Over the Skies of Delmarva

Local author Joanne Guilfoil pens twin-engine texts that pay tribute to the region’s rich history of flight

Reviews by Nick Brandi

Afterglow: Ted Freeman’s Legacy
80 pages

RWR Publishing (2020), $15.95

All of us are constantly driving on roads, passing buildings and crossing bridges that were named for one person or another, never paying much mind to who that person may have been. And that’s kind of a shame, because chances are that person is worth knowing about. My unsolicited advice, then, is that the next time you find yourself driving from Kings Highway in Lewes to the Henlopen State Park or the Lewes Ferry Terminal via the Theodore C. Freeman Highway, take a moment to consider the person for whom the highway was named.

Then, go out and pick a copy of Afterglow: Ted Freeman’s Legacy, in which author Joanne Guilfoil captures and recounts the story of one truly exceptional son of Delmarva.

As Guilfoil explains it, Captain Theodore C. “Ted” Freeman was an aeronautical engineer, U.S. Air Force officer and test pilot from Lewes who went on to become one of 14 men selected by NASA in 1963 to train as astronauts for the Gemini and Apollo spaceflight missions. But Ted Freeman is also remembered by history for a tragic reason: On October 31, 1964, he was killed following a bird strike at Houston’s Ellington Air Force Base that caused the engines of his T-38A Talon to fail, but not before using his final moments to bank his dead jet away from the homes of his fellow astronauts. That heroic act made Freeman the first Apollo astronaut to perish in the line of duty.

Segmented into five parts, the book begins with introduction to Freeman and an overview of NASA’s Apollo Program before going back in time, to Freeman’s formative years in Lewes and the lifelong friendship he would form with future fellow pilot Joe Hudson, whom he first met at age 7. Guilfoil recounts with equal parts detail and nostalgia the early years, when Freeman and Hudson were flying single-engine PA-18s as fish spotters, dropping messages in bottles to local fishing boats from the sky, alerting them to where the schools of menhaden were.

Later in the book, Guilfoil describes Freeman’s time at the U.S. Naval Academy — where he graduated near the top of his class — including his training as a U.S. Air Force jet pilot and subsequent Apollo training in Houston before segueing to his local legacy and the mark he left on local teachers and students at Del Tech’s Theodore C. Freeman Powerplant Education Building in Georgetown. Chock-full of evocative archival photography, Guilfoil, in the end, paints a loving tribute to an estimable man of vision, courage and self-sacrifice — one who was exceptional in life yet so classically emblematic of the region that raised him.

Guilfoil’s timing for the release of Afterglow is impeccable, as it coincides with NASA’s 50th anniversary commemoration of the period between July 1969 and December 1972, when NASA successfully landed 12 Americans on the Moon. To this day, the feat has never been duplicated. Amazing what Americans can do when they work together.

Freeman was laid to rest at Arlington National Cemetery with full military honors.

Flying Over Delmarva: Spray Planes, Banner Planes & Bi-Planes
254 pages
Independent publisher (2017), $50.00

If you are fascinated by the airplanes and airmen of Delmarva, this photo-rich, color-drenched text is your homespun coffee-table encyclopedia. The fun begins immediately, with the book’s elegant cartographic interior dust-jacket flaps, endsheets and flyleaves, alerting the reader up-front that what follows is a seriously crafted text.

And that it is. Dive-bombing deep into the rich military and aviation history of Delmarva, the text is defined in five segments. It begins with an introduction to the early years of aviation on the peninsula, followed by a collection of stories from agro pilots before transitioning to a section devoted to the storied Bunting family of the Eastern Shore, whose commercial aerial imprint — from crop-dusting to advertising — can be felt in the region to this day. An affectionate examination of other regional father-son aviation teams, as well as a look at what the future may hold for flight in the region, constitute the balance of the text, which is surfeit with beautiful art and photography, along with anecdotes from pilots and their families and friends. For the hardcore devotees, there are four appendices, along with a glossary, bibliography and index that together span no fewer than 25 pages. Flying Over Delmarva may just be the most fun way to soar through the friendly skies of the Shore without ever leaving the ground.

Editor’s note: These titles can be found at Browseabout Books in Rehoboth Beach, Bethany Beach Books and ShoreBooksLLC.com.