Former Pierre resident John Mollison is bringing his historical airplane art to become the new "Eagles Gallery," at the Pierre Regional Airport in a gala ceremony at 4 p.m. Friday that will include a fly-over by P-51 Mustang fighter circa World War II.
It's all well-scripted, as Mollison tends to be: his passion is Old Guys and Their Airplanes,” and he mostly means South Dakota war heroes and the aircraft they flew.
Mollison draws them, the airplanes, in meticulous, researched detail. He often also draws out the men who flew them, in video-recorded interviews or in video biographies made as part of Mollison’s project to celebrate and pass on the history.
He says his own ignorance, growing up, that Lt. Cmdr John Waldron, the posthumously decorated hero pilot of the Battle of Midway in WWII had grown up in Fort Pierre spurred him to devote his time and art to it all.
“I interview old guys and draw their airplanes,” is sort of Mollison’s self-depreciating slogan.
But he's actually rather fierce about how important he sees showing and telling the stories of flyers who showed courage under fire, who won battles and wars in ways that affect us today.
He’s bringing four drawings of airplanes to be installed Friday afternoon, Oct. 16 in the gallery in the airport terminal.
U.S. Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., is expected to attend because one of the drawings is of the Grumman F6 Hellcat fighter his father, Harold Thune, flew for the Navy in World War II, shooting down four Japanese aircraft in one day. Harold Thune died Aug. 15, 2020, at the age of 100, on the 75th anniversary of “VJ Day,” marking the Allied victory over Japan, ending World War II.
The other three drawings include the two “Doolittle Raiders” with South Dakotans in them, and the aircraft of South Dakotan Curtis Cameron who was awarded the Navy Cross.
The drawings will join Mollison’s drawing of Waldron’s torpedo bomber which has been in the airport for several years.
A World War II fighter will appear in 3-D, too, on Friday. Jim Peitz of Mustang Aviation at the airport, will fly-by in a P-51 Mustang as part of the festivities, thanks to the Dakota Territory Air Museum in Minot, North Dakota, Mollison said.
Mollison said the support of the Pierre-Fort Pierre Rotary Club is essential to the project.
And because non-resident pheasant season opens Saturday, Mollison hopes a lot of visitors might land to see the festivities, the art and the P-51 fly over.
He encouraged people to show up by 2:45-3 p.m., to catch the P-51 flyby.
Mollison said he has to credit City Commissioner Jamie Huizenga “and his vision as well as Jim Peitz’s, for helping make the gallery grow. He said there is space for four or five more drawings which he hopes to bring.
The ceremony and unveiling will begin at 4 p.m. on Friday and take about 25 minutes, he said.