Navy pilot.Eventually, the Hoosier earned the title of "ace" (achieved by downing five enemy aircraft in aerial combat), doing so while piloting one of the famous F6F Hellcat fighter planes. The Hellcats, Ray writes, "helped turn the tide for the Americans" in the aerial war against the Japanese.
Several times, Vraciu nearly lost his life. He had to ditch his Hellcat in the ocean twice because of battle damage or mechanical failure. In addition, two of the Navy carriers he served on were torpedoed (but not sunk) by the Japanese. His exploits made him a hero in East Chicago. According to Fighter Pilot, more than 6,000 people cheered Vraciu at a welcome-home celebration. After the war, Vraciu remained with the Navy, retired with the rank of commander and settled in California.
Fighter Pilot is Ray's 11th book. Others have included biographies about Hoosier astronaut Gus Grissom (which was the focus of a Hoosier History Live! show with Ray in April 2009) and about war correspondent Ernie Pyle. Ray also is the editor of Traces of Indiana and Midwestern History, the popular magazine published by the IHS.
Roadtripper Chris Gahl of the ICVA will suggest that we head to bucolic Brown County for the Indiana Wine Fair on Saturday, April 24 in the village of Story in southern Brown County.
Doling out 1-ounce pours to an appreciative public in the Story Inn's "Old Barn," the Indiana Wine Fair will be an excellent opportunity to build your own wine cellar. Additionally, the night before, Friday, April 23, will feature a jazz concert and cabaret-style show.
Free parking will be available adjacent to the Story Inn, and free shuttle service will be running from the Nashville Courthouse.
History Mystery question
During World War II, a Hoosier who already was famous for his football achievements endured two near-death experiences as a pilot. As a fighter pilot in the U.S. Army Air Corps, this native of northern Indiana was reported missing in action and was given up for dead twice during the war. Both times, he survived terrifying ordeals. After World War II, he became a pioneer sportscaster in the early days of television.
Question: Name the football star-turned-war hero. Hint: To this day, he remains the only native Hoosier to have won the Heisman Trophy as the nation's outstanding collegiate football player.
The call-in number for the correct answer is (317) 788-3314, and the prize is a pair of tickets to the Indiana Wine Fair on April 24 in Brown County.
Your friends in Hoosierdom,
Nelson Price, host and creative director
Molly Head, producer, (317) 927-9101
Richard Sullivan, tech and web director
Garry Chilluffo, online editor
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Antique Helper, Dream Home Company Realtors, Lucas Oil, Indiana Authors Award and Story Inn.
Acknowledgments to Scott Keller Fine Art and Antiques Appraisals, Print Resources, Indianapolis Marion County Public Library, Monomedia, Indiana Humanities Council, Indianapolis Convention & Visitors Association, WICR-FM, Fraizer Designs, Drew Pastorek and many other individuals and organizations. We are an independently produced program and are self-supporting through sponsorships and through individual tax-deductible contributions through the Indiana Humanities Council. Visit our website to learn more.
April 17 show
1920s auto heritage in Indianapolis
With so much focus recently on the Detroit-based auto industry, does anyone remember that, before the Great Depression of the 1930s, Indy almost rivaled Detroit as the car-making capital? During the Roaring '20s, three of the most elegant American cars were designed and manufactured in Indy: the Stutz, the Marmon and the Duesenberg.
Certainly our studio guest has not forgotten the Hoosier auto-making heyday. In this "encore" show, originally broadcast in February 2009, Nelson welcomes well-known entrepreneur Turner Woodard, a vintage-auto buff, historic preservationist and owner of what was once the Stutz Motor Company building on North Capitol Avenue in Indianapolis. Today, the Stutz Business Center houses more than 120 artists, architects, photographers and small businesses.
Fasten your seat belts as we roar back to the days when the Stutz Bearcat, the Blackhawk and other Indy-designed autos were captivating aficionados across the land. Turner, a board member of Historic Landmarks of Indiana and a former race-car driver, joins Nelson to explore how the luxury-car boom took off in Indy – and why it sputtered out, leaving Detroit unrivaled as the auto hub.
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