Dean, a patriot with a passion for flying, stated, “My love of flying came from pilots and military enthusiasts from Gilmer like Col. Stephens and my Sunday School teacher, Jack Tillery.”
He and his wife founded the museum in 1990 at Fox Stephens Field to preserve aviation history, acknowledge veterans, and to promote citizenship and patriotism. One goal is to acknowledge Gilmer natives with significant roles in the military.
In 1997 Dean assisted with a special ceremony for Lt. James Rex Lindsey, Gilmer native, who lost his life following the Ploesti Raid in Romania, WW II. His aircraft, a B-24 Liberator bomber, “Hadley’s Harem,” was severely damaged during the raid, and later crashed. Of the remaining crew members, only the two pilots, Capt. Gilbert Hadley and Lt. Lindsey, could not make it out and went down with the plane. In 1994 the plane was recovered and the remains of Lt. Lindsey were brought to Gilmer for burial. In 1998 the Museum assisted in awarding the Distinguished Flying Cross to Lt. Richard Potter, a combat veteran, 8th Air Force, WW II. Another Gilmerite, Lillian “Jay” Wray, WASP pilot in WW II, who passed away at age 99 in August in California, will be honored Oct. 19 and will be buried in Gilmer.
For the future, Dean stated, “We are planning a memorial park to honor another Gilmer native, Billy Machen, the first U.S. Navy Sea killed in action in Vietnam and posthumously awarded a Silver Star.”
He closed his program with a discussion and video of the Flight of the Phoenix Escadrille air show team. Dean and three team members flying T6 Texan aircraft have presented over 25 air shows just this year in and out of the state of Texas, the most recent being a flyover at Texas Motor Speedway in Fort Worth.
Attending were Shelia Bledsoe, Dianne Wren, Becky Starnes, Racheal Roberts, Becky Skinner, Donna Varnado, Betty Witsig, Barbara Vogl and guest, Aneita Henry.