An American Who Died Fighting for Indonesia's Freedom

Bobby Freeberg, a 27-year-old pilot from Kansas, disappeared while flying a supply-filled cargo plane over the Indonesian jungle

In 1948, a plane carrying Navy pilot Bobby Freeberg disappeared in the jungles of Indonesia but what happened to him after the crash remains a mystery. (CuboImages srl / Alamy)

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Curator Alisjahbana had heard about Freeberg, who was dubbed the “One Man Indonesian Air Force” by the media. In June 2006, she hosted Donald Rumsfeld, then U.S. Defense Secretary and a former Navy pilot, at her museum during an official visit. Knowing that Rumsfeld was a military history buff, she told him the story and asked him to send her Freeberg’s wartime records. That got the ball rolling for last year’s exhibition, entitled “RI002: Trace of a Friendship.” The catalog leaves open the question of what happened to Freeberg after the plane went missing in 1948.

Meanwhile, Bickham, 57, who was born in Parsons and lives in Half Moon Bay, California, was feeling her own way through family lore about Freeberg. Her father, Paul, was the youngest of three brothers, who all served in World War Two (Paul was in Europe). The family spoke rarely of Bobby, says Bickham, as they felt so traumatized by their loss. “They spent so much money and went through so much without getting any answers,” she says.

Bickham was always curious about her uncle’s mysterious disappearance. But it wasn’t until 2008, when the U.S. Embassy contacted the family, that she was drawn into the search. Before her father died in January 2009, he gave Bickham around 200 of Freeberg’s letters and told her to find out what she could of his fate. That hunt is still on.


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