Rename Indianapolis International, retired soldiers say

A group of retired soldiers hopes to revive the name of an Indiana war hero by naming Indianapolis' airport for him — again.

H. Weir Cook's name once graced the airport, but the honor was yanked years ago, and by now Cook is largely forgotten.

That's not right, said Joe Ryan, president of the Military Officers Association of America, Indiana Council of Chapters, and the man leading the Cook crusade. "Weir Cook was a hero, and we need to elevate our heroes."

Ryan, a 76-year-old retired Army colonel, and other retired officers have gathered nearly 1,000 signatures at VFW halls across the state and plan to take their case to city officials later this year.

Other U.S. cities lately have changed their airports' names to honor hometown heroes, such as Atlanta (which added the name of former Mayor Maynard Jackson), Baltimore (Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall) and New Orleans (musician Louis Armstrong).

H. Weir Cook, born in Hancock County, Ind., in 1892, was an aviator who shot down seven German planes during World War I. He was middle-aged when World War II broke out, but he volunteered and was killed in a plane crash near an air base in New Caledonia in 1943.

The next year, Indianapolis named its airport for him.

International Indy

Flash forward to the mid-1970s. Indianapolis' burghers, image-conscious and sensitive to the "India-no-place" jokes, were bent on reshaping the city into a more vibrant place. A revived Downtown, an NFL team and other urbane trappings would come. But first, a jazzy new airport, one with a jazzy new name. In 1976, quaint Weir Cook gave way to big-time Indianapolis International.

"We wanted to build prestige," said Beurt SerVaas, a business leader and then-president of the City-County Council.

With the nation still hung over from Vietnam, deep-sixing a war hero's memory created little controversy.

"We didn't catch any static at all," said Michael Schaefer, a business and civic leader and the one surviving member of the Airport Authority board that approved the name change in 1976. "Indianapolis was trying to get on the map. Everybody understood that. And it was not such a patriotic time."

Cook's son and namesake was hurt by the decision, said his daughter Maureen Pinnick, Franklin, "but he was not one to cause a fuss."

Who has the power?

Renaming the airport is up to the Indianapolis Airport Authority, an eight-member board appointed by the Indianapolis mayor and other officials.

In 2001, the board resisted an effort by residents of Cook's hometown of Wilkinson to restore the flier's name. The outlook for Cook fans appears similarly bleak today.

"The city fathers before me saw a need to change the name to Indianapolis International," said Lacy Johnson, the Airport Authority president. "There were legitimate reasons, which had to do with marketing. The name is Indianapolis International, and I think it's a fantastic name."

The airport backs it up, at least somewhat, with planes coming from and going to foreign lands: Air Canada Jazz offers twice-dailies to Toronto; Frontier Airlines has a once-a-week to Cancun; Cargolux and FedEx fly cargo to and from Europe and Asia.

Ryan said he hopes the time is ripe to bring Cook's name back: Post 9/11, he said, Americans are more patriotic, united in support of the troops, if not the war. And the airport is in flux, in the late stages of a $1 billion makeover.

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