From its covered bridges to its peaceful outdoor recreation areas, Putnam County has a number of beautiful, historic, and fun attractions. However, its most unusual, and beloved, attraction is the V1 German Buzz Bomb on display in Greencastle. This rare war memorial is one of only two V1 Buzz Bombs on display in the United States (with the second on display in the Smithsonian). The story behind this testament to the 73 Putnam County residents who died during World War II is as fascinating as the display itself.
The history of the V1 German Buzz Bomb begins in WWII, where it served as the first true cruise missile. An unmanned bomb, it was first launched by catapults from France by the German occupiers. Later, it was also dropped on targets from airplanes. More than 9,000 of these bombs fell on England during WWII, as well as being used on other locations during the war.
These bombs earned their name “Buzz Bomb” from the sound they made as they moved in toward their targets. They were also known as “doodlebugs” in Great Britain. Over the course of the war, some of these bombs (and other German weapons) were captured by and shipped to the United States for storage.
The V1 bomb on display in Greencastle was one of the German weapons shipped to the United States. The history of this particular V1 German Buzz Bomb, however, took a unique turn in the late 1940s, when WWII Navy reservist J. Frank Durham traveled from his native Greencastle to Maryland for training in ordnance explosives demolition.
Durham’s imagination was sparked when he learned that all of the now-outdated German ordnance (such as missiles and bombs) were slated for destruction (thanks to a lack of storage space). Durham wanted to make sure that some of these historic artifacts were preserved for future generations to see.
In an attempt to save some of these items from destruction, Durham requested that about 40 items, including one of the V1 German Buzz Bombs, be released to the Greencastle VFW Post 1550. His request was far from a simple one. Initially discouraged by his supervisor, Durham remained persistent and enlisted the help of the Greencastle VFW in navigating a process that would eventually include an act of Congress.
Because of Durham’s persistence, the history of the V1 German Buzz Bomb in Greencastle did not end with the bomb’s destruction. Instead, Durham and the VFW post managed to push legislation through both Congress and the House of Representatives that would make it possible for the Greencastle VFW to take possession of the V1 Buzz Bomb.
After approval from the Secretary of the Navy, and passage through Congress, the legislation made it possible for the bomb to be sent to Greencastle. Early in 1947, the V1 Buzz Bomb was released to Greencastle VFW Post 1550.
Remarkable though obtaining the bomb was, the rest of the history of the Greencastle V1 German Buzz Bomb is equally amazing. Once the V1 was in the possession of the Greencastle VFW, Putnam County continued with efforts to turn the bomb into a memorial for the area residents who had lost their lives during WWII. Local residents and businesses joined together in a historic drive to raise money for the building of the base and the installation of the V1 Buzz Bomb.
Designed by DePauw alum Art Perry, the base took the shape of a large, limestone V for “Victory.” The limestone was donated by State Senator William B. Hoadley, who had lost his son in the war. The base was the largest piece of limestone ever obtained from the Hoadley quarries.
In 1947, the V1 German Buzz Bomb Memorial was dedicated in front of 5,000 people. It includes a list of the 73 Putnam County residents who died during WWII. In 2010, the J. Frank Durham Endowment for the Buzz Bomb War Memorial was founded by Durham himself. He established the fund to make sure that the memorial would be preserved for the long-term.
In keeping with Durham’s wishes, the endowment provides resources for maintaining the Buzz Bomb War Memorial. Now, more than 60 years later, the memorial remains a treasured part of Putnam County, and it stands as a poignant reminder of the sacrifices made by the County’s residents during WWII.